Psy’s free concert strikes a sour note

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Psy’s free concert strikes a sour note


After Psy’s triumphant return to Korea and free concert at Seoul Plaza in front of City Hall, a graduate student announced she would file a lawsuit against Mayor Park Won-soon. She claimed the municipal government changed the Hi! Seoul Festival schedule at the last minute in order to accommodate Psy’s concert at the expense of festival activities and participants. Hi! Seoul Festival, celebrating its 10th anniversary, is a large-scale event to promote the capital as a center of culture.

The graduate student in art changed her mind the next day, but her concern is not entirely groundless. The procedure to schedule and permit Psy’s concert was indeed controversial. It was planned at the last-minute, without a complete prior negotiation with the city government. At a concert in Jamsil, southern Seoul, on Oct. 2, Psy said he would sing at Seoul Plaza on Oct. 4 regardless of his Billboard single chart ranking. The next day, Seoul Mayor Park tweeted, “Let’s show the world Seoul Style at 10:04 p.m. on Oct. 4,” and preparations were off and running. For the free concert, the city spent 400 million won ($358,000) and ordered traffic diversion and control. Hi! Seoul Festival events scheduled for the day were postponed.

There is no question that the metropolitan government hurriedly arranged Psy’s concert to take advantage of a one-time opportunity to promote Seoul globally. It would be lying to say the city did not want to get a free ride on the phenomenal K-pop boom fueled by Psy. The Seoul Plaza concert was streamed on YouTube worldwide, so the city enjoyed a wealth of great publicity. However, it begs the question of whether it was necessary to host the event at Seoul Plaza, where previously arranged cultural events sponsored by the city were already in progress. If Psy wanted to perform at Seoul Plaza, municipal authorities should have changed the date or location.

It is not the first case of the government operating without principles. The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, which has been under severe criticism and attacks recently, also demonstrated a lack of direction. The ministry announced it had reversed itself on its designation of “Right Now,” a song on Psy’s fifth album, as “harmful media for youth.” The ministry would seem to be aware that “Right Now” is the likely follow-up hit to “Gangnam Style” and its Over Age 19 rating might have limited the number of views on YouTube.

Does overturning the decision mean the ministry recognizes its misjudgment two years ago? Have the standards of “harmful expressions for youth” or “use of slangs” changed? Or does the ministry simply want to avoid criticism that it is nothing more than a backward bureaucracy standing in the way of continued success of Korea’s best-known entertainment personality?

Neither the city of Seoul nor the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family seems to have a profound understanding of or insight into the content of popular culture. Authorities need to change their attitude of making decisions just because Psy is suddenly hugely popular, they want to promote the Korean Wave or the public pressures them.

The author is a writer of the JoongAng Sunday.

by Ki Sun-min

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