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
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.