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Psy's "Hangover:" Challenging Asian American and African American Relations

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Psy's "Gangnam Style" took the world by storm two years ago. His song broke the Guinness World Record to become the first video to reach a billion views. Soon his song and dance style became a global phenomenon. People viewed his videos, parodied his act, and imitated his dance. His world-wide success led him to his next song, "Gentleman" which also broke records for the most views in 24 hours as it became the most widely viewed video on the day of its release. On June 8, 2014, Psy released his new song, "Hangover" featuring Snoop Dogg. Hangover is now the most K-pop watched video in America and around the world.

Psy will always be famous for his "Gangnam Style" monster hit, but his latest hit and collaboration with Snoop Dogg, "Hangover" could have an even greater impact particularly on African American and Korean American relations.

"Hangover" has Psy's signature upbeat music and funky dance moves. It has funny, interesting party scenes of drinking and getting wasted. Psy and Snoop Dogg rap about the night before --reflecting on how much they drank and how they now both have hangovers. The two musically reminisce about the good times they had, singing and drinking with Asian women at a karaoke bar, riding on a boat, visiting an amusement park and playing pool together. They have a good time as Psy and Snoop Dogg dance, sing, eat, drink, and party throughout the video.

This song and music video is significant for both the Asian American and African American communities. Psy could have collaborated with any American singer but chose to do it with Snoop Dogg, an African American. This pairing is important in light of historic tensions between Asian Americans and African Americans, and the lack of collaboration, work, and interaction between these two racialized groups. It also conjures up the collaboration between Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder and their duet, "Ebony and Ivory."

The present collaboration could be understood as a metaphor for African American and Asian American relations. It could be viewed as wanting change or doing things differently in relations between the groups.

When Asians first immigrated to this country, they experienced racism and lived in their own ethnic enclaves much as the Jews, Italians, or Irish established island communities in the cities, while the Scandinavians established communities in the north central farmlands. Asian Americans lived in communities where they worked for each other and worshipped in churches together. The movement to live within the broader American context began later in the 1960s and 1970s in the American rush to the suburbs. As a result Asian Americans and African Americans did not routinely mix or interact until the 1970s.

As the two groups began interacting with each other, tension and difficulties often filled the relationships. The 1992 Los Angeles Riots following the acquittal of the police officers who beat Rodney King is an example of the tension and conflict that can often occur between various minorities groups. Korean Americans in Los Angeles refer to this event as "Sa-I-Gu" meaning "4-29" which indicates the date the riots began. By far the greater amount of violence was between African-Americans and the police, California National Guard, and the 7th Infantry Division (regular Army). However this incident created a burden for many Korean Americans as it emphasized their minority and subordinate status within the larger American society.

Korean American citizens and shop owners did not receive as much protection as the lives and property of other nationalities. Therefore, some Korean Americans policed their own streets with some of the same firearms carried by the rioters, police, and troops. It deepened an enormous pain in their individual and communal identity. Tensions still exist today. A recent meme discussed in the root, portrays strains which still persist between these two communities.

A Western divide and rule concept between these two racialized groups pits one community against the other. Eruptions do occur and when they do, they need to be addressed quickly. Otherwise, the tension between the groups will continue to build. Unless this cycle of tension is broken, the two groups will continue to have uncomfortable feelings against each other. These uncomfortable feelings can erupt into more physical conflict.

In Korea, the term han describes "unjust suffering" or the experience of the deep pain that comes from "piercing of the heart". The suffering which happens to those who are racialized, discriminated against, and subjugated is one example of han. Han is further experienced in the tension that builds within and between the groups. In order to address the tension and move forward together, steps must be taken to release the han.

The first important step is to be "aware" of the problem. The two racial groups must acknowledge the tension existing between them. Secondly a "commitment" must occur that each will take steps to release such tension. Third, an "engagement" needs to take place so that each group will fully participate in working towards reconciliation, understanding and friendship.

Too often today Asian American and African Americans view each other with suspicion. Asian Americans and African Americans experience racism directed from the white dominant culture, but we also feel racial tension between themselves. This arises, in part, because we do not have good modes of communication between the two groups, we have little in common aside from our marginality, and we see each other as in a competition for status within the world of white domination. There has really not been any incentive for either group to initiate dialogue between the groups. Without much dialogue and discussion, it becomes difficult to address the strained relationships that often exist between these two groups. Due to this difficulty, it is important to open up and have a good dialogue between the two groups. Building bridges needs to be a central aspect to releasing tension.

Through the wonderful prism of pop-culture, two icons collaborating on a song may be a symbol for Asian American and African American relationship. By collaborating they go beyond the stereotypical characters that our detractors would like us to be. Getting to know each other, with all the challenges this may present, will only be beneficial for both groups. Or else, we will only be the characters that the dominant hegemony forces us to be.

"Hangover" is more than a catchy song. Psy's collaboration with Snoop Dogg is a step towards achieving good relations between Asian Americans and African Americans as these two musicians share a song and dance style new to both cultures. In Psy's video, the two are able to have a good time together. They hang out together throughout the night. Each scene reveals that two very different people can co-exist, intersect, and enjoy each other's company.

"Hangover" may be the first collaboration between Asian American and African American headliners. Until now, there has been no prototype of cooperation between the two groups. The collaboration between Psy and Snoop Dogg, provides an example to begin the important dialogue of talking about racial tensions and begin a conversation between these two racial narratives. Such collaborations need to continue. Anything that releases racial tensions is a plus in my book. Only as we ease tension between these two racialized groups can we live freely and fully together without han.