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Lebanon rides out the Gangnam Style wave
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BEIRUT: One ubiquitous melody floated above the din of Hamra Street’s Alleyway Friday night as Korean-pop phenomenon “Gangnam Style” played out-of-sync from two adjacent pubs.

Some among the crowd spilling into the narrow alleyway threw their hands in the air and others got off their barstools to dance – all still incredibly enthusiastic about a song that went viral on the Internet more than four months ago.

“The song Gangnam Style for some reason gets the party popping,” said Anthony Kazandjian, known as DJ KAZ, who recently spun at a Gangnam Style-themed party at The Leisure Club in Dik al-Mehdi. “It’s too popular.”

After a few seconds of familiar synthetic intro notes, the crowd usually erupts into screams, he said. The song brings a new energy to the party that as a DJ he saves for the perfect moment, he said.

“Some people do the dance, too,” the DJ said, referring to the galloping move that the song made popular.

Lebanon has been no exception to Gangnam Style’s worldwide popularity. Here the craze has manifested in Gangnam party themes, amateur video clips, Lebanese pop stars breaking out with the song’s signature moves, and even local political figures giving a nod to the song.

Korean pop, or K-pop, singer Psy released the song and music video on YouTube in mid-July. The video clip rose to become the second-most watched YouTube video of all time in early November and now has about 757 million views.

The song’s sustained popularity has continued to confound music critics, as everyone from legendary pop star Madonna to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and British Prime Minister David Cameron have performed the song’s ridiculous horse-riding dance.

The Korean Ambassador to Lebanon Kim Byoung-gi wrote, in a column published in The Korean Herald last month, that the song has helped bridge Lebanese and Korean cultures.

“A few days ago, when a child of a newly arrived Korean diplomat joined his school in Beirut, the first question he got from his Lebanese classmates was whether he was able to sing and dance to the popular Korean song Gangnam Style,” Kim said.

“People-to-people connectivity that governments have championed for decades is being achieved in the cultural arena among younger generations, undeterred by borders and physical distances.”

Such was the case at the Universite Saint-Esprit de Kaslik as a group of students from the university created their own Gangnam Style video clip – filled with giant stuffed animal heads, backflips and break dancing around the USEK campus.

USEK’s YouTube clip has garnered attention from local TV stations such as MTV and has received more than 19,000 views.

A surprise performance of Psy’s dance moves was also featured on MTV talk show “Men el-Ekhir” a few weeks ago. Lebanese pop-star and actress Nicole Saba gave a half-hearted attempt at learning the goofy-looking steps alongside fellow guests.

Local professional dancers said they’ve also caught the Gangnam bug.

Tatyana Zein, the founder of uDance classes held in Verdun and Hamra, said she plans to incorporate Gangnam Style into her dance lessons.

“I’m actually planning on choreographing it,” she said. “I believe it would be fun.”

Though she didn’t want to give away how she would incorporate the upbeat song and hip-hop rodeo dance move into her classes, Zein said she would start this weekend.

But for some DJs and radio producers, the song has overstayed its welcome, said MIX FM owner and DJ Roger Saad.

“It’s the most talked about song this year. But it’s so ridiculous and cheesy,” Saad said.

The station has reduced the air time to just once per day.

Teenagers call the station the most to request the song. But Saad gets a flood of interest in hearing the song at parties and events, he said.

It may be the first time a K-pop tune has made it big in Lebanon, but Saad lamented the song’s recognition by political figures.

“It’s silly so many people would think it’s the song that unites people when there’s so much nice music out there,” he said.

“There was a craze for it that was incredible. But I presume by Christmas it will be out.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 20, 2012, on page 2.
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