I was late to learning about Gangnam Style. One night I was at a café and was socially garish enough to ask my companions what it was. ‘You don’t know about Gangnam style?,’ they gasped, half impressed, half horrified. ‘She doesn’t know about Gangnam style. Everybody knows about Gangnam style …’ I went home with the sticky sounding words in my head, trying to figure out how to pronounce them.
Of course, from that point on I started to see it everywhere. It kept popping up online, it was playing in the background in taxis. Even my four year old knew about it from kindergarten, and gave her own rendition of the South Korean rap with her own wonky dancing. I soon realised that more than the song itself, the point of the craze was its use for parody – originally of Seoul’s wannabe fashionistas, and later of all kinds of people and social phenomena. At this point, there are literally hundreds of adaptations of the dance uploaded to Youtube, each one a spin off from the original with its nonsensical horse-riding dance moves.
I suppose it’s because of the jig’s horsey characteristics that Ai Weiwei has now picked it up and turned it to his own light-hearted music video critique. Ai’s clip is a clear reference to the Grass Mud Horse – China’s own popular and virally transmitted parody – and so is also an oblique reference to China’s Internet censorship. (Grass Mud Horse sounds like F*** Your Mother, but is written differently, and now references a whole lexicon of other such homonyms that allow people to skirt censorship online).