As you’ve probably heard, Psy’s hit song Gangnam Style recently became the most played video in the history of YouTube. What you may not know is that the force behind this achievement is a first-grade class in a tiny village in rural Korea. I kid you not. Every day after lunch, the six-year-olds have a dance party in the computer lab. I know this because I use the computer lab as a classroom, and mine is the only computer with sound. I return from the cafeteria to find a first-grade rave in progress, belting along with the music video and riding invisible horses.
While Gangnam Style’s become an international sensation (Psy even had the dubious honor of teaching Britney Spears how to dance), its popularity among Korean school children is unbelievable. My second graders plead with me to play the song at the end of class (Captain Behavioral Incentive right there). At another school the six graders practiced the dance for weeks to perform it for their parents at the school concert. Still another made their own music video (a production in which yours truly played a cameo role). I see kids dancing at the water fountain and flapping their wrists down the hallway singing the song’s one English line,
“Heeeeeeeey, sexy lady!”
The Korean teachers love it. I was surprised by this at first, given that I can’t show my collarbones or hold my husband’s hand in public without garnering disapproving looks. Yet it’s ok for kindergarteners to sing about sexy ladies to the vice principal?
Why yes, apparently it is, and for several reasons. First off, the wee ones have no idea what a ‘sexy lady’ is. They’re just echoing the phonics, rather like Americans do for the entire rest of the song. Also, most K-pop songs include a few words of English. Generally, ‘sexy’ is among them. To a room of Korean children, it’s just filler.
Also, though some Americans deem the verses to be unintelligible noise, they are, in fact, in the venerable Korean language, something these kids know very well. If you know the lyrics, Gangnam Style is just another poppy, nonsensical love song. Here’s an excerpt translated into English:
A girl who is warm and human during the day A classy girl who knows how to enjoy the freedom of a cup of coffee A girl whose heart gets hotter when night comes A girl with that kind of twist
I’m a guy A guy who is as warm as you during the day A guy who one-shots his coffee before it even cools down A guy whose heart bursts when night comes That kind of guy
Beautiful, loveable Yes you, hey, yes you, hey Beautiful, loveable Yes you, hey, yes you, hey Now let’s go until the end
Oppa is Gangnam style, Gangnam style Oppa is Gangnam style, Gangnam style Oppa is Gangnam style
Hey- Sexy Lady, Oppa is Gangnam style Hey- Sexy Lady oh oh oh oh
(Translation from the cool K-pop blog Princess of Tea; checked for accuracy by Google Translate, which I could not live without.)
So my shock at the children’s frothing zeal for this song? Just culture shock. The only thing actually appalling about Gangnam Style is how addictive it is. I mean crazy addictive. A wake-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night-oh-my-god-it’s-still-in-my-head-get-it-out-get-it-out kind of addictive.
Which just goes to show the impact dance-crazed six-year-olds can have on the world. They launched Psy into the YouTube Hall of Fame, and they ensured that their English teacher will never sleep soundly again.
‘Oppa,’ by the way, is the term girls use for an older brother, though in a modern context it is also used to address a boyfriend (never, I’m told, a husband). Here’s a video about it by the fabulous Professor Oh.