A Qualified Apology, Gangnam Style

PsyPublic apologies can make or break a career regardless of the offense. If your apology is artfully crafted and heartfelt you may even increase your support-base. In the recent case with South Korean rapper Psy, we will have to wait and see. Let’s review.

Riding a wave of celebrity with his YouTube hit Gangnam Style; Psy is now a household name globally. However with his popularity came the heightened scrutiny of anyone seeking fame.

Psy’s crisis slowly began to unravel this October when several anti-American statements the rapper made in 2002 and 2004 came to light via CNN iReport.

While the rapper’s comments had been well known in his homeland for years his newfound superstardom allowed a global audience to rehash the old as new.

I will not revisit the entirety of the issue here but please do read this excellent report from columnist Bobby McGill of Busan Haps Magazine of Psy’s past comments amidst the politically charged air of the time.

At the center of the crisis remains Psy’s participation in a rap written by South Korean rockband N.EX.T. featuring the following lyrics as translated by CNN:

“Kill those f–ing Yankees who have been torturing Iraqi captives and those who ordered them to torture. Kill them all slowly and painfully [as well as] daughters, mothers, daughters-in-law and fathers.”

The scrutiny could not have come at a worse time for Psy since he was scheduled to perform in front of President Obama for the “Christmas in Washington” concert in a few days. (Note: Psy retained his invitation and did perform at the concert earlier this evening.)

Psy and his camp issued the following apology (full text as reported by ABC News):

“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 in question — from eight years ago — was part of a deeply emotional reaction to the war in Iraq and the killing of two Korean schoolgirls that was part of the overall antiwar sentiment shared by others around the world at that time. 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. 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.”

While I am not writing this post to offer my opinion of Psy’s “anti-American comments” as they are now referred to in the press, I do feel that his apology should be looked at for educational purposes amongst communications professionals.

Much of Psy’s apology hits the right notes. Acknowledgement of past wrongs? Check. Statement to show his current (read changed) values? Check? Acceptance of blame? Check. Wait…

I first cringed at Psy’s apology when reading this sentence: “The song in question — from eight years ago — was part of a deeply emotional reaction to the war in Iraq and the killing of two Korean schoolgirls that was part of the overall antiwar sentiment shared by others around the world at that time.”

From eight years ago? While you may want to distance yourself from past actions it can be seen as a bit snarky to call it out in such detail. Would it have not been more appropriate to cite his youth? Also, to claim ignorance through a collective reaction to horrible events deflects blame from himself and places it upon a broad, unnamed audience.

I hit another bump in an otherwise enjoyable apology when Psy stated: “…I’m deeply sorry for how these lyrics could be interpreted.”

Sure there is always a question of CNN’s translation, as well as the many others floating around the media, however the lyrics are rather specific to say the least. Are they really open to any further interpretation?

Psy could have easily removed or rephrased these two statements and completed a simple, heartfelt apology. It is a lesson that we should all heed when issuing an apology: Never qualify your statements to share the blame, it only leaves them open for one interpretation and it’s not pretty.


7 thoughts on “A Qualified Apology, Gangnam Style

  1. Pingback: Cómo pedir disculpas en caso de crisis de reputación online: lecciones del Rey y de Psy | CRISIS DE REPUTACIÓN ONLINE

  2. Call me a cynic…. it reads like an apology designed to protect the new found fame – doesn’t sound sincere. I can picture the hours of crafting and re-drafting that went into every sentence to achieve the desired end.

  3. Excellent perspective, thank you!

    I think his apology is excellently crafted, and while it may lack sincerity, it does serve the purpose of explaining his actions and why he is sorry. It makes the point.

    I would disagree about the eight years comment. Pointing out that it was eight years ago helps us to remember what was going on at that time – the anti-Americn sentiment, a largely unpopular war, and the crimes against the Korean school girls. It was a different time.

    I would also give credit to the Obama administration for not taking back the invitation and going ahead with the performance.

    • Thank you for your comment Marion! You make very important points regarding the rehashing of comments in a new time. I always like to consider if a comment will prove timeless rather than jumping behind popular sentiment. It’s a tough balance.

  4. Ridiculous PR stunt and statement. Who cares, you said what you said, thank you for the apology (PR move), no you cannot come to the White House as I have lost many soldiers in my tenure as President. I have family in the military, and this is ridiculous. We have to start sticking together, America. Keeping this jerk from going to the White House would have been a start.

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