Foreigners taking Korea on their own terms.

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Over the last few weeks my friends and I have had a lot of conversations about how Koreans have got to understand that foreigners aren’t going to necessarily love Korea in the same way that Koreans love Korea, and that it’s okay. Kimchi isn’t going to be the wonder food internationally that it is to Koreans — bulgogi, or galbi or samgyeopsal (“Korean BBQ”), on the other hand, can go a long, long way. Also, fuse the kimchi with a taco, and what have you got? Something foreigners will flock toward.

It isn’t necessarily going to happen on Koreans’ terms.

Over the last few weeks my friends and I have had a lot of conversations about how Koreans have got to understand that foreigners aren’t going to necessarily love Korea in the same way that Koreans love Korea, and that it’s okay. Kimchi isn’t going to be the wonder food internationally that it is to Koreans — bulgogi, or galbi or samgyeopsal (“Korean BBQ”), on the other hand, can go a long, long way. Also, fuse the kimchi with a taco, and what have you got? Something foreigners will flock toward.

It isn’t necessarily going to happen on Koreans’ terms.

And then “Gangnam Style” happened. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Koreans around me puzzle over something so intensely. Today in the car with my coworker, the conversation on the radio turned toward the song and how it’s popping up all over in the foreign media. My coworker turned the radio down and after a long, serious pause said, “What is it about this song?”

I didn’t really have an answer for her, other than that it’s funny. But she’s confused as to why, with all of the groups that Korea has worked so hard to export — the really well put-together, trained and polished groups, Psy is the one that finally made it. And this song, specifically. “To us,” she said, “it’s just Psy.”

It’s been the subject of a lot of articles, news commentary and interviews over the past few days. Why Psy? Why “Gangnam Style”?

The thing is, Koreans have gone nuts for the song and the video as well. Perhaps more nuts than I’ve seen them go over anything in a long time (other than Busker Busker, whose entire catalog “Gangnam Style” is only beginning to edge out, as far as things you hear blaring out of shops while walking down the sidewalk). So I don’t think it should  be so much of a mystery. As for why it’s this specific song that’s made it out, I don’t have an answer, but it’s fairly obvious to me why the average American young person would have more of a connection to a Psy video than a Super Junior video.

And, believe it or not, it’s safe to say that a lot of Westerners are mystified about the things imported from the West that end up trending as big as the do with Koreans, at times, as well. But one thing’s for sure — this video is definitely not fusion. It’s all Korea.

Speaking of fusion, here’s a short film made by a friend of a friend living in Seoul:


A New Machine from Tony Clavelli on Vimeo.

You can see his other stuff here. Being not in the least artistically inclined, myself, I find it amazing that someone is able to make something like this.



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