Kudos to Psy.
Some years ago, I wrote a column for a local paper that urged open-minded music lovers to listen beyond the English language. Specifically, the call to open our ears to francophone artists. In the world of pop music, after all, lyrics seldom serve a purpose beyond breaking up the monotony of the instrumental backing. Thousands of songwriters have attempted to introduce profundity to pop. They have, almost invariably, seen their efforts trumped by monosyllabic odes to hemp, hops or humping. It’s difficult to imagine, therefore, why a song in a language other than English has never stood a chance on the charts.
There have been exceptions. La Bamba. Dominique. Sukiyaki. 99 Luftbalons. But it’s been a while.
Until now. Thanks to Psy, Korea’s techno/hiphop phenomenon.
And I, for one, welcome the man’s ascent to the top of the charts. (Gangnam Style is currently resting atop the UK charts and will almost certainly soon be #1 in the U.S.) Sure, Psy’s rap is pedestrian, the music is tired and the “Hey sexy lady!” chorus is forgettable. But who doesn’t love an ironic chart-topper? Moreover, Psy’s remarkable foreign-language triumph also marks the return of another lost art in pop music: the novelty number. One might try to argue that Psy is no novelty at home in Korea, but the video surely suggests otherwise.
And so, even as Psy carries on the pioneering work of The Singing Nun and Kyu Sakamoto, he at a time when we need it most, revives the much-missed novelty number. Remember Mr. Jaws? King Tut? Pac-man Fever? Steal My Sunshine? Of course you don’t. But that’s OK; soon enough, you won’t remember Gangnam Styleeither. Isn’t it wonderful? Let’s all enjoy it while it lasts. And no, I’m not putting a link to it here. I’ll endorse it, and Psy, but there is a limit. And I don’t know about you, but I’ve about reached it.
Ah, but that too is a bit of a throwback to a golden age of novelty numbers. Yes, Gangnam Style is viral and a meme and all those other 21st Century catchphrases. But as it prepares for its moment at the top of Billboard‘s chart (again, inevitable, not least because it will guarantee many media mentions for Billboard magazine), let us consider that, like My Girl Bill and Don’t Worry Be Happy before it, Gangnam Style‘s mainstream success lags far behind its ability to become a nuisance. Thank you, pop charts, for as ever working to slow the pace of change in contemporary society.
And thank you, Psy, for doing likewise. Long may you dance.