Fusing genres and languages into hits – PSY 9th album

PSY (real name Park Jae-sang, Korean: 박재상) released his album PSY 9th on April 29, 2022, and I hurried up and got the album a.s.a.p., because I like PSY. I like everything about PSY, his voice, dance moves, compositions, and especially his sly and subversive lyrics. At first listen, his songs are slick and high-quality K-pop. But when you listen more carefully, you realize that some of the lyrics, even after they have been translated into English, are ironic and poke fun at everything that’s considered popular and desirable.

Cover of PSY 9th

PSY takes the glitziest K-pop styles, with the doll-perfect, nasally soprano girl bands, and the almost-fabulously-feminine boy bands, and the perfect dance moves, and exaggerates them so that they are almost, but not quite, ridiculous. So, while his back-up dancers are as pretty as the best ones, there is PSY himself, with his slightly pudgy midriff and loud outfits, doing moves that are downright weird or even slightly rude. And while the melodies might be textbook-perfect compositions, with four-part harmonies and unstoppable rhythm, there is always something unusual about his songs, just beneath the surface.

Song cover of That That

The title track on PSY 9th, That That, was produced by and features SUGA, real name Min Yoon-gi (Korean: 민윤기) of BTS. To get SUGA on this track was certainly a coup by PSY. The lyrics to That That is the same mix of Korean and English that I’ve come to expect from a PSY song. What would you call this type of slang – Korelish? Englean? PSYdarin? It’s odd, but despite the mixup, the English lines still scan and rhyme, same as the Korean.

Mixing up the languages

In the 3rd track on the album, Celeb, there are lines where the English words are simply stuck into the Korean line, to get a rhyme, like:

Jinachige pretty (Yeah)
Beuraendeu pyeongpan irwi

Ttogak ttogak walking (Ah)
Ttobak ttobak talking (Ah)
Look at you, so funky (Ah)
Gyeyak hallae teonki (Yeah)

In Celeb, PSY breaks down the key word, “celebrity”, into something that scans but that is weird-sounding in English : “c-e-l-e-bri-ty”, the first 4 letters spelled out. A native English speaker would not do that with the word, it makes it almost unrecognizable. However, it does rhyme nicely with “pretty”. The lyrics are about someone’s adoration of a celebrity due to her social media statistics. Though her daily activities are “mundane”, meaning, boring, tedious and monotonous, they are “..big news to me/Strike a pose, oh my gosh”.

In That That, there are full English lines in-between the Korean lines (look at the lyrics at the bottom of this post). However, the English and the Korean lines rhyme when you hear them: bokgo/loco; over/oiyeo; ayy/air; araero/four; saramdeura/set, go; harago/oh-oh-oh; norabojago/oh-oh-oh.

I think this is a risky song-writing strategy, because you could either lose the meaning, or lose the rhythm, or both, in either language. But perhaps PSY and SUGA chose to include English in the lyrics of a some songs on the album to appeal to non-Korean fans, in other words, they wanted to make the track international. It’s a strange fusion, but it works.

Is it Cowboy Pop?

The song cover and the video for That That point to the track being Cowboy Pop. It has a galloping 3/4 rhythm, an irresistible swing, and stonking, rousing trumpets, typical of Cowboy Pop. But it is more Pop than Cowboy. There are no heartfelt lyrics about cowboys, prairies, horses or ranches – it’s about people getting ready to party now that COVID’s over. I couldn’t hear any of the typical Cowboy Pop instruments, other than the trumpets; there is no honky-tonk barroom piano, accordion, fiddle or acoustic guitar. It’s too upbeat and fast. There is no boogie-woogie in it either. So maybe PSY was being ironic with the design and styling of the video and the cover.

But it has been a hit. The video premiered on YouTube on Apr. 29, 2022, and by May 24, 2022 has had more than 173,639,714 views. It will probably not be another Gangnam Style hit for PSY, but then, only a couple of music videos have eclipsed the 4.4 billion views (and counting) of Gangnam Style.

Psy and Suga (photo courtesy of the artists)

That That lyrics (Korean Romanized)

[The rhyming English/Korean words are bolded.]

PSY coming back
(Iri oneora)

[Verse 1: PSY]
Long time no see, huh?
Oraeganmaniji, huh?
Uri dasi utgo ulgo jijigo bokgo
Let’s get loco
Pandemic’s over, uh
Geurae gibuni ojyeo, uh
Dasi geubuni ojyo, uh
Everybody say

[Refrain: PSY]
Neomu joa bukjeokgeorine
Dongseonambuk, ayy
Gangnam, Gangbuk, ayy
Ssak da moyeo, throw your hands in the air
I say “yeah”

[Pre-Chorus: PSY]
Can you feel it?
Can you feel it?
Woah-yeah, woah-oh
Can you feel it?
Can you feel it?

[Chorus: PSY]
Junbihasigo (Go), ssoseyo (Oh)
That, that, I like that (Like that)
Gibun joa babe (Babe)
Heundeureo jwa u wi araero (Sing it)
One, two, three to the four (Sing it)

[Post-Chorus: PSY]
That, that, I like that
That, that, I like that, babe
That, that, I like that
It’s like that, that, yo
That, that, I like that
That, that, I like that, babe
That, that I like that
It’s like that

[Verse 2: SUGA, PSY]
Ya naega
Mwo haneun saraminji kkameogeotji?
(That, that, I like that)
Like that
Sigani jinado byeonhameopsi
(That, that, I like that)
Like that
I don’t care I don’t care that I like that
(That, that, I like that)
Like that
Naega barabogo barawatdeon saramdeura
Modu da ready, set, go
Doeryeo neureonan maetjip ttaerideon buni bulpyeonhagetji
Neone baramdaero manghal geora gosa jinaen
Saramdeureul moadaga gabyeopge ttaejji
Jeokdanghi harago, oh-oh-oh
Geunyang dakchigo da gachi norabojago, oh-oh-oh
Min Yoongi wa Park Jaesang

Does it work?

Does it work? Hell, yeah! If That That fails to get you on your feet, maybe you should check that you still have a pulse. As with all the tracks on the 9th album, it is flawlessly constructed and arranged, so smooth and slick and full of sparkle that it’s like champagne for your ears. Look, if you can turn Ludwig van Beethoven’s Für Elise into boogie-woogie, you can turn Cowboy Pop into a K-pop party anthem – and PSY has proved again that he is top notch at this kind of fusion.

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