Heyyy, sexy lady! Or, rather, hey, sexy secretary.
South Korean K-Pop crossover sensation and unstoppable conqueror of YouTube (and your eardrums) Psy made his latest—and most unlikely—stop on his quest for total omnipresence with a trip to the United Nations, where the “Gangnam Style” singer praised U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s work for Korea. Ban, in turn, rode the invisible pony in honor of Psy.
The two men were an odd couple to behold Tuesday. Bespectacled and wearing a proper suit, Ban looked every bit the serious dignitary. And with a trendy checkered sport coat and nattily unknotted bow tie, Psy appeared the quintessential Web supernova. One trail-blazed the U.N.’s work combating global warming and was instrumental in negotiating the peacekeeping resolution during the Darfur conflict. The other created a song and music video that has received over a half-billion views on YouTube while encouraging people of all generations to mock-gallop like a horse while chanting, “Hey, sexy lady.” And their importance to the country of South Korea, right now, may be of equal weight.
“I’m a bit jealous,” Ban joked during their meeting. “Until two days ago someone told me I am the most famous Korean in the world. Now I have to relinquish. I have no regrets.”
Indeed, Psy’s meteoric success with “Gangnam Style” has landed him, for the fifth week in a row, in the No. 2 slot on the Billboard Hot 100. An entire sketch was built around the song on Saturday Night Live. He taught Britney Spears its signature dance on the Ellen show, and his music video is the most “liked” ever on YouTube. Countless parodies and covers of the earworm track have popped up, while the likes of Matt Lauer, Manny Pacquiao, and, most recently, Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei have put their own spin on the “Gangnam Style” dance.
Now Psy even has the endorsement of his country’s most recognized diplomat. “You are so cool ... I hope you can manage global warming,” Ban cracked. “In such a case, I was thinking of playing a ‘Gangnam Style’ dance, so then everyone can stop and dance. Maybe you can bring U.N. style.”
It was then that Ban treaded into dangerous waters: he asked Psy to teach him the “Gangnam Style” dance. The musician promptly crossed his wrists and began bouncing into the song’s now-famous horsey dance, moves that Ban, after some coaching, echoed to the best of his ability. The secretary-general emerged from the potentially humiliating dance-off relatively unscathed, with most members of the media praising his willingness to show a lighter side of his personality and of the United Nations. But the reaction isn’t always so positive when politicians get down.
When U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sipped a beer and danced with locals in Colombia in April, the brazen act of boogying incited global outrage. London’s Telegraph questioned whether she was an embarrassment to her country. The New York Post dubbed her “Swillary.” A political Footloose debate ensued, during which pundits squared off over whether dignitaries should be judged when they kick off their Sunday shoes. Tragic footwork by the likes of George W. Bush, Dmitry Medvedev, and Boris Yeltsin turned the politicians into laughing stocks.
So what is it about Psy’s track that allowed Ban to dance like no one’s watching—while everyone was, in fact, watching—without negative repercussions? Perhaps it’s because endorsing “Gangnam Style” and Psy reads as an act of patriotism, as the two men are fellow countrymen. Perhaps it’s because by embracing what is The Meme of the Moment, Ban is making inroads in portraying the typically staid and stuffy United Nations as, ostensibly, hip and cool. Or perhaps because it’s simply impossible not to look like a complete fool while doing the “Gangnam Style” dance. So while Ban may not be the next Michael Jackson, he looks no more foolish than the next person as he attempts to re-create Psy’s equestrian shuffle.
Sure, Psy couldn’t stop laughing at the secretary-general. But, like most of the world, he was laughing with Ban—and the U.N.’s newfound sense of humor—not at him. “This is much more better feeling than when I did No. 2 on Billboard,” Psy said. Recently, he told Korea’s Yonhap News Agency, “My motto is ‘be funny but not stupid.’” That’s precisely the brilliant balance Ban struck here.
After all, how often is the United Nations associated with the phrase “sexy lady”?