After months of anticipation, last April 12 Psy released his follow-up to his 2012 mega-smash “Gangnam Style”.  Entitled “Gentleman”, it hews closely to the formula of his previous hit, with a catchy electro-dance beat and hooks galore.  The video also on the surface likewise follows closely to the “Gangnam Style” template, with the return of the two comedians (Noh Hong-Chul a.k.a. “elevator guy” and Yoo Jae-Suk a.k.a. the guy in the yellow suit), some comedic hijinks, a memorable dance, and a K-Pop leading lady (this time, Ga-In from the Brown Eyed Girls).  Below is the video.

When I first listened to the song prior to the video premiere, I was a little disappointed as at first listen it is not as good as “Gangnam Style”.  The hooks do grow on you, but “Gangnam Style” still has the edge.  The song does sound better when you watch the official video, but there are things that make me extremely uncomfortable–though amusing, Psy’s behavior throughout most of the video is the opposite of the title and frankly reprehensible.  Some might find a “deeper” interpretation about the status of women living in Korea in Psy’s antics, which may ring true.  Anyway, Psy got a bit of comeuppance when he came into contact with Ga-In, and her presence (and the implicit blessing allowing Psy to use her group’s famous “Abracadabra” and “Sixth Sense” dances) made me giddy about the video that I could overlook the objectionable content this time.  It was not merely the appearance of Ga-In that made me giddy–I was salivating the potential new exposure the Brown Eyed Girls might get from this, as they are arguably the best, most talented girl group from Korea in terms of musical ability and musical quality (though they are not as big as 2NE1, Girls Generation, the Wonder Girls, Sistar, and T-ARA).  Below is the video to the Brown-Eyed Girls 2009 smash “Abracadabra”–I’ll discuss more about them in my next blog.

So why did he rehash another dance?  I presume after laying down the groove and the track for this song, and while brainstorming with choreographers, Psy can’t help but perform the “Abracadabra” dance with the groove, and so it was reported they paid the original choreographers for the right to do the dance, plus an added bonus of hiring Ga-in as leading lady.  And this is not the first time Psy performed this dance–remember how portions of his concerts include him performing in drag to the latest dances by female acts? (Remember Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” and Beyonce’s “Single Ladies”?  He also does Korean female acts like Sistar’s hit “Alone”, too).  One of his numbers included “Abracadabra”.  Proof is found at the 2:30 mark of his 2010 track “It’s Art” video, embedded below:

Psy had mentioned that he wanted to go into a sexier direction with this song, and in many ways, he delivered on that.  It also made me reflect that his recent career track so far is mirroring now-on-hiatus duo LMFAO.  Remember how “Gangnam Style” was compared to “Party Rock Anthem”?  This song is his equivalent to their other smash, “Sexy and I Know It”.

Though many pundits wanted Psy to fail so they can dismiss him as a one-hit wonder, the big splash this video made with records broken for biggest number of YouTube views in one day (38 million) and quick rise to over 250 million (and counting, though the pace has now slowed significantly), along with the song’s ascent in various international music charts, at least Psy has another hit, albeit one that may not have the surprising legs of his breakthrough.  Still, those staggering YouTube numbers are not to be sneezed at nor dismissed.

Inevitably, parody videos and cover versions have quickly sprouted up.  The first bonafide, fully-realized parody version came from one of my favorite bloggers, Simon and Martina of the website Eat Your Kimchi, dubbed “Eat Your Kimchi Like A Man”–it was released less than 72 hours from the release of the original video, and it’s a fun, cheesy romp.

Of the cover versions I heard, the one I enjoyed the most is the one by Korean indie band Led Apple–they added a hard rock element and a bit of menace by cutting through the obvious self-censoring and utter the lines “mother-f***ing gentleman” instead of “mother father gentleman”.

Here in the Philippines, what is trending are home videos of shirtless attractive men doing the “Gentleman / Abracadabra” dance.  Below is so far the most popular one around:

All in all, “Gentleman” seems to qualify as a success, but likely one that is fleeting a la “Harlem Shake”.  But I’m a bit frustrated that the world has not really realized the depth of talent and the range of musicality Psy actually possesses–hopefully whatever he will release after this song would address that and he will finally be able to sustain an international career.




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.



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!


During Psy’s “Rock Phase” in between his military stints in 2006, he offered up two indelible numbers that are now regular staples in his concerts.

The first is usually translated as “Entertainer”, but is also given alternate translations like “Celebrity” and “Artist”.  But whatever the case, it is a highly melodic, arena-ready anthemic number that is reminiscent of Robbie Williams’s 1998 hit (and his own concert staple) “Let Me Entertain You” [NOTE:  Robbie Williams was reportedly among the first celebrities who tweeted his praises for Psy’s “Gangnam Style” video–wonder if he’s aware of this song and is flattered by it, that’s why he gave such compliments?], and if you listen closely, he also paraphrased the “hip-hop-hippity-hop” phrase of that pioneering rap classic “Rapper’s Delight” from the Sugarhill Gang.  The song is reportedly addressed to Psy’s wife, about how even if he’s imperfect, he’ll be her entertainer and celebrity and do his very best for her.  The music video is a cute and amusing treat where Psy plays both an angel and an everyman character that evokes the Jim Carrey smash hit film, Bruce Almighty.

The other song is “Father”.  Though it doesn’t seem to be released as a single (I don’t see it listed in his discography), it is also another staple in Psy’s concerts.  It’s a loving, moving tribute to self-sacrificing fathers everywhere, that even for listeners whose fathers may not be exactly as described in the song would get misty-eyed.  The animated music video is so crystal clear and straightforward that you don’t really need a translation to understand what the song is about.  I could declare that this is my prime candidate for a modern-day Father’s Day anthem, the way the late 2Pac’s “Dear Mama” seems to a front-runner for a modern-day hpster’s Mother’s Day theme song.

During the early phases of his career, Psy handled everything independently, but after finally completing his military duties, with the encouragement of his wife he signed with powerhouse Korean entertainment agency YG Entertainment in 2010, home of superstar acts like Big Bang and 2NE1.  With the new signing he again evolved from the rock sound in 2006 to a sleek electro-pop sound.  The launching single after that signing, “Right Now”, seems to be like a prototype that “Gangnam Style” eventually took to astounding heights of fame.  There are even those elements of comedy and wacky dancing.

Another aspect that Korean fans expect from Psy, especially in his concerts, are his dance impersonations of female entertainers, and he normally will assume alter-egos, usually combining the element “Ssa-” (as in Korean, his stage name is actually spelled out as “Ssa-I”) with the lady’s name.  In his 2011 summer concert, he impersonated Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” and Beyonce’s “Single Ladies”, assuming the alter-egos of Lady SsaSsa and Ssayonce respectively.  In this year’s concert, he mimicked Korean girl group Sistar’s sensual disco-tinged hit “Alone” (not to be confused with Heart’s 1987 smash) and repeated the Lady Ssassa number, this time with firework bras (he should’ve changed the Lady Gaga song to “Bad Romance”, because the flaming bras were of that era, but that’s just a minor quibble).  Enjoy the laugh-riot-worthy and mind-blowing performances below:

Despite the “novelty” factor of “Gangnam Style”, examining Psy’s oeuvre should make one realize that this guy actually has the qualities to go beyond being a one-hit wonder, that perhaps he can escape the fate the befell other artists with smash non-English recordings (a whole slew of them, from Soeur Sourire’s “Dominique”, Kyu Sakamoto’s “Sukiyaki” [should’ve been better known as “Ue O Muite Aruko”], and Los del Rio’s “Macarena”) and perhaps maintain a sustained profile in the international stage.  He has demonstrated that he’s a consummate artist and entertainer from all the numbers I have featured in this essay, and he actually could speak English well especially since he went to college in Boston University and Berklee College of Music (maybe would probably need a little help creating fluid rhymes in English, but that could be a manageable challenge).  In fact, he can even turn into the one who can finally break the barrier and help other fellow Korean artists finally make serious inroads in the American market–since he belongs to the same agency he can collaborate in recordings by 2NE1 and perhaps Big Bang to help them forge their US breakthroughs.  He can also guest in recordings by other US/European artists, like the way Pitbull does.  Though “Gangnam Style” already exceeds everyone’s expectations, Psy seems capable of capitalizing on the breakthrough to go to even greater artistic and commercial heights.  It will be interesting where he goes from here–all I’ll probably wish is that Psy remains true to who he is as an artist and entertainer, to remain committed to his art without taking himself too seriously.