A PSY AND PENTATONIX UPDATE

Teaching the “horse dance” with Wolverine Hugh Jackman

I intended to write this when Psy’s “Gangnam Style” finally hits No. 1 on the US Billboard Hot 100.  But for seven weeks, it has been stuck at No. 2, fended off the summit by Maroon 5’s “One More Night”.  Actually, in the components where actual audience demand is measured (sales and streaming), “Gangnam Style” already went to No. 1.  The only issue is radio airplay–Maroon 5 continues to dominate Psy in this respect, and “Gangnam Style” could only peak at No. 12 in airplay.  I’m certain there are a deluge of audience requests to get this song played on the radio, and radio did acquiesce to their demand, but only to a certain extent.  But it’s easy to believe that radio programmers still regard Psy as a “novelty” and a “one-hit-wonder”, so they are still uncomfortable with giving the song heavily saturated airplay like the way they accorded Maroon 5.  Psy is not the only victim of the whims of radio programmers–remember the earlier in his career, Justin Bieber also encountered similar resistance (that is why his mega-catchy pre-puberty highlight, “Baby”, only peaked at No. 5 overall in the Hot 100).

Still, seven weeks at No. 2 is nothing to be sneezed at–in my reckoning it is already as good as a No. 1 hit (something that stayed on top for at least three weeks).  And though he has not officially joined the company of Domenico Modugno, Kyu Sakamoto, Soeur Sourire (a.k.a. the Singing Nun), and Los Lobos, he at least has Nena’s 1984 hit “99 Luftballons” for company.

Psy has of course been busy touring around the world promoting his mega-smash hit, seeing action in Australia, then returning back to the US with TV guestings in The View and a mini-concert at the House of Blues in Los Angeles, then off to Europe to France, UK and Germany.  Highlights of his European sojourn include a flash mob in France, addressing the prestigious Oxford Union Society in the UK, and performing at the MTV Europe Music Awards (EMAs) in Germany.

About his House of Blues mini-concert in Los Angeles, it is in general a very successful concert–he was able to get away with performing “Champion” on American soil without anyone raising a fuss about the “ni ga” lyrics–the audience just appreciatively partied along.

But I observed about how he speaks onstage in English and I couldn’t help how he sounded like in Korean.  In English, he sounded somewhat a bit awkward and meek even if he is undeniably charming, but if you see his now epic Seoul Plaza concert below, he sounds way more commanding, without diminishing charm and good manners.

If Psy wants to eventually become a major international concert draw, he needs to work a bit on his English stage patter.  He is already on the right track but I want to feel the swagger he has when he speaks to his audience in Korean.  And I have an unlikely mentor who can help him master that–Celine Dion.  Now hear me out–both Celine and Psy do not have English as their first language, but Celine has (perhaps honed through experience) a strong command in engaging her audience in English.  Check out a sample of Celine’s stage banter below:

Besides the fact they are non-native English speakers, Celine and Psy also share other similar traits–the way the give themselves wholeheartedly to their fans, and the fact that their personalities are lovably kooky; I’m not that into Celine Dion’s music, but I still love her because when she doesn’t sing she has this humorously wacky personality, and Psy is of the same vein.

Prior to “Gangnam Style” becoming the worldwide phenomenon that it is today, he was also tapped to be one of the judges in South Korea’s answer to both the Idol and X-Factor franchises, Season 4 of Superstar K (I presume he’s currently absent in the live judging rounds because of international promotional commitments, which the producers tolerated as Psy is like a “default cultural ambassador” due to the mega-smash hit).  The popularity of “Gangnam Style” along with the rest of his 6th album has led to contestants doing fresh cover versions of his songs.  For instance, below is a “boot camp” round featuring five of the aspirants teaming up to create a lovely and slinky acoustic version of the mega-smash:

Just like American Idol, this season of Superstar K is laden with guys with guitars, like there were four acoustic male guitarists who made Top Six (though two of them, who were the guitarists in the above video, were both eliminated at that round).  The remaining surviving KGWG (Korean Guy With Guitar), Roy Kim, also performed a Psy cover, “Blue Frog” from his latest album.  I love Roy Kim’s acoustic take, with a rave-up climax towards the end that I thought “went to church” as it has a gospel feel to it.  Check out the TV performance below:

It’s inevitable with the viral popularity of that mega-smash that there would be spoofs and cover versions.  Even Pentatonix joined in the fray, coming up with a fun and genius version of the hit.  It’s nice that Scott Hoying was earnest in singing the lyrics (and counting down) in Korean–this is the closest that a white Caucasian US male would get to sounding authentically Korean.  I also love other subtle touches in their arrangement, like Avi Kaplan’s use of throat singing, the tick-tock rhythms at the bridge, and the shifts in tones on the verses.  It features the group’s trademark tightness and a joyfully fun looseness simultaneously, and is now amongst their most popular videos (behind their classic performances of Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know” and fun.’s “We Are Young”).

For Halloween, Pentatonix also came up with a video for one of the highlights from their EP, their cover of Imogen Heap’s “Aha!”  Though kudos for the group for the guts of allowing to portray themselves as antiheroes, I think due to possibly both budget and image considerations they didn’t go there as they played mock zombies haunting a romantic couple (they are supposed to be zombies, but they look more like semi-creepy, unkempt insomniacs instead).  That quibble aside, it’s still one of the more interesting videos you can see out there.

Finally, Pentatonix is releasing a Christmas album called PTXmas.  Entertainment Weekly is streaming one of the songs from that album, “Carol of the Bells” on its website.  Wonder when the holidays start to kick in, if they can beat or equal the holiday offerings of another a cappella act, Straight No Chaser?

All I can say, is I hope for continued success for two of my recent favorite artists.

JUST ME!

JOSEPH

ADDENDUM:  This is just in–right after I posted this article, Psy made another epic milestone performing in Madonna’s concert at Madison Square Garden in New York City.  Madonna segued her song “Give It To Me” as its current concert arrangement has similar synths with “Gangnam Style” to allow for Psy’s special guest appearance.  Being the awesome dancer that she is, obviously Madonna could do the “horse dance” wonderfully.  They then had fun with Madonna’s mega-smash “Music”.  See the concert footage below:

ADDENDUM 2:  Pentatonix just posted a lovely, simple, no-frills video for “Carol of the Bells”.  Enjoy!

One thought on “A PSY AND PENTATONIX UPDATE

  1. jAs always, a wonderfully-written piece on your two favorite music acts of the current times. I must say because of you, I got hooked to Pentatonix.

    Just wana mention that Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance never reached No. 1, even though it was a worldwide hit. It logged on for seven weeks also and was beaten by Keisha’s Tiktok. The latter was just too strong in the US charts where as every other country was taken by Bad Romance.

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