I am excited, stunned, and nervous about the almost overnight rise to fame of South Korean rapper/ pop artist Psy and his hit "Gangnam Style." If you haven't seen the video yet, please YouTube it right away. Part of the huge appeal here comes from Psy's quirky, fun and catchy dance moves. My husband dances them. My Japanese immigrant mother-in-law dances them. My 3 year old son dances them. I'm sure, at this point, there is barely an Asian worldwide that doesn't know about this K-pop phenomenon.
It was the Internet that propelled Psy to musical fame unmatched by any Asian pop artist in history. And whether you like the song/video or not, that is exactly what's happening here. History is being made. Though it originally debuted on July 15 and went viral in August of this year, "Gangnam Style" is now also a chart success. In August, Psy became the first Korean artist to ever be number one on iTunes. At the beginning of October, he became the first South Korean to make it to number one in the UK. On October 11, he also became the first Korean artist to top China's Baidu Top 500 music chart. As of the time of writing, "Gangnam Style" is number two on the US Billboard Hot 100, edged minimally out of the number one spot by Maroon 5. It has held this spot for four consecutive weeks. It is currently the fourth most watched video of all time on YouTube with over half a billion views. And on October 23, it was announced that Psy will be the first Korean ever to perform at the MTV Europe Music Awards. Likely his fame will continue to grow until it fizzes out, like so many pop stars.
Asians have not yet had much prominence in the U.S. public eye. But as our world has grown, as technology continues to evolve our isolated regional cultures into a massive global culture, the invisibility of Asians in America was bound to change. I watch my son gleefully dance "Gangnam Style" and I know, whether I approve or not, he is looking up to this man who has features he recognizes and massive worldwide recognition.
I'm excited. because I can't remember, in my lifetime, ever seeing an Asian pop artist so highly decorated. I'm excited because now there's one more thing society will "let" my son be other than quiet, docile, good at math, and a doctor. I'm stunned because I turned on top 40 radio the other day and heard a language I didn't know. "Gangnam Style," other than having a few words in English, is entirely in Korean. Having grown up with an immigrant father who spoke English as a second language, I'm not used to America being anything other than annoyed at Asian languages. And I'm nervous. Because any time a person of color achieves national or global fame, it seems to open up entire races of people to attack.
Indeed, the severity of racism against Asians is woefully underacknowledged in this country. I have run across statistics during my study that have made my heart stop. A survey last year found that Asian American teenagers suffered far more bullying at school than any other demographic: 54% of Asian American teenagers reported being bullied compared with 31.3% of White teens and 38.4% of Black ones. And what does that mean for our multiethnic multiracial Asian children? I'm afraid not the progressive acceptance many of us assumed they would inspire. At the turn of the century, the Bureau of National Crime Victimization Survey showed that multiracial women are significantly more likely to be victims of rape or attempted rape - at a rate nearly double that of Caucasian women and nearly five times that of monoracial Asian women.
I want my son to believe he can be anything he wants to be. Pop sensation, NBA star. Maybe even some day President of the United States. Right? It could happen. But I shudder when I see the outpouring of racial slurs and stereotypes. And then I don't know what to do. Then I want to protect him. Hold him close. Tell him, nevermind. Fly under the radar. Don't rock the boat. Don't get hurt.