This November, the world witnessed a seismic shift, the sort that only matters if it’s accompanied with the hashtag #history. If you thought for an instant that reference was to US President Barack Obama’s re-election, the Israel-Hamas conflict, Ajmal Kasab’s execution or Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi going the full pharaoh, you have been so far removed from reality as to consider running for elected office.
Once you have forfeited your deposit, consider streaming the music video by South Korean rapper PSY, Gangnam Style, that, this week, displaced Justin Bieber’s Baby as the most watched video of all time on YouTube. Gangnam Style’s momentous breakthrough arrived, curiously enough, just as the world was observing the first anniversary of another viral sensation, Why This Kolaveri Di?
A decade earlier, the age’s zeitgeist could have been captured by an outbreak of air guitar antics, now it’s time for air horse-riding à la PSY to go viral, or, if you’re politically inclined, the Congressional airheads’ dog and pony show over the looming fiscal cliff in America.
The video has proved an eyeball magnet in the US, upstaging contenders like infant Charlie biting elder brother Harry’s finger. According to unconfirmed rumours, President Obama reacted to the phenomenon by making his finest Not Impressed face and sending a message to PSY, stating clearly: “You didn’t build that.” Actually, Washington insiders claim that the Office of Management and Budget’s PowerPoint presentations posted online easily surpass Gangnam Style. Though, of course, given government accounting practices, that may be true since those numbers start at a trillion.
PSY, born Park Jaesang, even crossed over into China, topping the Baidu charts and spreading quicker than SARS. Inexplicably, Chinese viewers opted for Gangnam Style over the state television telecasts of the Gang of Nine Style from Beijing as the Chinese Communist Party selected its new leadership. Perhaps they were just disappointed that President Hu and Premier Wen’s successors will not be, as some believed, Hao and Wai, but instead Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang although both are no less of a question mark to the rest of the world. However, Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei and Indo-Brit artist Anish Kapoor’s remixes of Gangnam Style for human rights in China were denied entry through the country’s cyberborders.
Across the Korean border, there was even a Pyongyang Style video posted on YouTube and watched by all 11 persons with Internet access in North Korea, even though that version seemed to feature zombies on downers. In fact, the video has already spawned more parodies and memes than the American budget deficit.
Even the United Nations got into the act, with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, also a South Korean, appearing with PSY and announcing his track was “a force for world peace”. No word yet on whether he will deploy PSY to Syria instead of Kofi Annan.
Though the UN’s interventions in the Middle East are about as effective as Hamas’ missiles against Israel’s Iron Dome defences, Ban did get something right, as he said of PSY: “He’s so energetic he can help to end (the) energy crisis.” A clue to that hyperkinetic persona may appear in the lyrics of the song, as PSY raps about “A guy who one-shots his coffee before it even cools down.” That’s really where Bieber went wrong, as he sings in Baby: “She woke me up daily, don’t need no Starbucks.” Decaf isn’t the way to dominance.
Bieber did try to fight PSY to a tie in the cybersphere even if he did without one himself, showing up in undone overalls to accept a medal from Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
But we are at a true inflection point in history where Bieber’s been bested and there’s wonderment in the world. But the non-Bieber besotted have emitted a PSY of relief. As the Mad Hatter said to Alice in another Wonderland, “You used to be much more ‘muchier’. You’ve lost your muchness.”
Currently based in Toronto, Anirudh Bhattacharyya has been a New York-based foreign correspondent for eight years. The views expressed by the author are personal.