First listen: 'Gentlemen' by Psy

What does K-pop’s Emperor sound like without his clothes, or impish physicality?

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The Independent Culture

Until we know what “Gentleman” style looks like, the verdict on Psy’s follow-up to “Gangnam Style” remains on hold.

As plain music, “Gangnam Style” was conventional dance-pop, just another single on South Korea’s K-pop conveyor belt. It was the addictively exuberant images accompanying it which blasted K-pop beyond its national borders, and defined a new music industry economy in which 1 billion YouTube hits could make a millionaire pop star, YouTube was the new MTV, and the music video’s 1980s pre-eminence was re-established.

It was Psy’s alter ego Park Jae-sang, an anarchic, rebel rich boy from upper-middle-class Gangnam, Seoul, who created this viral revolution with a video which, like Eminem’s star-making “The Real Slim Shady”, was a compact, character-morphing satirical sketch show. He also created that most 20th century item, a dance craze. If that makes Psy the new Chubby Checker, then “Gentleman” is the unenviable follow-up to “The Twist”.

His new dance and look are due to be unveiled during a concert at Seoul’s World Cup Stadium tomorrow. In the meantime, what does K-pop’s Emperor sound like without his clothes, or impish physicality?

“Gentleman” follows its predecessor’s structure precisely, with its woozy synth-breaks, sonic drop-outs leaving space for Psy’s interjections, chanted verses and explosive choruses. These looped lulls and surges are the formula for any dance-floor smash. The refinement comes in the sleeker, digitally tougher sound, as if “Gangnam Style”’s plastic international pop has been retooled in titanium.

“Gentleman” is the old hit, upgraded. Psy has also tailored it for his global fan-base by upping the English lyrical content. This is mostly clichéd – “Damn, girl, you so freaking sexy!”, “Gonna make you sweat!” – but also makes the memorably arcane claim, “I am a mother father gentleman”. Tom Cruise will find it that much easier to goon around to this one.

It’s to be hoped that Psy’s history of chaotic authority-baiting during his five-album long career, in a South Korea which was a tightly repressed dictatorship till 1987, hasn’t been wholly smoothed away by his year of meeting Hollywood stars, royalty and the UN Secretary-General, and that “Gentleman” doesn’t leave him as a one-hit novelty outside his homeland. Still, as Kim Jong-un huffs and puffs for attention by pushing antique missiles around in North Korea, he must envy Psy’s effortless use of pop to blow national borders aside.