The Aftermath of Gangnam Fever

South Korean rapper Park Jae-sang, better known as PSY, performed a concert in Istanbul’s festival “Istanbul Blue Night” on Feb. 22, 2013. (Photo : Xinhua/NEWSis)

Bringing countries and cultures together

The Korean “Hallyu” wave started several years ago. It overwhelmed the Middle East with Korean dramas like Winter Sonata and Jewel of the Palace, which made people discover Korean culture years before the Gangnam era.

Then came 2012 and the mega hit song “Gangnam Style” by PSY went viral. It was not the first time people around the world listened to K-pop; K-pop is quite famous in Europe, the USA, the Middle East, and other Asian countries. But the attention it received was extraordinary. Almost every country had its own version and parody of the clip. It was played in weddings, and people were seen on the streets dancing along to it. Yet, when asked, they said they did not even know what it meant.

Various international music shows hosted PSY, as the song was getting millions of views. 2012 could be called “The year of PSY.” He released another similar hit “Gentleman” the following year; it went viral, but the impact was not as extraordinary as Gangnam Style.

So what was it about Gangnam Style? I asked some people – those who had no previous experience listening to K-pop and others who had been listening to Korean songs for years. Those who were new to K-pop thought it was a fun song that was nice to dance to. Meanwhile, those who had previous experience with K-pop said that the K-pop industry had much better songs than this one.

For instance, one of them said, “Why does it have to be Gangnam style? South Korea has much better songs, which are funnier as well.” Another one admitted, “I don’t really understand the lyrics. I like Korean ballads better.” But they could not deny that it made a huge step in changing the music scene. Another funny fact is that it actually introduced many people to the Gangnam district, which many did not really know about. People were able to understand the song a little bit more when they understood where the lyrics came from.

A scene from the “Saudi Gangnam Style”

Middle Eastern parodies

Gangnam Style affected the Middle East as much as it affected the rest of the world. It brought back the Korean wave to people’s minds, and this time not only youth, mainly young women who were interested in Korean culture, but the whole society joined in. Kids were in the streets dancing to Gangnam Style; youth with different interests knew about it; and even big prominent names talked about it. It was everywhere.

And where would we look for signs of Gangnam fever? Of course it would be YouTube. YouTube was almost instantly filled with Gangnam Style covers, ranging from acoustic to metal. A lot of parodies invaded YouTube as well, with most of them dancing to the song, while others reinvented a whole new set of lyrics that fit the soul of the song and resonated with the Middle Eastern culture.

Saudi Arabia produced the Saudi Gangnam Style or as they called it “One with pants and shirt.” It was uploaded by six young Saudi men dressed in traditional headwear called “Kufiya,” and was shot in the city of Riyadh. It attracted more than five million viewers, and they managed to act the entire video and dance to the original song, adding a little Arabian taste. It was later criticized for the lack of women in the video. Although they had a scene in the song that required women, they used two men in black instead.

Another version was the Egyptian “Hobba Egyptian Style” made by a team called “DiSalata,” in which they reinvented the lyrics to better match the Egyptian style. They sang about typical Egyptian behavior along with some “elite” Egyptian behavior and how they contradicted each other. It received more than two million views, and it was shot in different places in Egypt, some in notable places like in front of the great pyramids of Giza. It mixed typical Egyptian words with some up-to-date upper class features like eating sushi, listening to jazz, and having Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Other versions include a “Moroccan Style,” which featured a group of Moroccans singing the original song; “Algerian Style,” a video done in an animated style imitating the European lifestyle some Algerians try to pursue; and “Mangal Style,” the Turkish version done by Hayrettin, which was shared widely online and even got covered on the Turkish version of CNN.

The Internet is filled with more examples, some of which are really professional, while others might have been shot using a modest cell phone camera, but nevertheless they all showed people enjoying themselves while being introduced to a new culture. They enjoyed getting a glimpse into the lifestyle of “elite” Koreans through this song, which opened a new gateway for Korean culture to be widely spread in the Arabic world.

One example was that the big Arabic channels network MBC started to dub Korean TV series for the first time. After being taken over by Turkish and Indian TV series, Korean stars found their way into more people’s hearts. PSY became a trend, and listening to Korean songs on the street became cool, and dancing Gangnam Style at weddings became a big thing.

In a way, the simple addictive tune of Gangnam Style helped to bring these countries together. It helped in establishing a mutual understanding of how others live, speak, and think. People should grab onto that rope and use it to tighten and deepen those relations. It is not every day when a song is able to change the world.

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