October 17th, 2012
Todd plays "Gangnam Style" on his piano.
PSY - GANGNAM STYLE
A pop song review
Todd: [he clears his throat, cracks his knuckles, then shouts through cupped hands] I'M NOT REVIEWING "GANGNAM STYLE"!
- Video for...
- PSY: Oppan Gangnam Style!
Todd (VO): Why do I keep getting requests for this? No! No! "Oh, it's so funny, though. It's the hottest viral video of the year. You gotta review it." No, I don't. W-why would I? What's next, do you want me to review [clip of...] "Charlie Bit My Finger" too?
Todd: When have I ever reviewed stupid YouTube memes? Do I look like Daniel Tosh?! (...Maybe?) God, I'm sorry. It's just...my inbox, all these requests. Let me make myself clear right now.
Todd (VO): Just because it's a song, doesn't mean it's the kind of song I review.
Todd: I only review songs that chart on Billboard... [Cut off by Billboard Hot 100 chart, where "Gangnam Style" sits at #2] Okay, that's a fluke, 'cause you can download it on iTunes, and Billboard counts that. Just because it charts, doesn't mean it's a real song. I think the "Bed Intruder Song" charted briefly too. I mean, that's all it is. It's not like I'm hearing it on the radio. [Footage of a car radio playing "Gangnam Style"] Am I going crazy?!
- "Gangnam Style" performance on The Today Show and The Ellen Degeneres Show
Todd (VO): [struggling] Wh...wh...why...I don't... how...no. Okay, I have to have some other excuse not to talk about this song. Like, [clip of "One More Night" by...] Maroon 5 got another single. You guys wanna hear me talk about Maroon 5 again, right? Right? They're interesting! Heh?! Heh?!
Todd: No? Okay, you know what? Fine. You want me to talk about the frog-faced Asian man and this silly horsey dance? Fine. I aim to please. Let us review this strangest hit of a strange, strange year.
Todd (VO): Okay, first off, to understand the intricacies of "Gangnam Style", we have to first understand K-pop, which is the name we Americans gave to the predominant genre in South Korea's music scene. So let's talk about this K-pop.
Todd: [so...] You start. [beat] Seriously, I don't know jack about K-pop. Thought it was a new brand of soda.
Todd (VO): W...what do you want from me? I don't know what any of this means; I'm not Korean, I don't speak Korean. [Picture of Korean food] I don't think I've ever even eaten at a Korean restaurant. [Poster of...] I...I watched most of Old Boy once, that's...that's about it.
Todd: But while I may not know anything about Korean pop music, there is one thing I know plenty about—bad music.
- Logo for So Bad It's Good, set against "Guilty Pleasures"
Todd (VO): Now, let's take the concept, "So Bad, It's Good," and apply it to, say, movies. What comes to mind? [Shots or posters of...] Battlefield Earth, Showgirls, Plan 9 from Outer Space, The Room, stuff like that, right?
Todd: Now compare it to the "so bad, it's good" songs. [Clips of...] "Ice, Ice Baby", "My Humps", "I'm Too Sexy", "Achy Breaky Heart", Barry Manilow, "Disco Duck", so on. You know what they all have in common? They all had millions of fans.
- Clip of Aqua - "Barbie Girl"
Todd (VO): At least at one time, they were among the most popular songs of their day. They weren't humongous flops like Battlefield Earth because really, genuinely bad music is hard to agree on, and the only way enough people notice, quote-unquote, "bad" music is for it to be massively successful.
Todd: Or, at least, that's how it used to be.
- Clip of Rebecca Black - "Friday"
- Rebecca Black: Friday, Friday, gettin' down on Friday
Todd (VO): Nowadays, we have songs become infamous explicitly for being bad, and, of course, we have YouTube to thank for that. The most prominent example, of course, is "Friday"—a discovered artifact from a rich girl's venture into pop star fantasy camp—and, of course, [clip of Insane Clown Posse - ...] "Miracles"—a bizarre attempt by a cult/shock/horror rap act to admire the wonders and beauty of the universe. And when you look at those songs, you realize that, in part, they became famous because they reinforce...
Todd: ...our widespread popular biases, namely that...
Todd (VO): ...teenagers are shallow and that Auto-Tune is a lazy crutch for the untalented to badly hide their lack of ability, or that the Insane Clown Posse are morons with puddle-shallow understandings of the world. Or, most especially...
Todd: ...Asian culture is crazy.
- Video for "Gangnam Style"
Todd (VO): [mock laughing] People from Asia just don't know what the hell they're doing, what with their insane game shows, their weird fetish porn, and their sad attempts to make pop music. This is just so bizarre, look at this. They simply don't understand how to make normal music like we do in the West.
- Brief clips of Katy Perry - "California Gurls", Lady Gaga - "Alejandro", and LMFAO - "Sexy and I Know It"
Todd: Right. Weird that the first Asian artist to break through in America is [clip of "Like a G6" by...] somehow even less dignified than the Far*East Movement.
- Far*East Movement: we get that drip and that drop
Todd (VO): Now I assume you're all requesting this because you want me also to make fun of this new meme that we're all beating into the ground. Okay, look, I'm not particularly interested in doing that. [Clip of Trekkies doing "Gangnam Style" dance] There are a billion people who do that. And for Christ's sake, [clip of...] Leno's already done a "Gangnam Style" parody. "Gangnam Style" will be last year's joke by the time I finish filming and editing this video. But more importantly, making fun of "Gangnam Style" is just stupid on its own.
Todd: Y...y'all realize, "Gangnam Style" was already a joke, right?
Todd (VO): It's like trying to mock "Eat It".
- Clip of...
- Weird Al Yankovic: Eat it
Todd (VO): It's already a parody. "Ha ha, this video is so bad, he accidentally slammed the door in that guy..." Yes, that's the joke. Ha ha.
- Clip of Leno parody
Todd (VO): You're not parodying it, you hack. You're just stealing his bit.
Todd: Now, if you haven't seen the video yet, go watch it, but...
Todd (VO): ...I'm gonna assume you already know all the funny parts. He's horsey dancing down the street, he's lying between the legs of a guy air-humping for no adequate expressed reason, he's screaming at a woman's ass. Look, he's on a goddamn toilet. It's a comedy video. Duh!
Now, I like to believe that this unlikely juxtaposition is PSY exposing the inherent misogyny of Korea's materialist culture.
Todd: That's actually in the realm of possibility, for the record. Because, if you haven't heard by now, "Gangnam Style" is at least partly about South Korea's [Reuters news article about...] amazing problem with credit card debt. You know your dumbass cousin who watches [picture of blinged-out guy taking a picture in front of mirror of stack of money] nothing but rap videos and whose dream is to have all the things he sees on MTV Cribs?
Todd (VO): From what I've read, that's also basically a huge chunk of South Koreans.
Todd: Gangnam, for the record, is the name of the country's...
- Clip of time lapse video of Seoul
Todd (VO): ...richest, ritziest neighborhood. Like, every part of Gangnam is basically a baller fantasy land, and it's apparently full of social-climbing, nouveau riche sons-of-bitches spending money like [picture of, surrounded by dollar signs,...] Donald Trump if he won [clip of kid in...] the Nickelodeon Super Toy Run.
So you've got this huge chunk of Korean society trying to live up to this lifestyle, even though they don't actually have that kind of cash. For example, there's a bit in there about coffee.
- PSY: Keopi hanjanui yeoyureul aneun pumgyeok inneun yeoja (A classy lady who can afford a relaxing cup of coffee)
Todd (VO): What's that about? Well apparently, in South Korea, [picture of Starbucks coffee cup = fancy bottle of wine] fancy coffee is like a big status symbol over there. Apparently, there's a running joke in Korea about people having to survive on, like, 12¢ ramen and Spam because they waste all their money on these [picture of well-dressed woman sipping coffee] super-expensive, fancy-ass lattes they can't afford.
Todd: Here's the other thing you need to know—K-pop is dumb as hell.
- Video for 2NE1 - "I Am the Best"
- CL: Naega jeil jal naga
Todd (VO): "Gangnam Style" is not particularly deep or anything, but compared to everyone else in his genre, PSY is practically his country's F. Scott Fitzgerald, because K-pop is one of the most vapid, brainless genres on the planet. Again, that's just what I've read, I don't know that from experience; but I do already listen to some pretty shallow music, and the K-pop I've tried to listen to even made me feel like I'd swallowed a wheelbarrow full of Pixy Stix.
- CL: Oh my God
Todd: Now you should know all that already, as...
Todd (VO): ...this information is widely available, and I doubt I'm the only nerd on the Internet who will talk your ear off on the meaning of "Gangnam Style". So instead, I propose we ask and answer the following questions about the success of "Gangnam Style", and...
Todd: ...take plenty of notes because this will be on the final.
[The following questions have their own cards]
Discussion Question #1: Does knowing the actual cultural context make it better?
Well, that's up to you, but I would answer no.
Todd (VO): In fact, I'd argue that knowing what the song means actually makes it worse, at least if you're a dumbass American like me. I mean, yes, I have had the joke explained to me. I get it now, and I say whoop-de-doo. It's basically the same joke from [poster of...] Malibu's Most Wanted.
Todd: This isn't Voltaire or anything. (Either of them.) I mean, PSY is funnier than...
- Clip of "Sexy and I Know It" by...
Todd (VO): ...LMFAO, whose entire approach to humor basically begins and ends with butts. Hah, butts.
But the entire appeal of "Gangnam Style" for most of us is that it's bizarre and alien and surreal. It's actually way funnier when you have absolutely no context whatsoever. And besides, knowing all that background doesn't exactly make it more meaningful to me. I know what all this is about intellectually, but it doesn't mean anything to me. It's like, [clip from Pom Poko] you can sit me down and force me to watch this anime, and make me understand the deep folklore tradition of these weird raccoon things and explain that there's a legit cultural context to why they were animated with plainly visible nutsacks swinging in the breeze, but even after all that, I'm still not ever going to get it the same way a real Japanese person would.
Todd: Some things just don't translate. Besides, when you translate them, the lyrics aren't very good anyway.
- PSY: Hey sexy lady
Todd: Discussion Question #2: Is the song actually any good without the video?
Well, we know that the opposite is true.
Todd (VO): One guy gave us probably the best of the endless "Gangnam Style" incarnations by just straight up removing the song.
- Clip of the video, no music
Todd: But the fact that it's getting actual airplay would seem to indicate that...
Todd (VO): ...non-Korean speakers are enjoying it unironically, without the video. The question is...why? When you don't understand the lyrics, he may as well just be speaking gibberish. I...I know it's just a foreign language, but for all we know, he could just be saying, "blabbity blab blubbity bloo." So without the lyrics, what is it?
Todd: Basically, [clip of...] it's just "Party Rock Anthem", except that the lyrics don't matter. So basically, it's exactly like "Party Rock Anthem".
Todd (VO): When you can't see the video or understand the lyrics, it's just another club song. And I honestly don't think it's very good on its own.
Todd: Like, here. I have a point I wanted to make. [Whips out his phone and calls...]
Todd: Hey, man, I need your help.
Linkara: Yeah, I've been meaning to ask about all these e-mails I've been getting.
Todd: Hold on, let me get to this first. This is important. What day is it?
Linkara: [is he drunk or something?] It's...Sunday.
Todd: Oh, right, Sunday. [Sings to tune of "Friday"] Sunday, Sunday, gotta get down on Sunday.
Linkara: Yeah, was that it?
Todd: Yep, bye. [Hangs up]
Linkara puts the phone down and goes back to his Star Trek: The Next Generation comic. Then he starts humming the tune, then realizes...
Linkara: Oh, goddamn it, Todd!
Todd: Hah! God, I love doing that. Now, back when "Friday" was big, that happened to me and everyone I knew hundreds of times. It's insidious, that "Friday".
Todd (VO): I doubt if I quoted "Gangnam Style" to somebody, I'd get the same response. Like, let me put it like this. [Weird Al performing live] Weird Al once parodied "The Right Stuff" by New Kids on the Block. Now, a lot of people really like that parody. I hate it because it still sounds like [clip of...] "The Right Stuff" by New Kids on the Block—one of the worst songs ever written.
Todd: That's the same problem here. If you parodied the Black Eyed Peas, it might be hilarious, but it still sounds like the Black Eyed Peas. [Clip of...] I must've listened to that damn Auto-Tune NASCAR Preacher, like, hundreds of times just because it was catchy. I just can't imagine ever wanting to listen to "Gangnam Style" the same way. Apparently, that's a minority opinion, but...
Todd (VO): ...even the video does not have that much replay value, as least for me, 'cause it's clearly funny on purpose, and that's simply just not as funny as [clip of...] the Insane Clown Posse—who, need I remind you, are a posse of insane clowns—trying to help me appreciate the miracle of life.
- Shaggy 2 Dope: Fucking magnets, how do they work
Todd (VO): But apparently, in this country, people are finding it acceptable to listen to. Remove the satire and this is apparently what we want—a couple random buzz words, an obnoxious beat, and they're hooked. Not that "Gangnam Style" is terrible either. At least we have some acknowledgement of other cultures on the radio now. [Clip of "International Love" by...] Before now, the only person we had who knew what a foreign was was Pitbull, and he once released a song called "International Love", that only name-checked American cities in the chorus, so I don't think he's a very good introduction into the wider world.
For all the joking I made about Americans not getting South Korean culture or knowing what any of this means, as far as I can tell, people are still enjoying this song basically, exactly in the way it was intended. I mean, hell, look at the guy. He's just enjoying himself so much. So you got me. I can't be too bothered by this song.
Todd: Okay, fine, I'll do your stupid dance too.
- PSY: Hey sexy lady
Todd tries the dance, but is instead Carameldansen
Todd: Am I doing this right?
- PSY: Oppan Gangnam Style
Closing tag song: James Brown - "Soul Power"
"Gangnam Style" is owned by YG Entertainment
This video is owned by me