"Gangnam Style" may have made him an international superstar, but it appears that Korean pop idol Psy's popularity in the United States is about to undergo a massive overhaul. On Friday, news surfaced that at a 2002 protest concert, years before he reached international fame, Psy rapped about killing Americans "slowly and painfully."
The concert was staged in opposition to 37,000 American troops who were stationed on the Korean peninsula at the time, as well as a response to the death of two Korean schoolgirls who were killed in a collision with a U.S. military vehicle. Psy, in protest, took to the stage at the concert. Wearing gold face paint and a red sparkling outfit, Psy lifted a model U.S. tank over his head and smashed it to pieces on the stage.
Two years later, in 2004, Korean missionary Kim Sun-Il was kidnapped and executed in Iraq by the Islamist group Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad. The killing was understood to be a revenge killing due to Korea's plan to send 3,000 troops to support the U.S. and the War in Iraq.
In response, protests spread across South Korea and Psy was involved once again. Psy, along with several other artists, performed a song live which included the lyrics:
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.
What happens now to Psy in the public eye is anyone's guess. American audiences have forgiven American artists for incendiary comments and actions in the past: the career of Chris Brown proves that point. But, understandably Americans are decidedly less forgiving when criticism adopts a tone of international violence or national attack.
Psy may go from being the most adored entertainer of 2012, to being the most hated entertainer of 2012. Or, he may emerge relatively unscathed. The deciding factor will be what American audiences choose to do with this information, and whether or not they are interested in forgetting, or even forgiving.
UPDATE: Since this article was first written Psy released a press statement addressing the issue. The statement reads as follows:
As a proud South Korean who was educated in the United States and lived there for a very significant part of my life, I understand the sacrifices American servicemen and women have made to protect freedom and democracy in my country and around the world. The song I featured on in question from eight years ago -- was part of a deeply emotional reaction to the war in Iraq and the killing of two Korean schoolgirls that was part of the overall antiwar sentiment shared by others around the world at that time. While I’m grateful for the freedom to express one's self, I’ve learned there are limits to what language is appropriate and I’m deeply sorry for how these lyrics could be interpreted. I will forever be sorry for any pain I have caused by those words. I have been honored to perform in front of American soldiers in recent months -- including an appearance on the Jay Leno show specifically for them -- and I hope they and all Americans can accept my apology. While it’s important that we express our opinions, I deeply regret the inflammatory and inappropriate language I used to do so. In my music, I try to give people a release, a reason to smile. I have learned that thru music, our universal language we can all come together as a culture of humanity and I hope that you will accept my apology.