New Stuff: Gentleman

In the sense that at least one song with an iconic hook and idiot-proof dance takes over the world every year, “Gangnam Style” was nothing new. As much as we wouldn’t like to admit it, it will enter the same pantheon with “Achy Breaky Heart,” “Electric Slide,” “Macarena,” “Time Warp,” “Cha-Cha Slide,” “Crank That (Soulja Boy),” “Cat Daddy,” and every other song on an annoying wedding playlist (the adjective modifying both the wedding and the playlist).

But if you’ve seen the video for “Gangnam Style” (and if you aren’t blind, you have), you know why this particular idiot-proof dance matters: it brought K-Pop to the masses. Mind you, this isn’t reflective of contemporary K-Pop, a standard that revels in the obsolete while taking itself far too seriously to be a force outside of East Asia. PSY altered the narrative for “Gangnam Style.” He isn’t rail thin with bottles of product in his hair and collagen in his cheekbones. He doesn’t posses a silky smooth voice or have a gifted songwriting rapport. He’s a great dancer, not in the Michael Jackson sense, but more of when he starts dancing, you know he will be copied over and over again throughout the world. “Gangnam Style” the song couldn’t stand on its own beyond the Korean border, and he knew that. Visual aid was needed for worldwide domination.

The “Gangnam Style” video explodes with every shot, each frame playing a game of absurd topper with the previous scenes, laden with colors and cartoonish characters, and framed by that wonderfully campy and accessible horse dance. It was expensive, shiny, and new, everything valued in western culture without pandering too much to our sensibilities. The video reeked with glittery brilliance, and at the center of every shot was PSY, the talented everyman gifted with a charisma found in only the most successful of performers. Following his masterpiece would take ample work and creativity.

Yesterday, the video for his follow-up single “Gentleman” was released on YouTube. In the 24 hours since its release, it has over 27 million views, a much more booming start than “Gangnam Style,” which currently holds more than 1.5 billion views. “Gentleman” is a worthy successor, a video with equal amounts of glitz and comedy, with a hook that’s only two years behind schedule instead of five. But make no mistake: PSY doesn’t engage in more of the same. Let’s compare the two in the ways “Gangnam Style” made it big in the states:

English

I’m not convinced “Gangnam Style” would have hit #1 in the United States had it not been for the “HEYYYYYY SEXY LADY” breakdown after the chorus. His accent is clear enough to be emulated by English speakers, but just gargled enough to pay homage to his country. It is the climax of the song, and the only part anybody in this country can sing anyway, and in my opinion the second biggest reason it got where it did.

“Gentleman” has three discernable English moments instead of one. They’re not all winners. I anticipate in weeks to come hearty renditions of his brilliant pre-chorus: “DAYUM girl! You so freakin’ SEX-Y” Right after, unfortunately, is the drop that doesn’t hold up as well. I’m not blaming PSY for misunderstanding western colloquialisms, but “mother father” isn’t really an acceptable substitution for “motherfucking,” and though there is a chance he can use his fame to make “mother father” a thing, I squirm every time I hear it. His last utterance makes up for his misstep: “Gonna make you sweat/gonna make you wet” he bellows, something just dirty enough to perk up western ears. 2/3 ain’t bad, but with regards to appealing to an audience who speaks a different language, less is more.

Production

Both songs have outdated beats. They catch the ears but don’t inspire much especially considering what is en vogue. “Gentleman’s” beat is slightly better, but that’s not saying much. Moving on.

Underlying Message

It didn’t take long for Korean message boards to inform the west that the “Gangnam Style” video was a glossy critique of contemporary Korean urban exceptionalism and excess. The video works equally well as a subversive message than as entertainment value, something that PSY shies away from in “Gentleman.” Where “Gangnam Style” critiques excess, “Gentleman” celebrates mediocrity, even failure. PSY as a gentleman removes chairs, bras, and a woman from a treadmill because he’s rich and vested in a houndstooth church jacket. He fails at attracting a woman’s attention (on more than one occasion), soccer, eating noodles, pull ups, opening beer cans, and staying dry, but after each successive failure, he does what only he can do: dance with panache in a confused ecstasy. “Gentleman” pokes fun at himself while keeping the glamour in check. Also, all the women wear ponytails, and the in-sync swaying of their hair when they dance looks phenomenal.

The Dance

The horse dance was 2/3rds doable for the average dancer. The average person can gallop and lasso just fine, but when it came to the sidestep with hands on hips, we gave up. PSY learned from his mistakes and altered the formula just a little bit. The core of the “Gentleman” dance is subtle, but with a hip sway and some more hand movements, giving the average dancer more room for creativity and fewer opportunities to fail. The last part is a “Thriller” ode with PSY‘s own galloping twist. The dance won’t catch on as quickly, but I hope it spreads further than the previous one, because it gives every guy a reason to shake his hips and every girl and excuse to sway her ponytail.

“Gentleman” is off to a better start than “Gangnam Style,” though I don’t anticipate it to surpass it’s predecessor’s success. “Gentleman” has the dancing edge, but the “Gangnam Style” video may never be topped for unexpected absurdism. And did I say 27 million? Because in the hour it has taken me to finish this, it’s now up to 32 million. Bless you, Korea.

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