Top 5 PSY songs…yes, there are other songs!

Love him or hate him, 2012 has undoubtedly been the summer of PSY, with Gangnam Style topping the charts in 15 countries and overtaking Justin Bieber (thank God) as YouTube’s most ‘liked’ song. In the midst of Gangnam fever it’s easy to forget that this is just the peak in PSY’s 12 year career, during which he has released seven albums. Having been to his incredible concert in Seoul a couple of weeks ago, I now have new found love for PSY and his music, here are my five favourite songs! (click on the song titles to watch the videos on YouTube)

Korea – Few countries do patriotism like Korea does (let’s not forget Dokdo), but this song is perhaps one of the better examples, as it doesn’t involve beheaded pheasants. Released earlier this year, with the video set in the grounds of Gyeongbokgung, ‘Korea‘ is a rousing anthem for all things Korean.

Shake It – My personal favourite, this song has me dancing around my apartment like a loon, singing the few words I do know loud enough to compensate for the ones that I don’t! It was released in 2011 and reached number 4 in the Korean charts. It features fellow South Korean entertainer Noh Hong Chul, who also happens to be ‘the elevator guy’ in the Gangnam Style video. This song has a kind of 50s vibe to it and is almost as catchy as Gangnam Style.

Right Now – Although it was released two years ago ‘Right Now’ has done pretty well off the back of Gangnam Style’s success. The song is rapidly gaining popularity online in the US, perhaps proving that PSY isn’t just a one hit wonder. Rather controversially ‘Right Now’ is one of three PSY songs to have been given an R19 rating by the Ministry of Gender, Equality and Family for its ‘obscene’ lyrics comparing life to toxic alcohol.

Champion – This was PSY’s fifth single and it went to number 1 in 2002. However, it too has been at the centre of a recent controversy as many international fans mistook some of the Korean words to be racist slurs. Many people asked for this seemingly offensive song to be taken down from YouTube while K-Pop fans were jumping to PSY’s defence and explaining the meaning of the Korean words. This song remains popular with Koreans today because of its catchy lyrics hailing anyone who can have fun as a champion in life!

We Are The One – Another cheer for Korea, this song was the national football team’s official chanting song during the 2006 Fifa World Cup. It seemed to be one of the most popular songs during PSY’s free concert in Seoul as the crowd were going crazy for it. Unfortunately the team were knocked out in the group stages, and PSY didn’t fare much better in the charts, but I like it anyway!

With a new single rumoured to be out in the US next month, it seems PSY is here to stay!

PSY Concert at Seoul Plaza 오빤 강남스타일!

Having topped the charts in 15 countries, and still riding high on the success of Gangnam Style, PSY announced earlier this week that he would be staging a free concert to thank his home fans for all their support. And so Thursday night found us right in the middle of an 80,000 strong crowd of students, businessmen, ajummas, and children all doing the famous ‘horse dance’ in Seoul Plaza!

The concert lasted two hours, and he had the crowd singing and dancing along to every one of his songs, just like a huge, public norebang! However, there was one song in particular that everyone was waiting to hear, and as soon as he put on those sunglasses the crowd went wild. People were jumping up and down, riding invisible horses, and screaming every word. It was a truly unforgettable moment.

PSY had promised that if he reached number 1 in the Billboard Top 100 chart this week he would perform the ‘horse dance’ shirt-less during the concert. Although Maroon 5 clung on to the number one spot while Gangnam Style remained at number two, he kept to his promise and tore his (extremely sweaty!) shirt off during the encore of Gangnam Style at the end of the show. 오빤 강남스타일!

Plastic fantastic?

One of the first observations many foreigners make upon arriving in Korea is often how attractive the Korean people are, be it that designer coat or handbag, the immaculately manicured nails or hair so glossy you can see your reflection in it.

However, recent statistics from the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ISAPS) have revealed a startling new development in the Korean quest for beauty. A development that seems to cross the line between simply wanting to look good, and obsession. These statistics show that, relative to the population size, South Korea has the highest rate of plastic surgery in the world. Other statistics from ISAPS show that one in five women in Seoul aged between 19 and 49 have undergone some form of cosmetic surgery.

The desired look in Korea is to have a ‘high’ and pointy nose, a sharp ‘V-line’ jaw, wider eyes, no cheekbones and a rounder forehead. Some  might call it a more Westernised appearance. It’s ironic really that many Western girls (myself included!) wish they had stronger cheekbones while Korean girls wish that they didn’t, that skin whitening creams are just as popular here as tanning products are at home, and that most nose jobs carried out in Western countries make the nose smaller while in Korea they are made larger. Is the grass always greener?

Before and after double eyelid surgery

The most popular procedure in Korea is blepharoplasty, or double eyelid surgery, when an incision is made in the eyelid to create a fold. This kind of surgery has become so commonplace that even the late President Roh Moo Hyun had it done to make his eyes appear larger for public appearances. Young girls finishing high school and going to university are often given ‘eye jobs’ as a graduation gift from their parents.

Liposuction, rhinoplasty, calf reshaping, and operations to reshape and shrink the jaw are also growing in popularity.

So who, or what, is behind this drastic demand for cosmetic surgery?

Many point the finger at the K-pop industry, filling our screens with impossibly beautiful young women, who many Korean teens consider to be role models. With the rise of the internet, and the intense scrutiny of ‘before and after’ photos, many K-pop singers and actresses are admitting to having had surgery. As a result, women are turning to plastic surgeons in the hope of looking like their favourite starlet. And as the ‘hallyu‘ wave spreads across the rest of Asia, South Korea’s clinics are being inundated with foreign clients, mainly Chinese, who also come with the wish of resembling Korean singers and actresses.

Goo Hara (centre) from the popular girl group Kara has admitted to having eye surgery

Or perhaps the reason is more deep-rooted than that. The traditional Confucian teachings state that altering the body is disrespectful to one’s parents, so much so that haircuts used to be frowned upon and cremation and organ donation were forbidden. However, looks and appearance are highly valued in Korean culture, as people tend to judge one another, and their social status, very quickly. Korean society is also über-competitive, with people always looking for an advantage over their peers, even if it means going under the knife.

Plastic surgery advertising

Sadly the target market for plastic surgery is getting younger and younger, with girls as young as 14 getting eye jobs, nose jobs and even leg lengthening (!). It is oddly unsettling to see aggressive advertising campaigns targeting young girls on the subway. Some clinics offer mother daughter packages, two for one deals, and discounts on multiple procedures. I’ve even heard of clinics that hold ‘Cinderella events’ where young women receive free cosmetic surgery if they become the face, and body, of the clinic.

A young woman having a consultation with a plastic surgeon

I recently discussed this topic with one of my friends, and was fascinated, albeit a little shocked, at her response.

In her class of high school students, she is one of the few girls who has not had plastic surgery. One of her closest friends had double eyelid surgery at just 16 years old, and has a nose job planned for her 19th birthday. Shocking? Yes, but there is no age limit on having surgery in Korea as long as there is parental consent.

At 17 years old she is already on a strict diet, has a carefully pieced together skincare regime which includes whitening cream, and is desperate to go to university where she will have the freedom to colour and perm her hair.

Before I do her an injustice, I should tell you that she is not as shallow and vain as she may sound. She is a 17 year old student who dreams of studying at Oxford and becoming a diplomat, and she works very hard to that end. She doesn’t spend her Saturday afternoons poring over the newest cosmetics or trying on the latest fashions, she spends them volunteering at an old people’s home. Whenever we meet she is dressed down in a tracksuit and flip flops, without even a scrap of make up. For her, surgery isn’t about vanity, it’s a necessity.

She looks a little embarrassed, perhaps even ashamed, as she admits that she wishes she didn’t want surgery, in particular a nose job. However the reality, at least in her eyes, is that if she wants to succeed in the competitive job market, and the even more competitive marriage market, she will need to have some ‘alterations’.

She is not alone in thinking that surgery will improve her employment prospects. More and more job applicants are starting to believe that looks are more important to an employer than competence, and many young women and men are going under the knife to increase their chances of securing a job.

Before and after jaw surgery

Of course, there is a less glamorous side to cosmetic surgery. As the number of procedures carried out increases, so does the number of complications. In 2011 4,043 side effects from plastic surgery were reported, a huge jump from 1,698 in 2008. In 2010 a woman in Gwangju hanged herself after her surgery had gone wrong. My friend told me about one of her classmates who unfortunately had a botched eye job and was left with a swollen, bloody face for weeks afterwards. When I asked if this would dissuade her or her peers from getting eyelid surgery, she just shrugged and laughed nervously.

‘Venus’ – Shinhwa

Shinhwa’s latest song ‘Venus’ is my new favourite K-pop song of the moment! It is currently sitting at number 8 in Soompi’s weekly K-pop chart and I cannot stop listening to it!

I was first introduced to this song when I walked into my classroom last week to see Tony, one of my favourite 8 year olds, dancing round the room singing at the top of his voice. As with most K-pop hits he had the lyrics and the dance routine practised to perfection.

The only problem is that, unfortunately, Tony is one of those kids who can’t pronounce his ‘V’s properly…

I ♥ K-Pop

K-Pop is the term used for Korea’s home grown genre of pop music, and I’m not ashamed to say that I am rather a big fan. Sugary sweet bubblegum pop with infuriatingly catchy beats, it is vaguely reminiscent of 90’s pop bands like Steps and S Club 7 that I adored as a kid.

K-Pop dominates the Korean music scene and the phenomenon is now spreading to the rest of East and South-East Asia, and even America.

What may have started as merely a music genre is now as much a part of Korean daily life as kimchi. It’s in your head, it’s in the classroom, it’s in the street; there’s almost no escaping it. Even if you were to don earplugs and manage to escape the music, there’s still the copious amounts of merchandise to cope with (they even have K-Pop biscuits!). Oh, and the dancing! Almost every music video features a highly choreographed dance routine, memorised and performed by kids up and down the country.

With it’s unique blend of cuteness, kitsch and synthesizers I really can’t see it being long before K-Pop makes an appearance in the charts at home.

Personal favourites so far include…


       T-ara – Roly Poly                     Wondergirls – Nobody                          Kara – Step


Girls’ Generation – The Boys                  2NE1 – Hate You                        BigBang – Tonight

(Click the links to see their music videos!)