Gangnam Rile: Psy’s Past Anti-American Performances Stir Controversy

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Chung Sung-Jun / Getty Images

Psy performs onstage during the 17th Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) at the Lotte Hotel on October 6, 2012 in Busan, South Korea.

Before he was elevated to international superstardom this year thanks to the magic of his invisible horse dance, Psy was a rapper and music producer in his native South Korea with a bad-boy reputation. In the late ’90s he dropped out of Boston University and the Berklee School of Music without earning degrees, was fined for his first album in 2001 for using “inappropriate lyrics,” and in 2007 he came under investigation for shirking mandatory military duty in South Korea. Now there’s another indiscretion to add to the “Gangnam Style” star’s rap sheet: Psy is coming under fire for a pair of shocking anti-American performances he gave a decade ago.

According to Korean media reports, during a 2002 performance Psy hoisted a toy model of a U.S. tank and proceeded to smash it on the stage with a microphone stand, later joining the crowd in anti-American chants. Busan Haps reports that there was video of this incident posted on YouTube until recently, when it was removed by an entertainment company citing copyright claims. Psy’s on-stage protest was spurred by the killing of two 14-year-old Korean girls when they were run over by an American military vehicle on a South Korean road just north of Seoul. Anti-American sentiment was high, though the two soldiers driving the vehicle were found not guilty of negligent homicide during a court martial.

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In 2004, Psy took the stage with a number of other popular South Korean performers at a protest concert to perform a song called “Dear America,” originally written by N.E.X.T., a South Korean metal band. Psy, along with the other musicians, sang along to the lyrics, which read:

Kill those f—ing Yankees who have been torturing Iraqi captives
Kill those f—ing Yankees who ordered them to torture
Kill their daughters, mothers, daughters-in-law, and fathers
Kill them all slowly and painfully

The 2004 concert was in protest of the al-Qaeda kidnapping of a South Korean missionary in Iraq. When South Korea refused to negotiate, refusing the terrorists’ demand that Seoul cancel its plan to send soldiers to help the U.S. fight the war in Iraq, the missionary was beheaded, and South Koreans took to the streets to protest the killing. These reports put Psy front-and-center in the protest concert, rapping about killing American soldiers.

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After intense media scrutiny this week, the 34-year-old pop star issued a statement through a publicist Friday afternoon.

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 anyone by those words.

I have learned that though music, our universal language we can all come together as a culture of humanity and I hope that you will accept my apology.

In the letter, he cites his appreciation for the sacrifices of American servicemen and women, and his November 23 appearance on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno specifically for members of the military. Indeed, Psy has appeared on countless talk shows in America in the latter half of 2012, offering nothing but effusive thanks to the nation for helping him become a household name.

Amid the controversy, a petition circulated to stop Psy’s scheduled performance at the White House’s annual Christmas In Washington event. The petition, posted on the Obama administration’s official “We the People” petition website, was ultimately taken down, citing a violation of the site’s Terms of Participation, but it asked the White House to rescind Psy’s invitation. It had nearly 500 signatures when it was removed Friday afternoon.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Friday that the Obama family will still attend the Christmas In Washington performance on Dec. 21, and Psy’s invitation hadn’t been revoked. It’s unlikely that these newly dug-up anecdotes will depose Psy from his king-like level of stardom. But perhaps, at the White House concert, at least, the invisible lassoing and galloping will be somewhat subdued.