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new dance craze ridem cowboy Gangnam Style with psy

posted 8 Oct 2012, 01:29 by Lucky Systems   [ updated 8 Oct 2012, 01:33 ]

400,000,000 hits as at 07/10/12 

From the seedy back sois of the Klong Toey slums 

to the trendy discos of Phuket,

everybody's ridin' 'em cowboy on the dance floor.

extract from Bangkok post 
Horse riding is as alien to the Thai culture as temperance is to Australians, but for now the whole country is dancing like they're in the Kentucky Derby. (I made that bit up about trendy discos in Phuket.  How would I know? The last time I went to a trendy disco we were all keen to try out the brand new dance called "The Hustle".)

The locals aren't caught up in any country and western song. No. This is a techno dance number from a portly middle-aged singer from South Korea.  His name's Psy (pronounced "sigh") and at 35 years of age he should be over the hill in the pop music world. He's not. He's over the moon.

That's because his song, Gangnam Style, has racked up 260 million views on YouTube. He sings in Korean but he's cracked the Billboard Hot 100 thanks to an appearance on the Ellen show where he taught Britney Spears how to dance to it.

I represent the human race when I say the first time I heard it I was underwhelmed. "Hardly something that'll hit the top of the charts," I muttered as I went back to more pressing matters, such as locating the gin bottle I'd hidden while guests from upcountry visited. How wrong was I? For the rest of the day that song, like my houseguests, just wouldn't get the hell out. It went round and round in my head until even I was asking how to do the stupid dance.

Last Tuesday, the Bangkok governor concluded an outdoor appearance by dancing a few steps to Gangnam Style. He'll get re-elected for sure.

Meanwhile on TV variety shows you'll see wafer-thin starlets, staring down the barrel of career obscurity, lining up to show off their equestrian moves since anybody who dances to Gangnam Style is hip and guaranteed a role in upcoming productions.

YouTube Video

Thai teenagers have long been obsessed with all things South Korean. The beauty clinics around town have massive billboards of South Korean boy bands grinning down at me in their foppish hair and clothes, doing their best to resemble girls. For real Thai girls the fashionable look is stick-thin-and-white, another South Korean influence.

It's all about youth and beauty, a kind of Asian Logan's Run only you get zapped at 19 years of age, not 30. Which makes it even more delightful that middle-aged Psy can blow the competition out of the water with what is the Macarena of 2012.

Thai audiences are notoriously fickle when it comes to big hits. A TV programme that may be huge in America can flop badly here. Even something that's big in the rest of Asia can tank in Thailand ... and often.

Take reality TV shows, a format that's been huge all around the world for the past 10 years. Not so in Thailand, where exactly one reality show has been big. I'm talking about Academy Fantasia, a show that takes 12 recently-pubescent boys and girls and shoves them into a house with cameras.

The boys and girls learn to sing and dance and every Saturday night they put on a concert. The audience gets to vote for who was the worst, and that kid packs their hormone-raging suitcase and goes home. After 10 weeks we finally get a winner, who has a brief career in the Thai music world after which they settle down to a life of (a) obscurity and/or (b) drugs.

YouTube Video

Even that format succeeded not because of the reality genre, but because of the song and dance factor. And while big winning formulas overseas may fail, minor blips overseas can turn into massive hits here.  Back in the 1990s there was a band called Michael Learns To Rock from Denmark, kings of generic middle-of-the-road songs I would imagine one would put on just prior to suicide. They had one or two international hits then faded away. 

THAI STYLE view Big screen

Not here they didn't. England had the Fab Four. The States had Elvis. Sweden had Abba. Thailand adopted Michael Learns To Rock. In the early 1990s those guys did so many tours to Thailand about the only international star who visited more frequently was Gary Glitter. Even I got a little sick of Michael Learns To Rock's never ending farewell tours.

You want to talk obscure? A song called Broken Hearted Woman swept the country and sold one million copies back in the olden days when we purchased music. You wouldn't have heard of it. It never charted in Europe or the US. It turns out the singer Jessica Jay was a fabrication; Milli Vanilli's little sister. But the song was huge.

Another no-name song that hit big here was And So The Story Goes. How did the locals warm to an English song? Look at the lyrics to the chorus: "And so the story goes, lee da dee, lee da dee, la da dee da dee da dee, lee da dee, lee da dee, lee da dee da dee da dee, lee da dee, lee da dee, la da dee da dee da dee, lee da dee, lee da dee, lee da dee da dee da dee." Even I can remember that!

Thailand does take some artists to heart who are popular elsewhere albeit in a different era. Thailand must be the only country in the world that still welcomes Air Supply with open arms. Their next tour will be sponsored by a Zimmer frame company and still they'll pack out Muang Thong Thani.

Sometimes it's a Thai song that goes huge. I remember when the entire country danced to: You're Too Fat; How Much Can I Pay You To Lose Weight? Speaking of fat, a singer called Phaitoon hit it big with Thai Aon Yon, or "Big Flabby Buttocks".

(The Culture Ministry issued a ban on that song, since it was considered inappropriate for Thai women to have big bums. This was the era before KFC, Krispy Kreme and Starbucks Double Caramel Macchiatos With Extra Whipped Cream became ubiquitous.)

One of my very favourite local hits was from a lady called Arpaporn Nakhonsawan. After a string of failures, she popped on down to her local cosmetic surgeon, had a boob and face job, then put out a single. It was a massive hit, which Arpaporn attributes to her surgeon rather than any musical merit.

But the present belongs to Psy and his Gangnam Style. I'm sure his sudden fame is amusing him as much as the rest of us. 

And do you want to know a secret? Six years ago I recorded a song, too. It was for a stage appearance where I had to walk on singing. A songwriter was enlisted and The Andrew Song was born. I even had to go into a recording studio to lay down the track, as we industry insiders say.

"Not bad," the technician said to me afterwards. "Let me mix it around a bit. We might even release it as a single."

"Don't be ridiculous," I said, waving my hands about and shaking my head and giggling like a girl as I left the recording studio.

That night I lay awake fantasising about my future. Move over Bird Thongchai! Andrew Biggs was to become the country's new singing sensation! Sure, I'd have to lose a few kilos and perhaps follow Arpaporn's path but why not?

The following week I performed the song on stage to a bewildered crowd. The song sank without a trace. In this way I am the exact opposite of Jessica Jay. She is a nameless one-hit wonder. I'm a name who couldn't get a hit.  It never occurred to me to dance like I was riding a horse as I sang it. Oh, what might have been.