Something crazy is brewing out there, and it's called "Gangnam Style" written by South Korean pop star Psy. ("Gangnam" means "Korean.") The song is sung/rapped entirely in Korean, and yet it has hit #1 on the iTunes charts this week, above Taylor Swift's "Never Ever Getting Back Together." Psy's music video has had over 120 million hits on youtube, he's been on air with Ryan Seacrest, and he was most recently on Ellen DeGeneres' show teaching Britney Spears how to dance gangam-style!
When my girls saw Psy's performance on the Today Show on NBC, they were cheering and immediately started dancing to the infectious beat. My 2 younger brothers got special seats for the taping of the show, so they were part of the NY city crowd that went wild, singing and dancing along with Psy. I watched in disbelief. My brain was trying to process the fact that Psy is a celebrity. And he's Korean. And he's rapping in Korean. And Al Roker is dancing to Korean rap music.
What my girls don't realize is how much American pop culture has changed in its portrayal of Asians. When I was growing up, we had no cool Asian rappers or dancers. We had white guy Mickey Rooney playing I.Y. Yunioshi with his gross buck teeth, greasy black hair, and a massively heavy accent. And remember Sixteen Candles and the hot mess of Long Duk Dong's pitiful character saying, "What's-a happenin, hot stuff?" Later Jackie Chan entered the picture and sealed into the psyche of our culture that all Asian men are martial arts experts. At least it bumped up the image a notch from before, but it was still a caricature of sorts.
Now we have Psy, a regular Joe from South Korea (whose real name is Jason Park), dancing in a colorful suit, bow-tie, cheesy sunglasses, and the crowd loves him. His music video shows him dancing with older Korean men and women on a bus, with other younger guys in slick suits, and obviously with "yuh-jahs" (girls). He is making a crossover in generations, as well as in culture. Korean culture is more mainstream and popular than it has ever been in the US, and it's the real deal- no white actors, no random karate-chop moves, no one-sided figures. Thanks to Psy and Gangnam-Style, I might even dare say now it's almost cool to be Asian- gasp!!