It was a cold, unrelentingly miserable night. People were queuing for hours, jostling for a better place in the knowledge that they could get turned away at any point by someone whose only authority stemmed from the fact they were holding a pen and a clipboard. This wasn't a scene outside a Sandy-battered polling station in New Jersey – bearing testament to the nation's unshakeable democratic spirit – it was on a vomit-stained street near Piccadilly Circus, where Korean superstar Psy was charging £30 for people to watch one song live that the rest of the world have already seen almost 700 million times.
I decided to head down to investigate what it is about one solitary performance of "Gangnam Style" that justifies spending the kind of money that could buy you a second-hand video game or a great night out at a shitty club in Bradford. Oh, and I also got everyone to do the "Mobot", because it's the other thing that everyone seems to be obsessed with this year.
I don't know how to do that panoramic thing on a camera, but trust me, the queue was much, much larger than this. I suppose £30 really isn't that much to people when it means they're guaranteed a spot peering through a crowd for three and a half minutes at a man throwing himself around to a novelty dance song.
Here are some of those people.
Rebecka, 18 and Josefine, 19, Sweden
VICE: So what brings you here tonight?
Rebecka: We really, really want to see the Gangnam guy.
Josefine: Yeah, the Gangnam guy! We want to see him!
Why do you want to see him so bad?
Because the video is so famous and everybody's seen it on YouTube, but we'll get to see it live.
Imagine I haven’t seen "Gangnam Style". Explain it to me.
Rebecka: I have no idea what it's about, actually, I mean, I've read the lyrics, but it's more about the dance. The dance is so funny.
Could you do the dance for me?
Josefine: No, I can't really do it. It kind of looks like riding a horse.
What's your favourite Psy song other than "Gangnam Style"?
I think he's just made that one song, hasn't he?
Rebecka: No, he's got more songs, but I don't know any of them. We just came down because he's really popular and the dance is really funny.
Oh. So are you just going to stay for the four minutes of the song, then leave?
Josefine: No – we'll also get drunk!
Okay! Have fun, girls.
Tchengiz, 18, Kingston.
Why are you here tonight?
Tchengiz: Well, it’s Psy, isn't it, mate? I’ve got to be here. It’s his first European performance.
Is this a day you’ll remember for the rest of your life?
Oh, definitely. I’m going to tell my children and my grandchildren about this. I heard about him earlier this year after "Gangam Style" was released. I was probably one of the first couple million to see the video. I'm pretty indie like that. I don't mind everyone else latching on, though – the more people who hear the magic, the better.
Do you think "Gangnam Style" could act as an incentive for widespread social change?
Well, music definitely brings people together. I’m a musician myself, so I know that from personal experience. His song has brought a lot of people together.
I thought "Gangnam Style" might have something to do with gangs.
What, like knife crime? I think Gangnam is, like, a street or a city in Tokyo or Korea, maybe? In the non-communist Korea.
Pick Up Artist One (far left) and Pick Up Artist Two (to his right), who were both very pissed off about this.
So what is it that you like so much about "Gangnam Style"?
PUA1: I like how it’s a parody – how it pokes fun at K-Pop and at its own culture. I thought it was very sociological. He’s clearly a big thinker. I've seen some interviews with him and I don't understand Korean, but his tone and his persona seems very well thought out and like it comes from a very erudite place.
So he got through to you even through the language barrier?
Yeah, there was a real sobering seriousness to his persona.
Is that why he’s been so successful?
PUA2: No, I think it's just because he went viral so quickly. A lot of people just saw it and thought ‘this is wicked’. It's just such a funny video. No one's ever done something like that before – you know, poking fun at their own people.
I'm not sure how true that is, but fine. Do you think it would have been racist if anyone else had made that video?
The person would have had to know about K-Pop.
PUA1: But it wasn’t specifically about K-Pop; it was about what I'd call a super-gentrified area of a city: Gangnam.
PUA2: Like the Kensington of South Korea?
PUA1: Yeah, like that. He’s making fun of the lifestyle of the women who live in this small bubble in this very affluent part of the city.
Is that what the horse thing is about?
Yeah, exactly. It’s poking fun at the lifestyle of women who ride for leisure in the city.
Thanks for clearing that up for me.
Hi, Joe. What are you doing here?
Joe, 22, Colombia: I'm here for drinks, girls and music, trying to ignore the fact I have a 9AM class tomorrow. God, that's gonna suck. Oh, and Psy, of course! I'm a big fan.
What do you like about him so much?
"Gangnam Style": dress classy, dance cheesy.
Yep. How much do you know about Psy?
I watched some interviews. Well, not really interviews – he shows up, dances and leaves. That’s about it.
Would you rather get a picture with Psy or pull tonight?
Oh, that’s a difficult one. I can pull any night, so I suppose a picture with Psy.
I really admire your modesty.
Maria, 31 (far right) Moscow, 32 (to her left) and Rob, 32 (to her left), Russia.
What’s your favourite thing about "Gangnam Style"?
Rob: The best part of the video is where he’s walking through the old, abandoned warehouse and they’re throwing whipped cream in his face and he stays really calm and collected. Also, the girl in the video goes, “What the fuck is this?” and they kept that in the official video. It's crazy.
Maria: I think that might have been part of the plan.
Rob: Yeah, I know, but I noticed it and I thought it was funny. I looked at the translation and it’s kind of interesting. I’m going to paraphrase here, but it’s about a girl who looks really sexy even though she’s more covered up than the girl who bares everything. It’s very different to the Flo Ridas and the Kanyes who are dirtier and trashier, which is interesting.
Is Psy peddling conservative values?
If he is, he’s probably going to lose the next American election [laughs hysterically].
Would Psy have voted for Romney?
Something tells me that a guy who blows stuff up in his video, covers himself in whipped cream and whatever else would probably be a Democrat, not a Republican.
Oh, really? I thought it was Republicans that love blowing stuff up.
L- R: Holly, 18, Gabz, 24, Naomi, 20 and Annabelle, 19, all West London.
Why are you here?
Holly: We like Psy's dance. He’s just weird, isn’t he?
So you like him because he’s a modern freak show that you can watch from the comfort of your toilet seat?
Annabelle: He's got good style, as well.
Holly: Yeah, but it’s not like he’s particularly good looking, is he?
Would you go to an afterparty if he invited you along?
Maybe if there were other people, but not just with him on his own, I don't think.
Naomi: Not if it’s a party in his pants.
Gabz: Well, if he’s got the "Gangnam Style", we would probably go back, yeah.
He definitely has the "Gangnam Style". He wrote and regularly performs "Gangnam Style".
Follow Aleks on Twitter: @slandr
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