How do Contemporary Artists exploit PSY’s “Gangnam Style”?: Cases for Ai Weiwei and Anish Kapoor

With the status of the most watched video on YouTube, Korean rapper PSY’s “Gangnam Style” (강남스타일) music video and song is something that we cannot avoid. Because I only listen to public radio (CBC Radio One), I haven’t had a chance to listen to the song or watch the video, and I gradually started avoiding it completely.

I finally gave in to it a few days ago and decided to watch the original video on YouTube after watching a few parodies of it. The first one was Chinese artist Ai Weiwei‘s “草泥马 Style” (Grass Mud Horse Style):

His friend’s family was losing their house because of the Chinese government’s demolition, and Ai decided to make this video in support of them and in protest against the Chinese authorities. His use of a handcuff was indicative of his personal experience of detention and arrest. Not surprisingly, the Chinese government censored the video and took it off from the Internet within 24 hours of its release.

British sculptor Anish Kapoor made a tribute video to Ai’s video and released “Gangnam for Freedom” on YouTube on November 21:

You can also watch this video in which Kapoor explains the motive for “Gangnam for Freedom”:

Comparing these three “Gangnam Style” videos, I think Ai’s video belongs to the groups of all other parody videos while Kapoor’s one has a trait slightly different from the rest of the parodies. I’m not denying Ai’s use of “Gangnam Style” in order to spread his message via the Internet, but the motive for making his video is relatively personal. This tie to personal agendas situates his video in the group of all the other “Gangnam Style” parodies.

Kapoor’s version also sprung from a personal agenda – his desire to support Ai – but he created a sense of social collectivity in the video by obtaining support from organizations such as Amnesty International and Index on Censorship and the participation of other artists and creators like Tamara Rojo and Alison Myners and institutions including MoMA and New Museum. By making this video under a collective effort, Kapoor provides a social hub to talk about Ai’s video and his cause for freedom of speech and expression among not only those who participated in making the video but also those who have watched the video. Moreover, Kapoor has fully exploited the fad status of PSY’s “Gangnam Style” beyond the mere sense of imitation by effectively implanting the advocacy for the freedom of speech and expression beyond the level that Ai achieved in his video.

Ai’s “Grass Mud Horse Style” has clearly shown the usefulness of the fad status of PSY’s video, and Kapoor further extends what Ai did by identifying and foregrounding the Ai’s agenda, which, in return, draws our attention to the original video as well. These two artists’ engagement with PSY’s video is contemporary in that their videos encourage us to pay more attention to the present time reflected originally in the popularity of “Gangnam Style” and then in the advocacy for the freedom of speech and expression. Through watching the videos and responding to them, they have created a means for society to exchange their comments, ideas, and thoughts on the topic. These traits are relatively positive, but as products of the contemporary, these videos can survive beyond a brief moment of attention by having their own followers as PSY’s video has done.

I’m not sure if we will have any follow-up videos to Kapoor, but at least

Brooklyn Museum is showing its initiative by sharing it “‘Gangnam Style’ Video in Support of Ai Weiwei”:


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