A few weeks ago, I posted about Evan Osnos article, ‘Why China Lacks “Gangnam Style.”‘
Today, I came across an interview of Mr. Osnos about the same topic on Fareed Zakaria’s GPS. I found him to be more articulate and persuasive speaking than writing (not for the first time; perhaps his future lies in broadcasting–I’m a fan either way). Have a look:
Having now been over the same territory twice with Mr. Osnos, I realize what has quietly nagged at me: He is asking the wrong question and giving the right answer.
The question is not why doesn’t China have ‘Gangnam Style?,’ as Mr. Osnos suggests.
Why? Because Korea doesn’t have ‘Gangnam Style’ either; it has PSY. Nothing in Korean popular music foreshadowed–or encouraged–PSY’s genius work.
But, Mr. Osnos answer–that Chinese society shaves off the edges–is right on target. The problem is that it applies equally or perhaps even more so to Korea.
Outside of China and Taiwan, the place I lived the longest was Seoul (where I also met my wife Sojeong, K-Pop critic extraordinaire who provides me with a steady flow of insights). What struck me in my couple of years there is that for the most part Koreans seem to be compelled to conform more by their society than Chinese are compelled to conform by their government. And, while Koreans tend to bend to overwhelming societal pressure, Chinese demonstrate extraordinary ingenuity at thwarting their government’s.
If this were Korea Debate, I would write at some length about how the impressario, Yang Hyunsuk or YG of YG Entertainment, gave PSY (short for Psycho) the freedom to express himself and take risks. And, how this atmosphere allowed PSY to develop his already outside-the-mainstream work that culminated in ‘Gangnam Style.’ If anything, the real question should be why doesn’t China have a Y.G.?
In the end, this is all beside the point. Michelangelo might have achieved greatness without Medici nurturing, and PSY might have produced ‘Gangnam Style’ without Y.G. Works of overarching or of merely popular genius come from the artists themselves, often despite the the forces surrounding them.