Psy is a Korean singer. His songs and videos are meant for Korea as they are cultural critiques on the society. He’s been critiquing and lampooning Korean society and celebrities since 2001 when he was fined by the South Korean gov’t for “inappropriate content” on his debut album. He’s been controversial in Korea similar to Eminem in the States. Psy’s only international fame came from (arguably mainly the video of) Gangnam Style.
Psy’s new Korean song and video, “Gentleman”, appears to be a critique of the male-dominated Confucian society that exists in South Korea today. As a Westerner you probably understand what the male-dominated part means, but the Confucian might be new. Basically Confucianism as practiced in Korea (no it’s not a religion) culturally requires a strict adherence to obeying your elders. Even a 1 year difference requires more formal language. In the famous lyric “Oppa Gangnam-style”, “oppa” is the term used by a woman referring to any male slightly older than her.
In the beginning of “Gentleman”, notice Psy’s entourage – all old men. Why not sexy women? Because old men are funny? Well kinda, but there’s more to it. The old men look like they could be butlers, which makes since in Western society (think Alfred from Batman). But in Korea, you will never see an older man acting in an inferior position to a younger person. This scene alone will make Koreans awkwardly laugh seeing old men carrying clothes for the clearly younger Psy. Huge cultural faux-pas.
The opening scene also sets the stage for the mindset of the rest of the video. The “gentlemen” are the older men (or men in general) in Korean society. They are rude and inconsiderate towards others because they are men and older, aka in a male-dominated Confucian society (watch this video humorously explaining sexism in Korea).
Now, for those of you unfamiliar with Korean culture, no, obviously men don’t pull the chairs out from women and give them the stink-fist in libraries. And that’s the point Psy is making. What’s so different from not letting women smoke in public, talking down to people younger than you, not waiting in lines, pushing to be first on or off an elevator, and all of the humorous incivilities in the video? They’re all incivil and rude.
As a Westerner living in Korea, I appreciate Psy’s efforts to change the course of his society through humor and music. I won’t argue his talents as a musician, singer, or dancer but I will commend him on his willingness to take chances to make change through ridiculous humor.
Psy is dead. Long live Psy.