Interesting Things about Gentleman by PSY

I haven’t analyzed music videos on my blog before, but today I thought why not analyze PSY’s “Gentleman” because it’s an ambiguous song that fills me with questions.

First, the video—

I hate to start on a negative note, but the biggest question I had after watching the video and reading many Korean and English articles: does “Gentleman” promote misogyny? Like many others, I want to think that it doesn’t and that it’s satire in the same vein as “Gangnam Style” but the satiric side of “Gentleman” isn’t nearly as clear as that of “Gangnam Style.” PSY consistently acts ungentlemanly; there’s a tiny bit of comeuppance; the video ends.

Regardless, the most WTF moment

image of chosun.com

image courtesy of chosun.com


According to various articles I read about the song, “Gentleman” is about a man who thinks he’s a gentleman, but who actually is immature and full of bravado. PSY wanted “Gentleman” to do a lot: convey a sense of irony, be in Korean but with words that non-Koreans can sing, be addictive, be fun, have a specific dance, make people laugh, etc.

Unfortunately, while trying to do all that, what PSY created lyrics-wise is confusing. Is “Gentleman” ironic? Sure. Is it satirical? Uh… maybe. One of the most prominent comments about this song seems to be along the lines of I’m Korean and I speak Korean, but I don’t know what it means.

That’s not to say that the lyrics aren’t interesting, though, because they are. :)

mother-father versus mother-fucker

PSY sings I’m a mother-father gentleman. The fact that mother-father sounds like mother-fucker is a popular grade school joke in Korea (the th sound is hard to pronounce). With a Korean accent, mother-father sounds more like maduh-paduh (마더 파더) and mother-fucker sounds more like maduh-puhkuh (마더 퍼커). Most people who speak English as natives don’t have accents that allow for those two to sound similar, so this joke is something new and maybe incomprehensible at first. PSY seems to be going for I’m a motherfucking gentleman.

PSY insults the Korean President?

Next up is the craziest rumor I read: PSY may escape getting banned from broadcast TV because of his mother-father substitution and because he’s PSY, but he could be banned for insulting the President of Korea. 왜 화끈해야 하는건지 (I don’t know if you know why it needs to be hot) sounds like 왜 박근혜여야 하는건지, which is basically the same, except the President’s name, Park Geun-hye, is there instead of hot. I think the idea that he put this in there to insult her is stupid. :)

It’s Easy for Americans to Follow?

I don’t think it was necessary for PSY to make the song easy for non-Korean speakers to sing. People shamelessly butcher Gangnam and oppa, but an inability to properly pronounce those words never stopped anyone from enjoying that song. Still, I think it’s worth noting that effort was put into this because Korean sounds don’t go well with an average pair of North American ears. 말이야, which is at the end of many lines, sounds like Maria. 알랑가 몰라 (I don’t know if you know) is how most of the lines begin and it avoids Korean’s double consonants and other vowel sounds that are generally hard for non-natives to make.

Also, most of the people in PSY’s video, especially the men, are stars in Korea. For instance, the yellow suit (Yoo Jae Suk) was more famous than PSY pre-Gangnam Style. In Korea, he’s probably still the most famous of all Korean celebrities. Ironically, he’s known for being incredibly thoughtful, a gentleman.


A couple Korean articles: x, x

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  • Reply Vera April 16, 2013 at 3:14 pm

    My first reaction was: is this porn?. Closely followed by WTF? But then the latter is something I thought about Gangnam Style too (though that was funny the first time around).
    Incidentally, I kept hearing “what the fuck the gentleman” instead.

    Also, I can totally understand the d vs th sound confusion. I still often have to think about how to properly pronounce them aloud.

    P.S. I totally dig his floppy (is that the word for it?) pants. And I mean that in a “good choice for making his point” not in an “I’d wear them myself” manner (yuck!).

    • Reply chantelle April 18, 2013 at 12:24 am

      Yeah, -th doesn’t seem to be a widespread sound.

      His pants remind me of MC Hammer’s. ^^

  • Reply cantaloupe April 17, 2013 at 3:31 am

    I was wondering who the yellow suit man was. I like that he’s known for being a gentleman, that’s a cute in-joke.

    I agree that it verges on misogyny. The little bit at the end really wasn’t enough to make up for all the stuff he did prior. If it had been one for one, then I’d be ok. But then again, I suppose it’s supposed to focus on the “gentleman.”

    I’m not that fond of the song itself, to be honest. But I’m sure it’ll grow on me after enough overplaying, haha.

    I was sad that the dance wasn’t more distinctive though. Much (all?) of Gangnam Style’s success is that dance, and I don’t really know that this dance is going to catch on in the same way.

    • Reply chantelle April 18, 2013 at 12:17 am

      The dance isn’t original. It was a hit in 2009. PSY is recycling it. The girl featured in the video is part of the group (Brown Eyed Girls) that promoted it. I think PSY decided to go for it because it’s easy and he thought it’d be popular (because it was already popular), but maybe it won’t catch on like it did before.

  • Reply Erin April 17, 2013 at 9:29 am

    That is really ironic for the most famous person in this video (in Korea) to be a gentleman but be portrayed as not in this video.

    Personally, I love the video. I did not know the meaning until I read this but I barely know the meanings to many of my English songs so it doesn’t bother me.

    My first reaction was, “AWESOME!” hahahaha. I love the beat and everything. I thought it was hilarious, especially the part where he pulls the girl down after she already fell on the ground. & Yes, I already know I am an awful person but hey, I like to have fun! So sue me! (just kidding, please don’t really sue me!)

    That was a WTF moment though…like really?! Lol

    • Reply chantelle April 18, 2013 at 12:20 am

      The “Gentleman” MV video is supposed to make you laugh, so you’re hardly an awful person for finding it funny. :)

      To be fair to Yoo Jaesuk, he’s a victim in this video. He’s not playing tricks.

  • Reply Stephanie April 17, 2013 at 3:20 pm

    I definitely thought that Psy was saying “I’m a fucking gentleman” throughout the whole song the first time I listened to it and watched the video. I was a little horrified at the amount of misogyny in it, and then realized that the video is probably satirical because the character Psy was playing seemed like a fool the entire time.

    A tangentially related comment: my driving instructor is Mexican-American and says that the worst men she comes across are those from Mexico because many of them think that they have to be totally manly and macho – they wind up treating women badly.

  • Reply Jem April 20, 2013 at 3:55 am

    I’ve not seen it yet. Hope to avoid it until it’s no longer popular like I did with Gangnam Style 😉

    • Reply chantelle April 20, 2013 at 4:05 am

      Aww-Gangnam Style was worth watching, though. Anyway, you’re such a hipster? Enjoy your Gentleman-free life. :) I can’t avoid it. The other day, an elementary student told me, “I’m a mother father gentleman.” I asked her to please stop. But the song is fun.

  • Reply Jo April 27, 2013 at 7:35 am

    Wow. I never knew there was so much behind this song. I always just thought it was some rando cry for money and a way to capitalize on the random fame of his other hit.

  • Reply Jody Y. Meyer May 16, 2013 at 1:18 am

    “Gonna make you sweat”: That’s fine, many dance-track DJs have used similar lines. “Gonna make you wet”: Well, that’s not super-gentlemanly. As they say, if something sounds like a line from a porno, you probably shouldn’t use it to make friends.

  • Reply Mandy May 29, 2013 at 8:56 pm

    worst double meaning song till date, wish he was from North Korea or Saudi Arabia!!

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