We're learning all over again this morning that viral popstars often have lives and interests that predate and exist outside of their Internet fame. Case in point: A CNN iReport is alleging that cuddly "Gangnam Style" singer PSY once called for the death of U.S. soldiers and their families during an anti-American demonstration in 2004:
Kill those fucking Yankees who have been torturing Iraqi captives
Kill those fucking Yankees who ordered them to torture
Kill their daughters, mothers, daughters-in-law, and fathers
Kill them all slowly and painfully
Startling news, as we had just assumed PSY was the pop star least likely to call for rivers of blood to run through the streets. (The pop star most likely to call for rivers of blood? Kanye West. Look at the signs, man!) This is the sort of headline that calls out to be put into context, and wouldn't you guess, we've got that context for you right here!
The early years of the past decade were a particularly fraught time for Korean-American relations. In 2002, an U.S. Army armored truck struck and killed two Korean schoolgirls on a public highway in Gyeonggi Province. Massive protests called for the two soldiers at the wheel to be tried in the Korean justice system, but the Army decided that since the men were performing official Army business during the accident they would instead be given a military court-martial—where both were found not guilty. The verdict led to the largest anti-American protests in Korea in decades.
Official relations between the two governments stayed courteous, though, and two years later South Korea was part of the American-led Coalition of the Willing in the Iraq War. On the brink of a Korean troop surge, al Qaeda in Iraq kidnapped Korean missionary Kim Sun-il and held him hostage on the demand that Korea withdraw its forces from the country. When the Korean government refused, Kim was beheaded. The murder led to fiery demonstrations in Korea against AQI leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, but also sparked the anti-American sentiments of two years earlier.
In the wake of Kim's death and the Abu Ghraib scandal, calls for Korea to bring its troops out of Iraq intensified. PSY took the stage at one such protest alongside Korean band N.E.X.T., during which he rapped the offending verses. This leads us to the second bit of context: PSY at this stage in his career was something of a K-Pop shock-jock, an Army deserter willing to say or do anything for attention. (His redemption through the love of his wife is a large part of his star narrative in Korea.) With the public mood at the time, the market was ripe for an opportunistic musician to tap into anti-American sentiment and boost his own profile accordingly—and so that's exactly what PSY did.
Were PSY's words ugly and hateful? Definitely. (And the news arriving right as everyone is getting tired of "Gangnam Style" certainly is helping its spread.) But it's likely we don't have to worry about PSY becoming K-Pop's own Nicholas Brody: He's more of a self-promoter than true believer. If you're looking for more information on the anti-American protests in Korea this WaPo article is a good start, and if you're looking to laugh and move on, just take a look at Google, where his anti-American verse translates to:
Fucking torturing Iraqi prisoners Dan and the amount of room for gardeners
Advisor told you to Shit on the amount of room for gardeners
Baby Amy daughter-in-law Abby Ofay kill
Very slowly killing him suffer.
Turns out PSY is just really concerned about gardeners!