Over the past two days, a video clip of South Korean musician PSY’s appearance with Britney Spears on the Ellen Show has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times by Chinese netizens on YouTube-like sites Youku and Sina Video. K-pop star PSY (Park Jaesang) made a brief appearance on the show yesterday to teach Britney the steps to what the Chinese call his “horse-riding dance.” In addition to comments on Britney Spears’ choice of dress–the traditional Chinese cheongsam–many also lauded the awesomeness of the globally beloved hit “Gangnam Style.”
If you haven’t watched the music video for “Gangnam Style,” it’s best to check it out before reading the rest of this article, which dear readers can finish some time next week after wearing out the “play it again” button on YouTube. As of the writing of this piece, the music video had been viewed 151 million times in just under two months. The Atlantic’s Max Fisher put out a piece dissecting much of the video’s cultural context and subversive subtext and proffering some less obvious reasons why the catchy song has maintained its impressive popularity over the past few months.
Arise, Chinese re-mixers!
Park Jaesang, the mastermind behind the Gangnam Style phenomenon, is affectionately known as “Uncle Bird” in Chinese social media because of his earlier song by the same name. His latest song is popular in China, where multiple sites hosting the video have seen view counts in the hundreds of thousands. “Gangnam Style” has inspired remixes, parodies, and tributes in China, like the video below, in which clips of a revolutionary-era Red Army orchestral performance are spliced together to the tune of “Gangnam Style;” the clip has garnered over 100,000 hits in just three days.
“Gangnam Style: Red Army Version” is just the latest in a subgenre of pastiche video art in which old-fashioned Chinese Red Army soldiers sing songs like Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” and Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.” Even the K-pop hit “Nobody,” by the Wonder Girls, has been set to spliced clips of smiling revolutionary singers. This kind of video is known as “fanzhiban” (饭制版), Chinese slang meaning a fan-made version, as only a true fan would be willing to spend the time required to splice and assemble disparate video and audio footage.
Just like the audio-visual pairing of the Jehovah’s Witness anti-masturbation sign language PSA and R Kelly’s “Ignition (Remix)” that went viral on YouTube earlier this week, the unlikely juxtaposition of the serious and irreverent made for somewhat controversial entertainment. One viewer of “Gangnam Style: Red Army Version” commented, “You think this is funny? I suspect you may be retarded…these are our revolutionary elders singing songs about the motherland, and yet you take this sacred material and mess around with it recklessly. Don’t you think it’s shameful that you can laugh about it? This is like someone using your family’s tombstone to make fun of you. You’re not even a good enough person to know what you can and can’t joke about.”
But for many of China’s internet users, revolutionary-era language and imagery is nothing close to sacred. In fact, it’s a prime source of material for parody and satire. The stiff, nationalistic language is often used mockingly, like a funny accent, as when one netizen who had viewed the clip of PSY’s Ellen Show appearance remarked, “Gangnam Style has invaded and occupied the American imperialists.” Perhaps it is fitting that commentary about the song, which connects so many fans together around the world, has inspired irreverence towards nationalist language from a less globalized era.