Can you believe it? Last July, A south Korean rap singer named Psy uploads a video clip of his latest song and within four months it becomes the most viewed item ever published on Youtube!
This morning I checked the clip stats and now, 5 hours later, they are up by nearly one million more – at the staggering 815,197,646 views (yes – over 815 million) and 5,415,386 likes (that’s nearly 5.5 million…) If you still don’t know what Gangnam style is you probably have not been living on this planet in the past few months.
So what is Gangnam style and what do you need to know about it?
Gangnam is the affluent district of Seoul and the song mocks the ostentatious lifestyle of the rich. It is hard to explain the popularity of this song outside of Korea especially as the language is incomprehensible but that well mat be part of its charm. What might explain it is the silly dance that has been the inspiration for many take-offs of this song. It is so ridiculous that it is actually uber cool. The takeoffs are even wilder than the source. A collection of some of the most popular ones can be seen here.
Protest and Gangnam style
I am particularly interested in the adaptations made by visual artists to this clip. Ai Wei Wei, considered by some to be the most influential visual artist today created his own version of the Gangnam style. Wei Wei is constantly being targeted in his homeland China for political activism and his campaigns for freedom of speech in China. He goes in and out of jail but refuses to leave his country. In his version, the dance move imitating a horseback rider holding the reigns becomes handcuffed hands. I really recommend watching this clip if only to see Wei Wei moving with such lightness albeit his heavy build… A few hours after this clip was uploaded to Youtube it was censored and removed by the Chinese authorities after which Wei Wei called upon his colleagues to create more versions in protest of the censorship. The first to respond under the title “Gangnam for freedom” was Turner prize winner Anish Kapoor. 250 participants gathered in his London studio to support Ai Wei Wei and his quest for human rights in China. Other contributors to his clip include the MOMA employees, the NYC New museum, Hirshhorn, LACMA, Whitney, Brooklyn and San diego, the Serpentine gallery in London and even the Channel 4 news team and and other galleries holding signs with slogans like: “Standing together for human rights” and “ End repression, allow expression”.
The effectivity of protest in art.
One thing is certain – although Ai Wei Wei is a visual artist and the essence of his work is protest, not one of his artworks has created a reverberation as strong as his amusing version of Gangnam style. The conclusion may be that art has a chance of being politically influential as long as it appears in the form of a silly yet catchy video clip.