Who would have thought a stocky, 34-year-old South Korean gentleman in a powder blue tuxedo would become a superstar? "Oppan Gangnam Style!" is the phrase on everyone's lips these days, as Americans are galloping in place under the spell of Korean-pop sensation Psy.
The song, "Gangnam Style," along with its signature dance and comical video, is responsible for K-pop's breakthrough into American culture. Psy, also known as Park Jae-sang, has appeared on the season premiere episode of "Saturday Night Live," the MTV Video Music Awards with host comedian Kevin Hart and the "Today" show, where he brought Savannah Guthrie, David Gregory, Natalie Morales and Al Roker onstage to mimic his moves.
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DJ Rob James of Huntington says he can't stop spinning "Gangnam Style" at private parties that he works on Long Island. "People go crazy for it. It's equivalent to the 'Macarena,'" he says. "This is a monster hit. You have to play it, and more than once."
WHAT IS IT?
The song, which is sung in Korean, features an addictive pulsating dance beat that is almost impossible to get out of your head. The dance that accompanies it involves a galloping move and lassoing motion (as if you are riding an imaginary horse) followed by a side shuffle with your hands on your hips. The phrase "Gangnam Style" refers to the Gangnam district of Seoul, South Korea, where people are known to be hip and trendy.
After soaring up the Billboard charts, Psy celebrated his success by holding a free concert for 80,000 people in Seoul City Hall Plaza. He even made the Guinness Book of World Records for having the most-liked video in YouTube history (more than 2 million).
New York Sports Club fitness instructor Desiree Tyers starts her Zumba classes in Smithtown with "Gangnam Style" to warm up her students. "People catch on quick," she says. "There's something contagious about that song."
Tyers recently added the dance to her repertoire because she was drawn to Psy. "His energy is so pure and authentic that it just resonated with me," she says. "As a fitness instructor, my job is to motivate. This is a song that connects with people."
CLASSY AND CHEESY
When appearing on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," where he taught guest Britney Spears his routine, Psy told her, "The mindset of this dance is to dress classy and dance cheesy." On CNN he said, "'Gangnam Style' is being noble during the day and crazy at night."
Korean-American Eun Jung Kim of Manhasset enjoys listening to "Gangnam Style" in the car with her 11- and 9-year-old daughters. "Everybody is talking about Psy in the Korean community," says Kim, 42. "His mind is strong, and he loves his country. I'm so proud of him. Plus, he's really funky and funny."
The video currently has more than 480 million views. The tuxedo and sunglasses he wears in the video have even become a hot Halloween costume this year.
"I made this for Korea, not worldwide," Psy told CNN. "I didn't expect anything like this."
Nayala Smith, 17, of Manhattan, was so inspired by Psy that she filmed one of the many "Gangnam Style" parodies on YouTube at Centre Island Beach in Bayville and in the parking lot of T.G.I. Friday's in Westbury.
"It's so different from anything we've seen in America," she says. "When Ne-Yo or Chris Brown does dance moves, not many people can copy them. This is a dance anyone can do, anywhere."
Because of the "Gangnam Style" popularity, the Long Island School of Music and Arts dance program in Albertson has seen a spike in enrollment for its K-pop classes. "I think women have found that it's a fantastic way to lose weight," says executive director Patricia Schust. "They are using the dance to keep themselves physically fit."
LISMA's Korean-American dance instructor Jackie Youn adds, "People love simple movements with great sounds. It's something we can all share, and it makes them feel good."