Does PSY and Gangnam Style Help or Hurt Asian American Representation?

by JT Tran · 16 comments

Psy Gangnam StyleWe’ve all seen the video… A smartly dressed Asian performer doing what many would call the hokiest dance known to man, with Asian women frolicking around him as the futuristic synths pulsate in the background.  It’s Gangnam Style, and it’s taken pop culture, YouTube, and the entire world by storm.

Yes, we’ve all seen it, but can we all agree on the impact that Gangnam Style has on Asian male representation in the media?

According to recent controversy, the answer is almost certainly not.

Some people argue that Gangnam Style, which now has over 200 million hits on YouTube, is self-racist; that it makes fun of Asians and Asian stereotypes by caricaturing the protagonist being a poor Asian American Representative.  Others believe that the content is actually beneficial to the Asian community, claiming that it pushes boundaries and challenges assumptions made about Asian culture, and Asian men in particular.  Is Gangnam Style good or bad for Asian American Representation?

Start your engines and get ready for some contentious comment-fighting, because this article is all about the double-sided coin that is… GANGNAM STYLE!

Why Psy?

Why is Psy such a stereotype-shattering badass? Well, for plenty of reasons! Not only is he fresh and new, but he is extremely charismatic, which is the main reason that he has taken the nation by storm. The highest selling Korean artist of all time, Psy is now being managed by Scooter Braun, the same chap who brought our beloved Justin Bieber into the limelight.

But what, specifically, has garnered him so much attention? And what can you, my dear Asian reader, do to emulate his successes? Lets break it all down in the new segment that I like to call…

“Why Psy?”

  1. Confident – Psy is pretty much the inverse of every other K-Pop artist out there. He seems to be the ONLY one that is avoiding face makeup, feminine body language, and overall self-castration. Additionally, he is the only one TAKING RISKS. Which is why he is so massively successful.
  2. Un-reactive – Just look at him, he’s one chill motherfucker. Watch some videos of the guy. Check him out on Ellen Degeneres with Brittany Spears. Watch as Brittany becomes more and more nervous as she is put on the spot, whereas Psy becomes more and more chill and awesome.  Psy lets neither the audience pressure of performing nor the social pressure of Brittany acting all weird get to his head. He is supremely ingrained in is own sense of reality, in which he is awesome 100% of the time.
  3. Self-amused– Psy isn’t afraid to have fun, and even make a fool out of himself. Just watch the wacky dance moves in Gangnam Style, and observe how extremely he caricatures himself and his culture.  In addition, Psy is a practical joker. He likes having fun at other peoples expense, cracking light-hearted jokes and keeping the mood light and fun. This allows him to be both social and dominant at the same time.  Rather than worrying about what everyone else thinks, Psy sets his own rules and does what he wants.

    PSY Gangnam Style Asian American Representation

    Confident, relaxed, and self-amused, PSY is an alpha male ready to show his creative side in a fun and light-hearted manner

  4. Voice– Listen to Psy speak. Just listen to him. He has a more radio-friendly voice than half of the broadcasters out there. I remember listening to him on Ryan Seacrest, one of the top radio hosts out there, and thinking “Hey, I bet Psy could to Ryan’s job… But better”.  But, what about Psy’s voice makes it so alluring? If you listen to his music, it honestly doesn’t sound that great. His rapping is choppy and fobby, and his vocals are wavering and off-pitch.However, the gold isn’t in his singing… It’s just in the way he talks.His voice is deep, even, and resonant, all characteristics that exude confidence.
  5. Pre-selected– In his music video (and in real life), Psy is surrounded by chicks. He is completely comfortable with them, making them do goofy things and treating them just like he would a dorky little sister.This level of comfort with women is an attractive quality in a male.

Psy is just a solid male all around. He brings the heat, dresses sharp, and generally acts the part of someone who is getting laid. But, for some reason, not everyone is a fan of him or what he stands for… That’s right, Psy’s got his fair share of “haters”.

Addressing The Hate

There are two schools of hate that seem to circulate around Psy and his music and videos. These schools share pretty much converse views, and dislike Psy for opposite reasons.

One school is the jealous K-Pop artists and Koreans who say that Psy shouldn’t be famous because he’s a sell-out, that he doesn’t embody the characteristics of true K-Pop (*cough cough*, makeup and straightened hair), etc. They think that he is “too American” or “too mainstream” to be liked. To these individuals, I say: Awesome. I’m sure that Psy would take that as a compliment.

Gangnam Style

The cartoon cover for PSY's Gangnam Style. Silly, but our Korean Popstar doesn't mind poking fun at himself.

The other school are those Asian-Americans who desperately want to be seen as entirely American, and leave their Asian heritage behind; those who want to be completely assimilated and accepted, regardless of any personal or cultural compromise they might have to make.

These people dislike Psy because they feel that he is re-enforcing negative stereotypes of Asian men (which he isn’t) and that this negative association will affect them personally. My argument against this is that you ARE Asian… DON’T surrender your cultural heritage and national pride, because you simply DON’T NEED TO. You don’t need to forget your family’s history in order to get laid.

The Bottom Line

Psy is a blessing to the Asian community. Observe him and mimic his behavior and body language. While “Gangnam Style” is easy to make fun of, it is this way because it was SUPPOSED to be… Psy is fine with making fun of himself!

Psy proves that it is possible (and even fucking fantastic) to embrace both your Asian-ness and your inner alpha male. Harness the two together to be an unlikely, but extremely charming, source of interest for the ladies.

Now go kill it, you exotic lover, you!  Empower yourself!

JT Tran

  • Mysterious Person

    i agree. I am proud to be an asian and i like his music/ performances.
    didn’t know there were psy haters. I dressed up as psy for halloween. 😮

    but who cares about haters? they can’t do anything. More haters only proves that Psy is doing better and better. People at top always get hated or… straight up d-bags get hated, too. Latter isn’t good. xD

  • jr

    All he did was just post the video up onto youtube without expecting too much. If this male was asian american, was better looking, Hollywood would have just ignored it entirely.

  • PSY had no intention of releasing the single to a white audience, if people actually listened to one of his interviews or looked it up on wikipedia, the song refers to the spoilt nature of those in Gangnam district in Seoul… as PSY said, the nearest comparison is a Beverely Hills type area, full of spoilt so and sos who think they are royalty.

    As an Asian European, I myself did not see it as a slight on my race, or “our” race (orientals – I am not Korean). In fact I love it for what it is – a bit of fun. Having said that, I understand the plight of fellow Asians who feel as if this has given asians a negative representation (moreso than before) – such is the toxicity of white media’s presentation of our men, I understand them for being touchy at ANY representative that makes it to TV.

    Personally, it has led to more whites on the street “jokingly” shouting gangnam to me. Now, this is racism… it may be a “joke”, but it’s a joke stemmed from a racial stereotype. One – that all asians are the same (Korean born Korean compared to European born Chinese).. Second – is it socially acceptable for anyone to do a crude impression of rihanna, Kanye West etc. if they made it to No 1 to a black person? No, exactly.

    • Andy

      I agree. I think it’s great that Psy is individualistic and seems proud of it despite his looks, however, even though Psy’s popularity in the west was unintentional, there are so many negative stereotypes of asian men that one can’t ignore. For some reason, in the U.S. Americans are seeing more negatives than positive portrayals of asian men and it’s unfortunate there are those idiots who think they can get away with making fun of asians. If it’s making fun of a black person, it’s a big no no, so there seems to be a double standard here. I noticed that with that darn “Cloud Atlas” movie. Why is it allowed for non asian men to be in terribly done yellow face, but not allowed for black face? The asian women’s makeup as non asian was more holistic and painstakingly done however. Also, besides the makeup, there was a plot line involving neo Seoul South Korea where the non asian actors spoke English with fake asian accents instead of the Korean language with the English subtitles.

    • kt

      i am so tired of you asians bitching and moaning about being discriminated against. you know why someone says that to you? probably because they are not used to seeing asians and just want to connect with you.

      i am from the usa, and also see people shouting gangnam at asians here. from my own personal experience, i rarely saw asians for my entire life until i moved to an asian heavy city. before then, i only saw asians in k-or taiwanese dramas, which i started watching after discovering anime. when i actually saw a real asian, i would stare and wonder whether they were similar to the asians i watched in k/taiwanese drama or not. i never found out, however, because i had no way of connecting with them, and they generally shyed away from any white person contact. now, we have some korean guy that somehow made it onto american pop radio. this is great, suddenly everyone knows that asians exist, and could possibly not be the judgmental, serious people we thought them to be.

      and then there’s you. if you really want to talk about asian discrimination, why don’t we start talking about how asian cultures encourage racism against every race but their own? don’t even get me started on chinese internationals.

      • probably because they are not used to seeing asians and just want to connect with you.

        ==========

        Did you keep a straight face whilst writing that? Want to connect with me – or indeed anyone? Then talk to them in a polite and respectful manner, that makes no reference to their race, personal appearance, etc. BASIC ETIQUETTE., applies to everyone from everywhere.

        Of course you know that, and are just trolling. And to top things off, you used the age old “We’re racist? What about you!” turnaround that is a common tactic of whites.

        And please point out specifically how asian cultures are “encourage racism against every race”. I’ve been to the Far East – there is racism there – the most notable one being the whiteworshipping of whites (in particular white men), whites featuring prominently in media, advertising etc… in place of their own.

      • Also to further add, why do you assume that I belong to an “asian culture”??? If you knew me beyond basing assumptions on appearances, you would instantly realise I was more European than Asian in outlook, thinking, mannerisms…. I was NOT brought up with “asian culture”. So for you to mention it basically reveals you to be quite the closet racist i.e. those who don’t make it obvious, but read between the lines and you’ll see the racial stereotyping coming through.

        And secondly, what have chinese internationals got to do with asians? They are, factually, foreign. Not of this (for you, America, for me, in Europe) country.

        Are you implying that racism from foreigners somehow excuses homegrown racism towards minorities of their own country???

    • Huggable Heather here 🙂

      I agree with you, KT doesn’t know what they’re talking about. It is racism. It actually is. I would never dream of going up to a black person and screaming “KOBE! KOBE!” so I’m not going up to the nearest Asian in my vicinity and screaming “Gangnam!”.

      If I REALLY want to get to know an Asian person, I’m going to walk up to them and say “hey, I would like to get to know you.” Or something to that extent.

      I grew up in Utah, which is something like 90% White. We are WHITE in Utah. My best friend in 9th grade was Chinese-American, and I remember this really, painfully embarrassing moment when I had Monty Python’s “I like Chinese” stuck in my head and actually started singing it out loud. In front of her.

      To give you an idea, the lyrics are “I like Chinese…I like Chinese…they only come up to your knees…Ni hao ma, Ni hao ma, Ni hao ma, Tsai Jien”.

      Guess what? She was offended! *shocker*

      That almost ended our friendship. She didn’t say anything, but I could sense it. I wrote a REALLY long note apologizing to her, gave her a small gift that she had been wanting, and personally took it to her house and apologized in person.

      I have never done anything like that again and I never will.

      She was one of maybe 10 Asians I knew in school. Just because I didn’t see many Asians in my life doesn’t mean I can’t treat them like human beings. Asians and Asian-Americans are HUMAN first and ASIAN second.

      As far as how Asian cultures are racist and all that nonsense, the onus is not on them. We can only change ourselves. We as White people must let other Whites know that this isn’t okay. By doing so, other Whites see us as an example – that trying to end this racism isn’t self-serving, and that it is, in all actuality, wrong. By pointing out that Asians in Asia are racist doesn’t actually do shit. It just deflects the responsibility and shows an unwillingness to change. By admitting that there is racism in America and that it does exist doesn’t mean admitting I am racist. It just means I am acknowledging another person’s feelings and entertaining the idea that, perhaps, we have very different realities, lives, and emotions.

      • I’m surprised your friend didn’t hit you to be honest…someone doing that to my face is asking for it. Although quite surprised Monty Python has made such a mark in the US!

        =============
        By pointing out that Asians in Asia are racist doesn’t actually do shit. It just deflects the responsibility and shows an unwillingness to change.

        ========

        EXACTLY. And though racism of any kind regardless of nationality isn’t acceptable, what grates is that the commentators who say this still do not fully understand – that I AM A NATIVE BORN CITIZEN OF THIS COUNTRY, receiving racism IN MY OWN LAND – so for the likes of kt to just then compare it like for like with Asian racism in Asian countries towards foreigners who are working or on holiday there shows amazing ignorance and a fundamental lack of understanding.

        To those people, what you say is only comparable if, for example, I went to Russia and experienced racism there – as a foreigner. Like you may experience racism if you went to Japan.

  • Well it really depends on what person they are.
    But I think PSY has done both.

  • cjh

    PSY is wonderful for Asian men in America! He’s “Asian.” He’s famous. He’s a total hit. He’s also creative, funny, smart, and satricial. Any publicity is good publicity and it’s high time Asians get some publicity in this country.

  • Jewb

    He’s an absolute POSITIVE. Obvious reasons:

    1. His video is THE most ‘liked’ video of all time.

    2. His video is the most watched of all time.

    3. His hit has been a #1 hit, all around the world.

    Other reason:
    He shows that an Asian guy can ‘take over the world.’

    Also, this article sounds a bit anti-K-pop. Nothing wrong with Kpop, it is just an mainstream music (pop) from South Korea… (that is just very popular world-wide with the music, fashion and swag etc… with fans from all over the world. Win!).

  • Anonymous

    Psy is cool and articulate as well as an all round nice guy. He does not need to represent ALL of Asian men?
    Also, it doesn’t matter if the Asian guy is hot and buff, if you notice Rain in Ninja Assassin, even then white western media does not grant him any romantic agency. He does not get a kiss scene. Not even one. So the problem lies in white western media and them consistently blocking Asian representations that are normal like anyone else.

    • Anonymous

      Agreed, PSY does not need to, nor does he, represent all Asian men. However, he has pretty much received the most spotlight in recent history and made his way into mainstream western media. This doesn’t grant him automatic representative status, but it does affect a few things.

      I highly doubt he would be the first choice on Asian male representation, but it happened, ever so slightly. He isn’t the end all, but he is a representative. There’s something called “availability heuristic” – it’s the frame of reference people have when thinking about a topic. For example, if your great-grandmother smoked a pack a day but didn’t get lung cancer and is still kicking at 97, you might be more inclined to believe smoking won’t certainly kill you, despite statistical evidence indicating otherwise.

      PSY is definitely someone’s availability heuristic. It’s impossible for him not to be. I believe people would be hard-pressed to think of all Asian men as PSY, but it can most definitely affect opinions that others have about Asian men – it creates another archtype that may or may not be positive (I still think it has yet to be determined, but I’m thinking it was overall neutral. But that’s just my opinion, I could be wrong – I’m sure it’s a case basis in many instances).

      I was thoroughly disappointed when Rain from Ninja Assassin did not get a kiss scene – the writing and chemistry from the actors seemed to lead us into believing they would get one. Both were very attractive people and, if the main character had been a different race, you can bet 100000% there would have been a kiss and/or sex scene. However, this is America, and Asian men (and women) so very rarely have their day on screen.

      White/western media is very much to blame, I agree. But it is not a static, set-in-stone concept. It can be changed. In the 1940s and 50s, Sessue Hayakawa was in quite a few movies where he was portrayed as a sexually-charged character. It has happened before. It can happen again.

      I think it’s a multi-pronged attack – we obviously need more people in Hollywood writing scripts, casting Asian-American (both men and women) actors, producers funding these projects, directors calling the shots, and, of course, said actors. Getting all of these factors together seems to be the hard part, but I’m sure it can be done. There are plenty of Asian actors and actresses willing, but not enough casting directors willing to take them on (the stories from Asian-American acting friends I’ve heard are just…sad), not enough scripts flexible enough to take them…the list goes on and on.

      I think I have read all your comments and I appreciate your honesty. You have to understand that my comprehension of Asian-American issues cannot be totally explained in a 700 word article and that I am not as shallow as you take me for. However, this is a dating site, and you therefore cannot expect more intellectual concepts (for lack of a better term) to go much further than a sentence or two, at best.

      It is not my intention to bestow upon non-Whites any sort of racially charged validation. I happen to be White and these happen to be my opinions. It is, however, nice to read that someone is on your side, whatever you have dictated your “side” to be. I’ve been insecure and depressed about personal shortcomings before, and sometimes it just helps to have someone believe in you, even if it’s for something as arbitrary as sexual attraction.

      I started writing these articles because I have had too many Asian guys over the yeaars write to me on facebook, myspace, whatever, and just thank me for even speaking to them. There are so many guys with confidence issues that are racially charged. I didn’t write these to show how understanding or awesome or whatever I am. I don’t experience racism just because I’m dating an Asian guy – I stand next to him and watch him experience it every day. I’m not Joan of Arc or Mary Mother of God – I’m just a random person on the internet, like you. All I wanted to do was just give a little courage to these guys so they could go about their day and know that there is hope somewhere. If you don’t need that, then this message obviously isn’t for you.

      But that message is for some; that is why, almost 4 years later, I still write for this site and still help JT with his cause. I still believe.

  • handsome asian dude

    You guys should write a blog about Fresh off the boat TV series. It looks like it’s well on it’s way to become a regular asian TV show. It’s sort of like The Wonder Years and a little bit of King of the Hill because of the stereotypes.

  • EbolaJenkins

    You go GET some, Asian Man!… bacoz here is what is look like when B1ack Man get with Asian Woman:
    clarkprosecutor.org/html/death/US/watts1126.htm