5 Cliché Life Lessons You Learn From the Korean Singer Psy
1) Be yourself, even if that means being the odd one out
Look at Psy. His next-door-Kim-ajuhsshi*-look is obviously not an industry norm for the flamboyant Korean entertainment industry (compare 2PM, TVXQ, JYJ, Infinite). When he first debuted in 2001 with his single “Bird,” people were shocked to see a person with such “unique” physique on TV (What, how can such a ….be on TV?) – but it was exactly his relatable looks and honest/humorous lyrics that caught people’s attention. He once said in a popular Korean talk show that people always told him he was more of a composer material than an entertainer. If you read between the lines, it reads: “while I appreciate your musical talent, I don’t think you’re pleasing enough to the eyes to be on TV.” He is also occasionally ridiculed for his blatant, sometimes vulgar album concepts, songs, and lyrics. But ironically, characteristics people thought made him less of a star material were the exact traits that made him so famous.
The truth is, haters gonna hate, and people are always going to judge – don’t let it limit yourself from doing what you want. It is your life, not theirs. Life is just too short to let what others think dictate your decisions. If Psy had adopted a fake, typical persona in attempt to fit in to the more-or-less homogenous entertainment industry, Gangnam Style would have no universal resonance like it does today, and would have remained as Korea’s vernacular fashion jargon. So just be yourself, even if that means you’re not the society’s standard of “ideal”.
*ahjusshi[아저씨] – “technically” means men in their 40s to 60s. If someone uses this to describe you, it’s usually not a good thing. Think beer belly, soju cologne, and 2003 closet.
2) When in Rome, follow Roman law
During the peak of his stardom (2001, right after his debut), Psy was arrested for smoking weed. According to Korean media, he and his composer/friend he met while he was a student at Berkelee College of Music, smoked marijuana in his studio to calm the anxiety of the upcoming album release.
The marijuana case lost him 20 billion Korean won in commercial contracts, albums etc. (20 billion won is a little more than 18 million CAD) More importantly, he was “banned” from multiple broadcasting stations in Korea, which heavily impacted his image and financials. (Unlike Hollywood, bad publicity is bad publicity in Korea, at least ~2013)
The thing that pissed Korean people off even more was the attitude he had about this escapade. Usually, when Korean celebrities get arrested, they demonstrate (at least externally) some sort of regret, remorse – the typical face-lost-and-shamed behavior. Baseball cap, mask, and sunglass are common props for this type of show. But when Psy walked into the police department in handcuffs, he had his usual confident-aurora, a laid-back, almost self-righteous “so what” attitude.
I kind of see why he was so “so what” about it, but you should know your audience. Smoking weed is a controversial topic, but the fact is, it is illegal in Korea to possess/smoke weed. And as TV personnel of a rather “conservative” society, he shouldn’t have broken the law – let alone be so chill about it publically. Let me change that, no one should ever break the law. Pushing the limit and breaking the law are two different things. It’s kind of obvious, but in this progressive era where many conventions are questioned – people forget that laws still exists and different country’s tolerance for your experimentations are different. He learned it the hard way (20billion Korean won!) – doesn’t mean you should.
3) Don’t cheat on life
So like the majority of Korean men out there, Psy didn’t want to take part in South Korea’s mandatory military service (if you didn’t know, Korean men are obligated to serve in the military for 1 year and 10 months). For his first service, he had the privilege of substituting his 2 years (it was 2 years back in the days) of service in the national arm’s force with working for the government’s defense industry to do software development. But because of “misconducts” during his service, he was forced to serve another 2 years, and this time at the national arm’s force! To avoid 2 years of serving the nation, he ended up serving 4 years, and the worse part is, essentially the entire Korean male population was anti-psy for the longest time because of this affair.
Moral of the story – be thankful for what you have and don’t cheat!
4) Live by the saying, “Even if you fall 7 times, stand up for the 8th time” [일곱번넘어져도 여덟번 일어나라]
“Even if you fall 7 times, stand up for the 8th time” is a Korean proverb that basically means “never give up.” Babies fall an average of 3000 times when they learn to walk. Ironically, falling gets harder as we grow older, and standing back up even more so. But if babies can stand back up after falling 3000 times, then so should we!
Looking at how Psy went from a hot-mess to a complete hot-ness really tells us that falling doesn’t mean the end. It’s only the end if you let it be the end.
Considering all the falls, Psy could have easily spiraled into an abyss of misery and wretchedness and disappear from the entertainment industry.
But he didn’t.
He continued doing what he loves and does the best – make music, have crazy concerts, and entertain! People were skeptical, unnerved, and some even repulsed by his reappearance on TV after his incidents, but they eventually forgot/forgave and supported him. Of course this was partly because tons of money was invested in creating positive publicity and it took a lot of time, but it was mostly because he was persistent in his public appearances despite all the hate he was receiving. He didn’t give up, so life gave him another chance.
Last time he was on the first page of Naver (Korea’s #1 search engine), it was probably because of his military-issue. Now, he is all over the web for being Korea’s cultural and musical ambassador – the first Korean singer to top Billboard 100. So, if you happen to fall in life, learn from the fall, stand back up and gangnam style.
5) Almost Nothing is Impossible
Who would’ve thought this guy was going to become such a sensation? Probably no one. Does he possess some rare unique talent? Not really.
It wasn’t like he knew he was going to be a super star the moment he was born. In fact, he went to Boston University for International Business and went to music college only afterwards. He was probably as lost as you and I at one point, just as confused and just as unsure of his future. But he made it happen. He is now the first Korean singer to “legitimately” break into the North American music market (many have tried and failed), first Korean (or maybe even Asian) singer to top billboard charts for multiple week, have youtube videos with highest hits, and happily married with twin daughters.
If Psy can make his dream come true, I don’t see why any one of us can’t.
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