Psy was huge in Korea before Gangnam Style, but he’s only been asked for endorsements since becoming famous outside it. Not that he’ll ever want for money – he comes from a rich family – but I’m glad he’s exploiting his new-found fame to the fullest. I’ve been taking pictures of things Psy endorses for some months now and will update this entry as I find more. I’m leaving out the most obvious: his contracts for corporate giants LG and Samsung, for which he dances around a kimchi refrigerator on a huge screen in the train station, 24/7, never tiring. But those outside Korea may not be able to appreciate the full range of his endorsing power:
Korea has convinced me that capital is incredibly flexible, willing to use whatever tools it has to make a profit. Celebrities sell everything here, but the most polished and stylized K-pop bands have been instantly overshadowed by the well-built young man (and can we stop calling him fat? He’s got a round face, but then many Koreans do. His body type isn’t exceptional, except compared to the wafer-thin, starving K-pop teen worker-singers.) Compare him with the previous images of Korean pop music: these are posters I found in a tiny, cramped underground mall attached to Hongik subway station, on the way to the bathroom, on the wall of a depopulated CD store:
These people are incredibly well-dressed (in a way that westerners should never, ever attempt.) But it’s like they were dressed and then covered in a thin coat of amber resin. They could be plastic. Even the well-known and politically dubious Hyuna tried to absorb a bit of Psy’s lustre (and, at 233 million views, it apparently worked.) Psy, on the other hand, is funny, engaging and even anti-imperialist – his humanity hasn’t been ground out of him.
This has posed some problems for him: my sources tell me he’s the only Korean man forced to do military service twice. All Korean men are conscripted – it explains the preponderance of fully-uniformed young men carrying delicate pink shopping bags in central Seoul – but Psy ran afoul of the authorities, apparently after being spotted with his girlfriend when he was supposed to be on active service. So they doubled his time in the army. The man in charge of promoting Korean culture abroad was positively demure about Psy’s success:
Samuel Koo, the new head of South Korea’s Presidential Council on Nation Branding, is all too aware of the pitfalls of behaving like a “PR politburo” that simply trumpets the country’s achievements.
“What is successful in, by and from Korea is already there and too big for us to do anything about. What can you possibly add to Psy?” Koo told AFP in an interview… “Yes, it is the country of Samsung, but it’s also a country of empathy, a country of ODA, the country of Psy, the country of Olympic medals.
“It cannot be too systematically orchestrated, but there are easy connections one can make,” he said.
It’s also the country of forced military discipline as punishment for having a life; I’d like to think some bureaucrats seethed at having their ‘what not to do’ example become the nation’s ambassador to the world.
The construction of k-pop is at once far too big and too thin a topic for me to delve into at any depth, so I’ll just say it’s interesting to see the Spectacle at work.
Men’s skin cream:
The woman knocking back single-malt scotch reminds me of how hard Koreans are expected to drink (though I think the joke is that she’s a woman who can drink more than her male date.)