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Sunday December 9, 2012

Total silliness at right time and place is art

Mind-boggling success: Some American commentators have tried to make sense of Gangnam Style’s popularity but have
ended up admitting that they are at their wits’ end. — EPA Mind-boggling success: Some American commentators have tried to make sense of Gangnam Style’s popularity but have ended up admitting that they are at their wits’ end. — EPA

BANGKOK: “I can do ridiculous,” replied a British journalist being taught by the rapper to do the world-renowned Gangnam Style dance. What was left unsaid by the latter – and what has baffled hundreds of millions of people – was “How the hell did your ridiculous dance leapfrog Justin Bieber to become the most watched video on YouTube?”

You can be analytical about it, philosophical even, but does it really matter? The world is loving watching a chubby, 34-year-old man do a silly pony dance to a great beat, with some equally nonsensical footage thrown in, period.

The same world has watched a plain-looking boy moan, “Ouch, Charlie, that really hurts!” with equally enormous adoration and fascination. How many views does Barack Obama’s best speech get on YouTube? And we have never heard about a mega YouTube hit for the Pope, either.

Enough said. The world has spoken, time and again. Its citizens want to feel good, to relax, to laugh pure laughter and to share that with their family and friends. “Sad” videos go viral not because they depress people, but because inspiration exists in them somewhere.

YouTube is not just an indicator of what songs teenagers are crazy about; it’s also the whole world’s mouthpiece. And this still-expanding world is showing what is really valued.

Make no mistake, funny sells. So do thrillers and horror. But if the Gangnam Dance video is to be relegated from the YouTube top spot one day, the safest bet is that it will be by another feel-good (or feel-ridiculous) challenger. Or it could be the next Justin Bieber hit, or some animal doing something heroic or moving without realising it is doing it. Anything but a political or religious event, unless it involves something really, really earth-shattering.

You may argue that Psy, whose real name is Park Jae-sang, is by no means the ultimate success story. Well, it depends on how you define “success”. It requires something totally different to translate a massive number of YouTube views into money, but the truth is, his contribution to this world has come at a time when money is an increasingly questionable measurement of success.

If half a billion people – and counting – watch something you do or create, you have made an impact. Whether you get paid for it may be the least important thing of all.

Here’s hoping the unorthodox dancer/singer does not get sucked into the conventional world – not too soon at least. In other words, let’s hope ridiculous doesn’t become a serious business. Psy has turned into a global celebrity overnight, and now may be tempted to look a bit thinner, smile the way celebrities do, or wave a celebrity’s wave.

Susan Boyle has been there and done that, but on YouTube, whatever else she has tried still hasn’t beaten her original video, in which she was her very ordinary self, singing from her heart, not for ambition.

I never quite understood why artists’ most original works – ones created when they were unknown – were seen as things to die for. Now I do. People are at their imaginative and creative best when the environment is the least complicated.

Artists’ first works are often what they tell themselves to do simply because it feels right. No desire for big bucks. No fear of critics. No desire to be loved or admired. When you do your work for pure fun, having listened to just yourself, ironically it can help you connect with others.

Some American commentators have tried to make sense of Gangnam Style’s popularity but end up admitting they are at their wits’ end. Maybe because it’s free to watch. Maybe because more people are getting connected to the Internet, using Facebook and watching YouTube. Maybe because the music is cool and the editing is great. Maybe the level of silliness is just right. Maybe it’s all of those factors combined and the mix is just perfect. Maybe it’s only accidental hype at the right place and the right time.

It’s no big deal, cynics may say. That’s what Psy has been saying to describe his dance, too. Forget your self-consciousness, let yourself go and there you have it.

Of course, you need well-composed dance music and some luck to get past 500 million views, but you get the idea.

Oh, last but not least, listen to your heart and the audience may come. Psy may not have said this, but the thing is, if he had wanted his “ridiculous” dance to get that many views on YouTube, it is almost certain he wouldn’t have.

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