Thursday, April 18, 2013

Psy's a Gentleman?

This is my preemptive strike at your questions, dear American friends.  You just can't get enough of Korea these days, can you?  Let me assure you, they're loving that over here.  Frankly, it's about time, too.  Korea is where the 90's went to hide from you.  90's music is over here.  90's clothes are over here.  90's computer games are over here... All of you 90's kids who complain because you miss that decade... How come you're still over there?  So Korea just had to leak a little Psy onto the scene.  Now, I don't think that Psy is an accurate representation of the full scope of Korean culture these days, and I know I'll be slaughtered if I even try to suggest that he's anything like the 90's, but I love that you're getting into him, and I hope that you'll use him as a gateway to other aspects of Korean culture.

So "Gentleman."  Let's hear it for the man that knocked Justin Bieber out of a record-holding position!  In just 24 hours, Gentleman had over 18.9 million YouTube views, as compared to The Biebs' then record-breaking 10.6 million views for his collaboration with Nicki Minaj on "Beauty and the Beat."  It's been a horrible week for that kid, and I can't help but feel slightly bad for him... that is, until I realize that it's pretty much his ego that's been causing all his troubles.

I'm hesitant to post the music video for Gentleman, considering the outrageously vast number of Americans who have already taken it upon themselves to watch all four minutes of the video before jumping to conclusions about what it means, but, since you're here at my blog, I'm assuming you're looking for a slightly more Korean perspective on the Korean singer's song that came out of - where? - Korea, rather than the perspective of an American who may or may not have even bothered to translate the lyrics before jumping into an in-depth analysis.  (Yes, that is an actual article.)  I'm going to put the video here, trusting that you will continue reading it even after you watch it.

Even as I put that here, this thing has a jaw-dropping 137,001,850 views.  Holy crap.  Sadly, it looks like we're going to have to put up with drop-crotch jeans a bit longer, because if that many people have watched the video, I don't think we're going to have able to keep them a secret anymore.  Seriously... why are you people wearing those things?  They look horrible.

Okay.  Let's start where it's easy... well... easy-ish.  The translation.  Thanks to a tip I got from a comment on an article with a translation, I realized that most of the translations you're going to find are missing a lot of the nuances of the song, going for word-for-word translations instead.  The best translation is (unfortunately for you, fortunately for Psy) found in the video of Psy's press release of the song.  Way to go marketing team, right?  So... if you want to get a good feel for the lyrics, you're going to need to listen to the song again.  Sadly, I've heard that there are some word plays in the song that I just don't have enough Korean language under my belt to be able to point out if there are any in the Korean of the song, but most of the English (like "mother-father" and "party mafia") is punny in Korea.  Here you go, listen away:

Now, did you notice the other difference?  Without the video, the song seems... less confusing?  Less poignant?  That's on purpose.  If you paid attention to my other Psy post, you already know that Psy loves the satire.  So I don't think anyone should be surprised when I say that he's done it again.  Let me clarify.  Psy is not condoning this mistreatment of women.  Psy is protesting it.

I've seen an article that I'm pretty sure is out of Canada mention that it could be a slam against rappers and the culture of violence (especially toward women) that seems to spring up in association with them.  Maybe he is, but I doubt it.  I've surveyed about 40 of my students (yes, for those of you who know my class sizes, that means I surveyed the one class I've had since I decided to make this post), and not a single one had any clue what was going on in the song.  They all knew what the word gentleman meant, and they all acknowledged that the words in the song didn't seem to match that.  But when I asked "So, why would Psy write it that way?"... crickets.  I gave my opinion, and they agreed it could be an option, although, I don't know how much of that was just a teacher-pleasing tactic.

Basically, I see it like this:  In Korea especially, there is a big problem with the inequality between genders.  Certainly, Korea isn't the worst country on this front, but it's far from the best.  Koreans my age and younger are really beginning to speak out about their distaste for this.  Based on his history of tongue-in-cheek exposés of topics he felt needed to be addressed in Korea, I think this song could easily be about the way men treat women in Korea.  There are many men who parade around, claiming to be gentlemen, while terrifying their families into submission, abusing their wives, and having affairs.  This is, unfortunately, somewhat normal, showing up even in one of the most popular dramas in Korea - My Daughter, Seo-Young - with quotes like "No normal man stays in love with his wife for three years."

Similarly, the general word out of Asia seems to be interpreting the song as a commentary on celebrities and their lifestyles.  It could easily be this, too, and, as I am in no way, shape, or form Asian, I would be more than happy to submit to that option, however, this is the word out of China and not yet the word out of Korea, so I am still waiting before resigning my opinion.  (Korea has remained rather silent on an interpretation.)

Now... that phrase you hear over and over - "mother-father" - is exactly what you're hoping it's not.  He is, in fact, saying "mother-father" and not some slurred/mumbled/un-enunciated version of "motherf*****", but these days "mother-father" has become a Korean euphemism for it's more colorful counterpart, much like dang or darn can be substituted for d***.  So, all these people who are wondering if he's trying to say he's the kind of man you can take home to mother and father... well, they're apparently not up on current Korean culture.

Finally, to answer MTV, he is most definitely saying "Wet Psy," not "West Side."  Although Psy did go to college in the States, he would have no reason to yell out "West Side" for his predominantly Korean audience.  Let's stop being ethnocentric and thinking the world revolves around American culture.  Simply because we chose to borrow a song from another does not mean that its writer will kowtow to ours.  "Wet Psy" has nothing to do with what you're fearing it is, incidentally, and everything to do with his sweaty armpits.

And that, friends, is my preemptive answer to your upcoming Psy questions.

Incidentally, if you're interested in looking at several hilarious-looking (I haven't watched any yet) parodies of this song, you can find a bunch here.

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