South Korean rapper PSY performs “Gangnam Style” at the American Music Awards on Nov. 18 in Los Angeles. Dance enthusiasts in Maine say they are attracted to PSY’s willingness to have fun.
By Ray Routhier
Carl Little had just voted, and he wanted to celebrate.
So the 58-year-old author decided to break out in the "Gangnam Style" dance on Election Day -- bouncing on an imaginary horse and pretending to throw a lasso overhead -- right there on the steps of the fire station in Somesville.
In a world that's been shrunken immeasurably by technology and pop culture, it seemed appropriate to Little to celebrate a basic American right by breaking into a silly, joyous dance made famous by a South Korean rapper and his infectious music video.
Because spreading silliness and fun is a basic American right, too.
"I first saw the dance on a 'Saturday Night Live' skit, and it just blew me away for some reason," said Little, who lives in Mount Desert and has written 15 books on artists. "I just loved the energy of it. It was a moment of relief for me to have voted, and I just wanted to do something fun."
"Fun" seems to be the key word most people use when trying to explain the enormous popularity of the song "Gangnam Style" by PSY and its accompanying dance.
Back in the day, we had the mashed potato, Michael Jackson's moonwalk and even that minor league ballpark favorite, "Macarena." But thanks to viral videos and the ability to watch them anywhere, "Gangnam Style" has become a dance craze like few others.
The video has been viewed more than 808 million times on YouTube as of Saturday. It's so embedded in current pop culture that everything you do -- whether it's watching television, surfing the Internet, going to a concert, hanging out at a bar or just plain walking down the street -- you're likely to see someone doing the "Gangnam Style."
In Maine, the "Gangnam Style" dance has shown up not only on Election Day in Somesville, but in dance classes, in supermarkets, on soccer fields, in school yards, in the act of a local stage hypnotist -- and in the homes of both young and old.
The big question is this: How did a song sung almost entirely in Korean about hipsters who live in Seoul's Gangnam neighborhood -- not to mention a dance that looks vaguely like a kindergartner playing a cowboy -- become so wildly popular?
"Some of my friends were doing it at soccer practice, and it just looked like fun," said Will Mullen, 10, a fifth-grader at Mast Landing School in Freeport. "Then I heard the song on the radio, and saw how to do it on 'Ellen.' It's a really cool dance."
A dance so popular that fifth-grade boys aren't embarrassed to do it? That's impressive.
One of Will's soccer-playing friends, 10-year-old Jesse Bennell of Freeport, first saw the "Gangnam Style" dance on the TV news. The news that night featured a story on the dance being performed at an Ohio State football game. That made Jesse seek out the video.
"I really like the dancing," said Jesse. "And I like the way he sings. It's all really funny."
Indeed, PSY -- who usually wears shades, a black tie and an evening jacket -- looks more like a '50s lounge singer than a 21st-century pop star. In the "Gangnam Style" video, he's seen dancing his way through a mish-mash of weird places and scenarios, from stables, swimming pools and parking garages to elevators and subway trains. He even sings while on the potty.
The video can be seen as a parody of music video history. And the song itself, with its bouncy techno beat, is insanely catchy.
Plus, PSY himself appears to be having fun. As he told Ellen DeGeneres on her daytime talk show, the proper "mind-set" for doing the "Gangnam Style" dance is to "dress classy and dance cheesy."
Even serious dancers like it.
"When I first saw it, probably in September, I thought it was ridiculous and hilarious and fantastic," said Hadley Britt, 15, a freshman at Cape Elizabeth High School, who takes ballet three times a week at the Portland School of Ballet on Forest Avenue. "I was like, 'Oh my God, I want to learn that.' All my friends said, 'We should do that.' "
Hadley and her friends will do the dance spontaneously at someone's house, while sitting at desks, riding in the car or at the mall. She was once in a Shaw's supermarket with her mother and heard the song softly playing on the speaker system, so she started galloping "Gangnam Style" down the aisles.
"I think I like the video and dance so much because it's just so completely random," said Hadley.
A South Korean rapper in evening wear doing a dance on an invisible horse? Yep, random pretty much sums it up.
Random or not, "Gangnam Style" fever doesn't appear to be waning anytime soon. PSY has appeared on NBC's "Saturday Night Live" and "Today" shows, and on the American Music Awards on Nov. 18 with MC Hammer. Earlier this month, he was on stage with pop icon Madonna during her show at Madison Square Garden.
In October, PSY met United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the U.N. headquarters, who said he wanted to work with the rapper because of his "unlimited global reach."
Locally, "Gangnam Style" is popping up in places where, well, you wouldn't expect to see people breaking out in dance.
For instance, on Nov. 17 at a female arm-wrestling match meant to be a fundraiser for Mayo Street Arts in Portland, a "Gangnam Style" dance-off was added to the event. Just to make it more fun.
"When I looked the video up (before the event), I was happy to see that the singer didn't really take himself all that seriously, which makes it easy and fun for the rest of us," said Elizabeth Burd, one of the arm wrestlers at the match. "The whole night was pretty lighthearted, so this fit right in."
Stage hypnotist Paul Ramsay performs at colleges all over the country, including Maine, and always lets his audience pick a pop celebrity for him to "suggest" his hypnotic subject to become. For the past few months, the audiences have wanted Ramsay to hypnotize his subjects into doing "Gangnam Style" as PSY.
"I give my audiences three choices -- PSY, Carly Rae Jepsen or (the boy band) One Direction. But for the past few months, at every show, they pick PSY," said Ramsay, who lives in Somersworth, N.H., just over the state line from Berwick. "So many people in my audiences have seen the video that I really don't have to tell (his hypnotism subjects) what to do.
"I just have to tell them they are the Korean singer PSY who does 'Gangnam Style' dance, and they know what to do."
Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:
Carl Little, a 58-year-old author and freelance art writer in Maine, does the “Gangnam Style” dance outside a fire station in Somesville on Nov. 6 to celebrate the fact that he had just voted. The dance, which originated in a music video by South Korean singer PSY, has become a symbol of fun and joy for people of all ages since its release last summer.
Madonna performs onstage with South Korean rapper PSY during the MDNA concert at Madison Square Garden in New York on Nov. 13. The rapper’s “cheesy” and insanely catchy dance routine even prompted United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to say PSY had “unlimited global reach.”