After a couple tantalizing teasers, MIT students woke up on the morning of Oct. 27 to the full-fledged “MIT Gangnam Style” video taking the Internet by storm. Since then, the MIT parody of Korean popstar Psy’s sensational “Gangnam Style” — which has skyrocketed to worldwide popularity — has garnered over 4 million views.
Directed by Eddie Ha ’13, produced by Ingwon Chae ’14, and starring Richard Yoon ’13 as Psy, the video is MIT’s take on Psy’s “Gangnam Style.” The original video was uploaded on July 15 and went viral near the end of the summer. As of press time, it has over 657 million views, making it the second most viewed video on YouTube, just after Justin Bieber’s “Baby,” with 796 million views.
The Institute’s spin on the cultural phenomenon has hit the front page of YouTube and reddit, and has spawned comments from around the world. The film features a number of locations around campus, over 25 different student groups, and a few famous professors: Donald Sadoway, Eric Lander, and Noam Chomsky (see sidebar for a complete list of participants).
Eddie Ha, a senior in Course 18 (Mathematics), came up with the idea for an MIT parody a little over seven weeks ago. Originally, the plan was to create a separate version of Gangnam Style, rewriting the lyrics to be nerdier. Once Ha saw other college parodies though, he changed his mind.
“We wanted to be the best parody out there,” Ha grinned, “tell the world what goes on in here.”
Ha, who is in the Korean Student Association (KSA), enlisted the group to help organize the parody.
“We wanted something that could encapsulate what MIT is as a college,” added Chae.
The goal of the video was to have something that was a “good half mix of parody from the video, with an MIT twist to add something unique,” said Ha.
The film stars Yoon as Psy. Yoon had been asked to be Psy for an Asian Dance Troupe performance (he is not in the group) and was roped into the film by Ha when they decided to make the video.
“This is absurd,” Yoon laughed. “I was forced to be Psy. I had no choice.”
Stars of the show
A few famous faces from around MIT appear throughout the song. Ha mentioned that they emailed over 20 different professors to see who they could get in the video.
Stu Schmill ’86, dean of admissions, has the first cameo. Yoon leans against his shoulder in the admissions office, parodying the sauna scene from the original video.
“I’m glad it wasn’t in a steam bath,” said Schmill. He is also shown dancing with Yoon near the end.
“I have heard from many people out there in the world — people I’ve not heard from in a long time — who have commented that they didn’t realize I could dance quite like that,” Schmill said of the feedback he’s received.
The admissions department was instrumental in getting the video off the ground, Ha said. After the team reached out to Schmill, they were able to borrow cameras from the office. The support of the admissions office made it easier to get other folks around MIT involved, Ha explained.
Donald Sadoway, professor in Course 3 (Materials Science and Engineering), appears near the end of the video. He stumbles upon Yoon dancing in his office and politely asks him to leave. The scene was the professor’s idea.
“I thought it was a terrific project,” said Sadoway. “It was fun. I think the allure of this is that it’s just really happy stuff, and who’s going to object to that?”
At 1:42 into the video, Yoon is seen scribbling on a chalkboard in MIT’s largest lecture hall, 26-100. A split second later, Course 7 (Biology) professor Eric Lander taps him on the shoulder and starts dancing. The two jump onto a table and continue their dance off.
“He had dance moves I’d never seen before,” says Yoon of the experience.
After Ha approached Lander about appearing in the video, the professor invited them to crash the last two minutes of his 7.012 (Introductory Biology) class. “This was an instant yes for me,” said Lander, of how he reacted when he was asked about being in the video.
Lander was meant to imitate the part of the yellow-suited man who appears in the original video. “I wiggled more than he did,” Lander said of the character.
“We invited the whole class to come down but they didn’t come down!” he continued. “They were shy.” While the dancing started during class, Lander dismissed his students before jumping on the desk and continuing filming.
The jump was the professor’s idea. “If you’re going to do it, you might as well be all in,” he explained.
Like Schmill, Lander received a number of messages after the video took off.
“The reaction afterwards was great,” he said. People wrote in saying, “It’s nice you can do human genetics, but boy if that ever doesn’t work out, you can dance at least!”
Lander was delighted with the final video: “Superb piece of work, hats off to the student who make that and the extraordinary MIT spirit behind that.”
But the overall highlight of the video? Everyone agrees.
Oppan Chomsky Style!
“The Chomsky bit is amazing,” said Lander. “I LOVE IT.”
Noam Chomsky, famed linguist and MIT professor, makes a brief cameo at 3:19. He takes a sip of tea and calmly says “Oppan Chomsky Style.”
This brief clip has attracted an incredible amount of attention for both Chomsky and MIT. The Boston Globe wrote a story about it last Wednesday, and in an email to The Tech, Chomsky said he’d “been deluged with mail about it.”
Asked what he thought of being involved the video, Chomsky wrote, “Quite honestly, I don’t have much to say. Some kids came in and asked me to read some incomprehensible words. They seemed to be having fun, so I agreed.”
The MIT take
Adding famous professors was not the only way the group tried give Gangnam Style an MIT flavor. They asked a variety of student groups to join them, and the KSA helped in contacting nearly 40 groups for inclusion in the video. For each of the included groups, Ha, Chae, and Yoon tried to film in locations that best characterized them.
One of the features that makes the MIT version stand out among the dozens of other parodies is the spotlight on the Logarhythms, MIT’s all-male a cappella group.
“We wanted to make this special,” said Ha. “I was thinking about all the groups at MIT, and I thought about the Logs. None of the parodies have an a cappella version.”
Ha pitched the idea to his friend and president of the Logs, Nathaniel Kim ’14, about a month ago. The Logs were on board immediately.
“Neither of us wanted the Logs to sing the entire song,” explained Kim. “It was a matter of which portion.” As the only Korean member of the Logs, it’s Kim’s voice the viewer hears singing in Korean.
“We never got to really do anything solid about [preparation] until a week before we actually filmed it,” he said. The Logs didn’t have time to come up with a fully arranged version for the video, and rehearsed singing only briefly before recording.
They have just released a full studio version, which can be found at http://mitlogs.com/gangnam/.
Heewoo ‘Hailey’ Kim ’14, a junior in Course 3, plays HyunA. Kim is in the KSA, and Ha asked her if she wanted the part. “It was originally supposed to be longer,” she explained, “and I was supposed to do a scene with Richard. We just cut that out.”
“I guess that was good,” she laughed. “I would have done a really awkward scene with Richard.”
To get the entire campus involved, the Gangnam Style team hosted an MIT-wide flashmob on Oct. 21.
“200 or 300 people showed up,” said Eddie, “There were as many people watching as there were dancing.”
Creating the video
Putting together the video was an enormous undertaking.
“We’d work a lot, and one weekend it’d drop off and we’d study,” said Chae.
Chae estimated that they had over 1000 minutes of footage, though Ha said that “the editing process was not as long as I thought it would take. It took me about three, or four days.”
Ha created the entire video using iMovie. His computer couldn’t handle anything else, he said.
Nobody expected “MIT Gangnam Style” to hit a million, let alone 4 million. The three had bets between them on how many tens of thousands of views they would get. Everyone was shocked.
“I’ve never been inside the storm that is a viral video,” said Chae.
“We were all freaking out,” added Yoon.
“On the very first day, we were screaming we had 50,000 views,” said Ha.
“I can definitely say that I did not expect this video to become that viral. I thought it’ll get a lot of MIT attention, but then I guess that’s it,” said Nate Kim.
The video has exploded around the United States and throughout Asia. Alumni from around the world have written to the group in support.
“They’ve been helping us out,” said Ha, “It’s awesome to hear back from them.”
Asked what they would do differently, the three had varied responses.
“Add the football team in there,” said Yoon.
“I was trying really hard to get President Reif,” said Chae. “I really wish he would have been in the video.”
“I wish I did this a little earlier,” said Eddie.
A moment later, Yoon added, “I wish I hadn’t rubbed my eyes with the glove,” saying that he’d received a number of comments about bad laboratory technique. Yoon is Course 2 (Mechanical Engineering). “I don’t deal with chemicals that much.”
Is MIT Gangnam Style done?
Chae hinted that it might not be. “We have a ton of extra footage. Be on the lookout — we might publish a behind-the-scenes.”
“I’d like to thank the MIT community for supporting us, having fun with us, spreading the word for us,” said Yoon.
For the latest updates on MIT Gangnam Style, check the Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/MIT.GangnamStyle.