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culture

PSY, the “Gangnam Style” Guy, Comes to Toronto

The South Korean pop star rocked a weird-ass crowd at the Kool Haus.

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If anything definitive can be said about fans of PSY—the Korean pop oddity responsible for “Gangnam Style”—it’s that they are completely and utterly unclassifiable. This is the nature of being an internationally ubiquitous pop idol: everyone likes you, and so do their frumpy mothers.

Walking around the Kool Haus on Tuesday during PSY’s first-ever Toronto performance was sort of like walking into a bizarrely proportioned house of mirrors. Whether because it was the night before Halloween, or because some audience members just wanted to show off their tuxedos, lots of people had shown up in costume. There were tall PSYs, short PSYs, child PSYs, hipster Psys, black PSYs, white PSYs, sexy PSYs, and so on. There were also Korean senior citizens, party girls from all backgrounds, and several couples with very young children—some of whom were being pushed in strollers.

And, of course, there were tons of rabid K-pop fans—the type who probably would have come whether or not “Gangnam Style” had broken out globally. PSY—otherwise known as Park Jae-sang—isn’t new to those in the know. His career has spanned five full-length albums over the course of more than a decade. In fact, the nerdy musician is something of a unlikely bad boy in South Korea, where he has gained notoriety over the years for writing explicit lyrics and slacking on his mandatory military service. There was even a marijuana charge.

The Toronto show, sponsored by Korean tech giant Samsung as a way of launching its latest phone, was one of many similar launch parties held around the world. Even so, it was seemingly the only one featuring the world’s most popular Korean (now that we all agree PSY has eclipsed United Nations head Ban Ki-moon). Forget that the States had Kanye for their event. We had PSY. PSY! It was a big enough deal to draw staffers from the South Korean embassy, who—according to VIP-room gossip that we couldn’t verify—were accompanied by the president of Samsung himself.

Considering the night’s Korean theme, the pre-game music seemed a bit misplaced: American pop and hip-hop hits by DJ Clymaxxx, hyped up verbally by radio host Mocha of KISS FM. It seemed like a missed opportunity to promote some of PSY’s musical peers—other K-pop acts, like BIGBANG and 4Minute—who appear in the “Gangnam Style” video. (PSY appears in 4Minute singer Kim Hyun-a’s “Ice Cream” video, in keeping with a tradition of K-pop stars making cameos in one another’s work.)

Then came the man himself. Wearing a blue blazer with an undone white bow tie and his signature round sunglasses, PSY took the stage. Backed by four nerdy-but-lithe dancers wearing all white (plus a whole entourage of cartoon PSYs on a huge screen behind the stage), the portly impresario packed what would prove to be less than 20 minutes on stage with entertainment and antics. At one point, he asked the crowd if they were thirsty, warned that he wouldn’t just throw water on them like Americans performers do, and proceeded to spit a big swig all over the people clamouring around the stage. It’s the Korean way, he said.

He belted out two of his previous hits, including 2010’s “Right Now.” Both were banging party jams that served to warm up the crowd for the big show.

When it was time for “Gangnam Style,” the audience was amped. Phones hoisted in the air seemed, somehow, to outnumber people in the crowd. PSY flailed, pranced, and pouted through the three minutes of magic. No matter that he wasn’t even trying to mouth along to the chorus (he did appear to be performing the verses live): the crowd was screaming, singing, and generally picking up what he was putting down.

And when it ended, much too soon, the classy/cheesy gent gave his Toronto fans a tidbit they could hang on to: he’ll be back for a full concert in January.

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