Protest Style: Psy’s Anti-American Past?

“Gangnam Style” has made PSY a global household name, but acording to recent English translations of his performances in 2002 and 2004, PSY participated in several high profile anti-American military protests.

BUSAN, South Korea — The talented 34-year-old rapper Park Jae-sang, known better to the world as PSY, has been a controversial staple of the Korean music scene since his first full-length album, PSY from the PSYcho World!, debuted back in 2001.

At that time, the traditionally conservative Korean mainstream didn’t know what to make of the blunt lyrics (one track was called “I Love Sex”) or how to react to his unconventional dance moves and eccentric appearance.

When he first hit the scene, the naturally-gifted, then-24-year-old PSY, who had just returned home to Korea after withdrawing from both Boston University and the prestigious Berklee College of Music, was quickly nicknamed “The Bizarre Singer.”

He wore the title as a badge of honor.

And while the world has come to adore the man who is now the most-loved entertainer on the planet, articles published last month on CNN iReport the Korean language Chosun Ilbo and on other Korean sites about PSY’s outspoken role in anti-US military protests back in 2002, and then again in 2004, will either stir indignation with audiences or garner him even more respect.

But first, the story must be put in context of the times.


The Tragic Death of Two Korean Schoolgirls and America’s Response

The summer of 2002 in Korea was a time when PSY was cultivating a following while battling censors over his outlandish new style that in this day and age seems tame.

It was also a period of heart-rending tragedy that saw an American military vehicle kill 13-year-old middle school girls Shim Mi-son and Shin Hyo-sun, who were walking along the roadside just outside of Seoul on the morning of June 13.

In line with the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), that sets jurisdiction terms for US forces stationed abroad, the incident was defined “a military operation” and thus handled internally by the American military courts.

A subsequent US court martial found the girls’ deaths to be accidental and acquitted service members Sergeant Mark Walker, and the vehicle’s commander, Sergeant Fernando Nino, of negligent homicide, while citing no criminal intent. The American government then paid civil damages to the families involved.

“You have to look at this in context… many South Korean artists were part of this America bashing. It was part of a movement…”

The Korean public’s reaction to the girls’ deaths was at first muted, as the country was then center-stage as co-host of the World Cup, but soon thereafter thousands of protestors took to the streets demanding, with arguable validity, but no legal precedence, that the soldiers be re-tried in a Korean court.

Washington refused and the demonstrations went on for months, as tens of thousands gathered across the country to vent their anger at American policy that made them sole arbiter of justice for US military-related crimes on South Korean soil.

The anger was palpable. While reporting on events for the the San Francisco Chronicle, I cited a Gallup poll that showed 75 percent of Koreans in their 20s said they disliked Americans. Sixty-seven percent in their 30s, along with half of those in their 40s, told Gallup they either “did not like” or “hated” the United States.

Few living on the peninsula at that time were immune to the movement. Businesses around the country banned Americans (and by association, Westerners) from entering, US flags were laid on the ground at university campuses allowing students to walk on them en route to class, and graphic banners of Shim Mi-son and Shin Hyo-sun were erected at rallies, as the American military came under increasingly heated scrutiny for what was ubiquitously viewed as an unfair and unjustified handling of their deaths.

PSY’s Political Performances

For some Americans, the story of PSY’s participation in anti-US military protests will elicit condemnation. But should it?

First, it must be recognized that thousands of Americans have protested—at times violently—against US military-related issues. After that, one must then acknowledge Korean history within the context of a country that has been under the rule of either outside powers or oppressive dictators for much of its history.

A liberal democracy since only 1987, a now free Korean public worships at the altar of protest. Be it storming the office of a politician ensnared in a corruption scandal, burning North Korean flags, opposing a free trade agreement or, as the New York Times once wrote, protesting against protests themselves.

Though the following events have been widely discussed in Korea, recent murmurings on the English corner of the Internet have rekindled PSY’s roles in anti-US military protest rallies in the past.

The first following the 2002 acquittal of the American soldiers; and the second, PSY’s highly-provocative anti-American military performance during a 2004 protest concert in Seoul, where the entertainer’s vitriol was directed towards American military personnel, military brass and their families for the June 22 beheading of a Korean Christian missionary by Islamic extremists in Iraq.

First, this from the Korea Times on December 5, 2002, courtesy of the blog Flight of the Kiwi.

“Following the acquittals of two U.S. soldiers from negligent homicides charges late last month, a growing number of local celebrities have offered their heart-felt sympathy with the victims in public, while expressing their strong resentment over what they see as an unfair ruling by the American military court.

These public figures have composed protest songs against America to pitch in their voice, join public rallies, or have gone as far as calling for revision of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which governs the status of 37,000 American troops stationed here, through official statements.

Even though these pop stars have managed to put in their own two cents’ worth, pop vocalist PSY, who has upheld the cause since August through many concerts, is among the most outspoken of them all.”

PSY’s being “outspoken” was caught on tape and was, until recently, posted on YouTube. It has since been pulled by entertainment company CJ E&M for “copyright claims.” A search for videos on, the Korean version of Google, features several links to the video, but the videos themselves have been removed as well.

During the performance featured on the video, PSY took the stage with several other musicians protesting the Status of Forces Agreement with Washington. With a gold-painted face and the crowd cheering him on, PSY lifted a miniature mock-up of an American tank and threw it to the ground, before smashing it into pieces with a mic stand, all while following along in anti-US military chants.

Following the months of vocal protests, including hunger strikes outside the US embassy, the American military eventually amended SOFA, allowing Korean courts to take US servicemen in custody prior to trial.

In the past, American soldiers were only tried in Korean court for off-duty crimes, such as earlier this year, when a Korean judge sentenced Pvt. Joseph J. Finley to three years in prison for raping a South Korean woman after following her home.

In the end, the power of protest worked—the U.S amended the SOFA agreement.

The Beheading of Kim Sun-il

Nearly two years after the 2002 protests, on May 22, 2004, the Islamist group Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad kidnapped Korean missionary Kim Sun-il and held him hostage, demanding that the South Korean government cancel plans to send 3,000 troops to support the US war in Iraq.

Seoul refused to negotiate and the Islamist group, led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, beheaded Kim, a man whose only crime was proselytizing in extremist-held territory. Kim even studied Arabic in a top Korean university, just so he could spread the Christian word throughout the Middle East.

A subsequent video of the heinous act was aired on Al Jazeera with a masked executioner issuing the following statement:

“Korean citizens, you were warned, your hands were the ones who killed him. Enough lies, enough cheatings. Your soldiers are here not for the sake of Iraqis, but for cursed America.”

He then brutally decapitated Kim Sun-il with a large knife.

Massive protests erupted across South Korea with thousands rallying against Muslim extremists, as well as Seoul’s plans to send troops to Iraq. And while most of the peninsula’s fury was directed towards terrorists in Iraq as well as Korean government policy, some anti-US military protesters seized the moment to put forth their cause.

Once again, PSY was involved. This time he admonished not only the terrorists and then president Roh Mu-hyun, but he also allegedly unleashed a vitriolic condemnation of American military personnel and military brass.

According to a story on October 30, 2012 on the Korean-language version of the Chosun Ilbo and also reported on K-Pop music site, PSY, along with several popular performers, took part in a live performance of Korean rock band N.EX.T‘s song “Dear American“.

싸이 rap :
이라크 포로를 고문해 댄 씨발양년놈들과
고문 하라고 시킨 개 씨발 양년놈들에
딸래미 애미 며느리 애비 코쟁이 모두 죽여
아주 천천히 죽여 고통스럽게 죽여

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

Though reports of PSY performing this have long been known on Korean language sites, it only recently surfaced in English as all eyes and ears of the world have turned in his direction. Before it showed up on the Chosun Ilbo and at the end of October, the translation was first posted October 6 on CNN’s iReport, an open source news feature that allows users to submit stories for CNN consideration.

It was, however, never picked up by CNN staff, even though it received nearly 30,032 views, 361 “recommends” and 152 “shares” at the time of this writing.

The person who posted the translation, who the Chosun Ilbo noted is Japanese (and unsurprisingly not a PSY fan), also uploaded the text of his CNN post on YouTube.

Initial Reaction

Western netizen response has as yet been sparse—aside of the CNN iReport and the YouTube video, there has until now, simply not been enough English language background to be found on the web.

Comments posted thus far have ranged from defending PSY:

SourKushBalls: “This was taken out of context and mistranslated. PSY is not attacking/dissing American soldiers.”

To those offering heavy condemnation (though referencing the earlier issue and not the issue being posted):

MIZZKIE: “Just because two innocent girls got accidentally killed (bless their poor souls), it doesn’t mean you can spew out your hatred against others in a song sung by a person with fame and influence.”

To those viewing him as a man of the times:

MoReuGettDa: “You have to look at this in context. All of the South Korean media, all of the South Korean candidates for president, many South Korean artists were part of this America bashing. It was part of a movement…”

While in a free society we are all entitled to our opinion of PSY’s words and actions 10 years ago, a comment on Facebook seemed quite fitting.

In it, the commenter likened PSY’s lyrics to famed American rapper Ice-T, who once released the song “Cop Killer” and yet now stars, ironically, as a cop on the TV show Law and Order.

Should PSY Address the Issue?

PSY’s political prose aside, suffice it to say that while the entertainment world has given us wonderful artistry and life-changing talent, it has also given us some serious cause for pause.

Have other performers around the world, at some point, spewed harsh words in the name of protest? Yes. Have entertainers taken advantage of the moment, ignoring even principles that they themselves hold dear just to make a buck? Most definitely. Should we really even care?

That’s up to you.

Many Americans, familiar with the US protest culture and generously blessed with acute short-term memory, will likely give PSY a pass.

And why not? Americans gave Ice-T a pass for rapping about killing cops. Eminem and Chris Brown were given a pass for rapping about and actually beating on women. And, unlike the latter two, who continue to bank their fame on anti-social behavior, PSY has been nothing but gracious in the handling of his global popularity.

Would patriotism or whatever it was that motivated him at that time, override his marketing sense and allow him utter those same words today? Who can say?

And before passing judgment, Americans might do well to read some of the disturbingly racist comments directed towards PSY following the American Music Awards. Comments made with no political agenda, but simply hateful rhetoric directed at an international star performing a song that nearly every American loves.

Whether Americans will look for PSY to explain his words and actions from the past remains to be seen. But some of his fellow countrymen have already demanded that the issue be addressed.

In a mid-October article in the right-leaning Korean publication, Dailian, professor Kang Kyu-hyeong of Myongji University in Seoul, was clear in his opinion about PSY’s actions ten years ago saying, “it’s not just anti-American, it’s anti-human.”


Originally appeared at Busan Haps



Lead Photo: AP/Frank Augstein

All other photos courtesy of Busan Haps

About Bobby McGill

Bobby McGill is a former San Francisco-based journalist now residing in South Korea where he founded Busan Haps Magazine in 2009. He is also a doctoral candidate in international studies as well as professor of international relations. He can be reached through his site at


  1. Yeah but look at how not dissimilar attitudes worked out for NWA…..
    The guy is an entertainer, who really cares about his politics- or expects anything but trend following?
    I thought Ed Asner became a pain in the ass- but I still liked his acting….
    I thought Eastwood was disrespectful to the Office of POTUS- but I’ll watch the Unforgiven whenever I surf to it….

    • Eastwood and Asner are Americans.
      psy is NOT.

      psy Benefitted by the blood and money of the country he pisses-on and readily throws under the bus to appear chique for all the other fat fks who fashionably hate America. I now agree with some of the KW veterans I know: “not one of the bastards is worth a single American life.”

      • Actually it is silly for me to discuss Psy at all- 1 SNL skit & once one of my kids showed me the video…
        He means squat in my life.
        But nonetheless w/out the US Psy never would have studied in Boston or bought a bowtie…
        He’d be starving to death in the Orwellian hell that is North Korea.
        Which still leaves him an entertainer.
        And, my youngest informs me, some kind of poseur….

        • How do you figure? Psy was born and raised in Seoul, South Korea.

          • Kuz like there was like this thing called the Korean war? And like these icky people in the north would have taken the entire country, and like the entire country would be all like North Korea is today.

            • Richard Aubrey says:

              According to several histories of the Korean War, Norks drove masses of civilians against UN positions in the first months. There are tactical reasons for this which don’t need to be discussed, but they obviously worked in one way they were supposed to.

              • Richard Aubrey says:

                Further to No Gun Ri


                Couple of years ago, in Springfield, IL, my wife and I were looking at Lincoln’s home, and thence to his tomb. There was a Korean family at the first place. I presume it was a family with some extra aunts and uncles. Saw them at the tomb, too.
                One of them went to the nearby Korean War Memorial which had a slanted side about chest high. He clapped his hands over his head–supposedly the way some Buddhists get the attention of the gods–and leaned his body against the memorial. There was a walkway to the Memorial with purchased bricks in it. Korean veterans (Korean vets of the war), Korean corporations, Korean individuals, all represented in the bricks.
                Then there’s Psy.

            • Richard Aubrey says:

              Rob. It was a joke. Graven is parodying the results of teaching history in US schools.

  2. I have a nuclear-grade problem with the title. (feel free to read in “rage-mode”)

    One does not have an “Anti-American ‘Past.'” He painted himself as such and today he is stuck with that public proclamation. Why does this turkey have everyone falling all over themselves to shield him from disclosure of the truth? Why? Because he’s Anti-American, and “thats OK!”

    Had he espoused the same hatred and torture-calls for “women” or “gays,” there would be not one person rushing to protect his chubby arse!

    • Hmm, I don’t see any signs of anti-Americanism on PSY’s part anywhere in the article.

      He’s critical of the U.S. military, of course, but that’s obviously nowhere close to being anti-American. Funny how many people confuse the two.

      • Copy…then what did he apologize for?

        And BTW: Lyrics Dude!

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


        • Yup. I agree, anyone who participated in torture of Iraqis should be killed. Any decent American would agree.

          I’d draw the line at killing their families, but then I’m not a rapper.

          • Are you an American (USA) citizen Copyleft? Inquiring minds would like to know.

            BTW: There is not one case of torture of Iraqis. Only humiliation.

  3. Duckworthy says:

    Should PSY Address the Issue?

    He did. On December 7. He apologized for it. Link below.

  4. For those (like the author) who have incredibly short memories. The country of South Korea owes its very existence to “Yankee Soldiers.” 36000 Americans were killed, 90000 were wounded and 4500 are still MIA. If you want to forget 128000+ casualties in order to enjoy a set of catchy lyrics- go for it.

    • Is there any point at all in going into to the whole “your country owes our country for something i wasn’t there for” (no disrespect for vets), seems short sighted

      • The sacrifice that American soldiers have made (and continue to make) for South Korea should entail at least a modicum of respect that goes beyond “kill yankee soldiers!.” If that makes me short sighted then so be it. Short sighted also insinuates I am missing some benefit. What possible benefit is there to overlook the inflamatory words of a freaking popstar?

        At the very least we should expect our president to remember. He’s the commander in chief of the armed forces. The majority of our guys don’t want to be there anyway. Talk to some of the folks who were stationed in Korea- its considered one of the worst postings you can get.

      • Hey Stanley….I dare you to go over to one of the Native American bitch-session articles and steak the same claim of “nothing owed” for previous generations’ actions.

    • Duckworthy says:

      The country of South Korea owes its very existence to “Yankee Soldiers.” 36000 Americans were killed, 90000 were wounded and 4500 are still MIA. If you want to forget 128000+ casualties in order to enjoy a set of catchy lyrics- go for it.

      Yeah, and approximately 1.5 million to 3 million Koreans died during the war.

      There’s also the matter of the No Gun Ri Massacre when the 7th U.S. Cavalry Regiment where it’s estimated 41% of the victims were children and 70% of the victims were women, children or men over age 61.

      An article about it by the BBC.

      • Duckworthy says:

        The article on the massacre’s horrific.

        Just wanted to add this part:

        “Since the original AP report, more documents detailing refugee ‘kill’ orders have been unearthed at the US national archives. They point to the widespread targeting of refugees by commanders well after No Gun Ri. In August 1950 there were orders detailing that refugees crossing the Naktong River be shot. Later in the same month, General Gay, commander of the 1st Cavalry Division (of which the 7th Cavalry Regiment involved at No Gun Ri was part), actually ordered artillery units to target civilians on the battlefield. And as late as January 1951, the US 8th Army was detailing all units in Korea that refugees be attacked with all available fire including bombing.”

        “New allegations have also emerged of the indiscriminate killing of civilians in Korea. In August 1950, 80 civilians are reported to have been killed while seeking sanctuary in a shrine by the village of Kokaan-Ri, near Masan in South Korea. Other survivors recall 400 civilians killed by US naval artillery on the beaches near the port of Pohang in September 1950, and dozens of villages across southern South Korea report the repeated low-level strafing by US planes of ‘people in white’ during July and August 1950. A total of 61 separate incidents involving the killing of civilians by US forces are now logged with the South Korean authorities.”

  5. Should PSY Address the Issue?

    PSY’s political prose aside, suffice it to say that while the entertainment world has given us wonderful artistry and life-changing talent, it has also given us some serious cause for pause.

    Have other performers around the world, at some point, spewed harsh words in the name of protest? Yes. Have entertainers taken advantage of the moment, ignoring even principles that they themselves hold dear just to make a buck? Most definitely. Should we really even care?

    Uh…. he did. On December 7.

    “As a proud South Korean who was educated in the United States and lived there for a very significant part of my life, I understand the sacrifices American servicemen and women have made to protect freedom and democracy in my country and around the world. The song I was featured in — from eight years ago — was part of a deeply emotional reaction to the war in Iraq and the killing of two innocent Korean civilians that was part of the overall antiwar sentiment shared by others around the world at that time,” the statement read. “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 been honored to perform in front of American soldiers in recent months — including an appearance on the Jay Leno show specifically for them — and I hope they and all Americans can accept my apology,” the statement concluded. “While it’s important we express our opinions, I deeply regret the inflammatory and inappropriate language I used to do so. In my music I try to give people a release, a reason to smile. 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.”

  6. Richard Aubrey says:

    Good summation.
    The problem is, THE POINT is, whether POTUS should be high-fiving the son of a bitch.
    The world, including the US, is full of people biting the hand that freed them, feeds them, protects them, and in the case of entertainers or whatever this guy is, getting a career boost from people who think playing this game in perfect safety is edgy and courageous.
    What’s one more?

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