PSY, the grinning face of “Gangnam Style,” ran into his first international bad press last week when someone finally realized that America’s favorite novelty artist has rapped about killing the “daughters, mothers, daughters-in-laws, and fathers” of “fucking Yankees.”
The story first showed up in CNN’s quasi-blog iReports section two months ago; since then we’ve learned the lyrics PSY performed were written by another band, and he’s apologized in what is perhaps the most important geopolitical communique ever to contain the words “Jay Leno.”
The apology is probably not enough to satisfy the people who were disgusted by his 2004 performance and just enough to set off the volunteer insincerity-fighters out there who were looking for a reason to declare him insufficiently serious for Real Music Fans. I have more in common with the first group than the second, but I accept the apology. I accept it because PSY deserves the opportunity to sell out–because in 2012, 1 A.P., it’s the most honest thing he could do.
Don’t get me wrong: Psy has almost certainly apologized because he’s speaking, now, to an entirely different audience than he was in 2004, and that audience is making him millions of dollars. The creator of “Gangnam Style” is, to the surprise of people who are continually surprised by this kind of thing, not an ideologically pure Korean nationalist or anti-imperialist, and never was. But that’s a totally natural reaction, even if you aren’t as generally suspicious of rigid idealogues as I am. In 2004 PSY was a bad-boy Korean rapper accused of draft-dodging; in 2012, almost by accident, he is one of the most broadly famous musicians on earth. In response to impossibly different stimuli, responsibilities, and desires, and in a completely different historical moment, PSY has changed his mind. It would be weird if he didn’t.
It’s important to disentangle defending PSY as someone who’s not necessarily a Stalinist or an opportunistic asshole from lauding him for being neither of those things. Nothing he’s done–the protest song or this week’s apology–was particularly dangerous in context. And his mission–trying to stay on his imaginary horse–is not particularly vital to the survival of South Korea, the United States, humanity, or real horses. It’s reasonable to take offense at the initial protest or to doubt his motivations for the subsequent apology, and it’s even more reasonable to not care about him at all.
But I like hypocrites; they’re worth pulling for, because they’re still trying to be something they aren’t yet. The PSY that the Internet created on accident when “Gangnam Style” escaped Gangnam is trying to entertain everybody and offend nobody. It’s impossible–it would be even if he weren’t the same PSY who tried to make Seoul’s parents nervous 10 years ago–and it’s not very important, but I don’t doubt that it’s a real goal.
So get pissed off about that Yankee verse, and roll your eyes at his total, Leno-leavened capitulation, but don’t think that what PSY was doing in 2004 was any more sincere than what he did when he performed in front of the American commander in chief a few days ago. PSY hasn’t turned his back on anything; he’s selling out because he means it.