The new song Gangnam Style from South Korean performer Psy is now the most popular song ever on YouTube, with more than 800 million views—that’s more than Justin Bieber ever garnered. Celebrities and politicians and even religious leaders around the world have been swept up by the song with a catchy beat and dance moves that resemble riding an invisible horse.
Many folks think the tune is just good fun, and an accidental grand slam success, but I think Gangnam Style heralds something more, psychologically: Another page in the story of our culture abandoning meaning and feeling, in favor of mind-numbing, emotionless fun.
Gangnam Style refers to the ritzy lifestyle associated with the Gangnam District of Seoul.
For Americans, at least, most of the lyrics of Gangnam Style can't be understood, since they are in Korean. Here's a sample: "Na je nun ta so ro un in gan jo gin yo ja . . . " Psy himself performs (like many entertainers) under a pseudonym. His real name is Park Jae-sang.
He generally wears dark glasses, which he dons for the entire music video, and which prevents even the illusion of eye contact with the entertainer. Even the horse is missing from this romping ride of a tune. Speaking psychologically, Gangnam Style is a perfect diversion for our culture, which is already running away from deep thought and deep feeling toward drugs, false identities and false friends of Facebook.
Gangnam Style may be just a ton of fun and nothing more, but I believe it’s very nothingness is what makes it so wildly, historically popular, and that its popularity says something concerning about our collective psyche: We want diversion. We want anesthesia. We wish not to be known for who we really are--to be looked in the eye or called out by name on our ideas and ideals. We want--to take the metaphor a bit far--to ride horses that don't even exist, through landscapes filled with pretty people we know nothing about, conveyed through life by fun and an infectious beat, to nowhere special. We want to be drugged--whether by music, or technology, or Adderall--so that we are free of those pesky things called emotion.
If the Blues and Soul spoke to a people in pain, struggling to find love and freedom; and if Rock n' Roll spoke to a generation ready for rebellion, then Gangnam Style speaks to a generation ready for nothing--a psychological vacuum, a flight from reality, a fear of being a human being with the capacity to feel for oneself and others, with ideas and ideals that really, truly matter.
I know, I know: People will say I am making too much of a hit song. People will say it means nothing that people will have watched Gangnam Style 1 billion times by Christmas. That's my point: It means exactly that--nothing. And it is the most popular song in history.
Keith Ablow, MD is a psychiatrist, and was host of the nationally-syndicated "Dr. Keith Ablow Show." He is a former member of the Fox News Medical A Team.