Actually, it was better than I thought it would be. I'm still not completely sure how that ended up being the most-watched YouTube video ever. But we live in strange times.
When you've seen too many of them, you start to develop an aversion to viral videos. If it turns out to be marketing for some product, my initial reaction is closer to nausea than interest. But hey, it's cheaper than conventional advertising, so expect capitalism to keep flogging that decaying horse for years to come.
At least in the case of Gangnam Style there's no pretense that this isn't about making money from the track, but there was that other nagging question about how many of those YouTube views are coming from that mildly racist look-at-the-wacky-foreigner perspective. Now that I've finally seen it, it seems more obvious that most viewers would know that he's laughing too. Besides, PSY probably doesn't give a shit at this point why his bank account is filling up with royalties.
It is a disturbingly catchy tune too. Sure, none of the elements are particularly original, but an English language version of this could just as easily have been a huge hit, even without the ridiculous video. It reminds me of an unholy alliance of Technotronic's late 80s Belgian hip-house mega-hit Pump Up The Jam and Benni Benassi's electro house chart topper Satisfaction, with a few elements borrowed from Fedde Le Grand's massively popular Put Your Hands Up For Detroit, and a bunch of tricks lifted from LMFAO. Sure, it's cheeseball dance pop, but effective. Pop music isn't described as formulaic without just cause.
Gangnam Style also works in similar ways to all songs written about a dance. Like YMCA or The Macarena, it'll probably get played at weddings for years to come. These kinds of songs are almost always silly and repetitive, because they serve a very specific purpose.
A lot of people really enjoy having a specific, easy to perform dance step that's also supposed to look silly when done properly. It takes away the pressure of seeming cool. They like the ritual of performing the dance synchronized in a group, rather than having to figure out their own way of moving. They might feel uncomfortable moving to music otherwise, but with those kinds of parameters they can feel safe.
That same need is part of a long tradition of goofy pop music, from Crank That , to the Mashed Potato. Is it any sillier than Lil B's Cooking Dance? Any more musically complicated than the Twist? Or more annoying than the Lambada? Less funky than Achy Breaky Heart?
So why is Gangnam Style setting records for YouTube plays and not the Hustle? Probably for the same reasons conservative politicians are starting to panic about their long term chances at holding power: demographics. The echo of the baby boomers are the people driving music trends, and YouTube is currently how most young people listen to music. It won't be the last video to break a billion views either - this will seem small a couple years from now, just like earlier record-breaking internet hits.
And since Gangnam Style's appeal is based so much around the visual gags, it was destined to do much better in a forum like YouTube than on iTunes. Maybe he'd prefer to be selling records, but that pain probably disappears when he looks at what he's expected to pull in from royalties.
I just wonder what percentage of those hits were from people like me - uninterested viewers who gave into our fear of missing out and clicked the link as a result of social media-accelerated cultural peer pressure. Having said that, I'm glad I did finally watch it. Dreary December days can use a little goofy levity.