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‘Gangnam Style’ is back, but do Psy’s wild concerts have a place in covid time?

South Korean singer Psy performs his biggest hit, “Gangnam Style,” during a concert at Korea University in Seoul on May 27. (Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images)
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SEOUL — K-pop superstar Psy, whose hit song “Gangnam Style” propelled him to international fame a decade ago, is back with a new album and new concerts, but has found it tough going in a South Korea changed by covid and climate change.

The singer has been criticized for bringing back his signature Psy’s Drenched Show concerts amid drought conditions in the country and an ongoing pandemic.

The summer concert series, famous for using a large amount of water to splash the audience, is set to return in early July after a pandemic hiatus. However, South Korean health authorities on Thursday raised concerns about heightened infection risk among drenched concertgoers.

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“There is a higher risk of germs spreading on a wet mask, and it is necessary to take appropriate measures like changing to a new mask,” said Koh Jae-young, a spokesman for the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency. Koh added that he needs to review the official coronavirus rules to determine whether Psy’s concert will constitute a violation for spraying water to the audience.

South Korea dropped its outdoor mask rule last month, but people are still required to be masked indoors and at open-air events with 50 or more people.

As part of the series, Psy will tour around the country over 10 shows starting July 9. Psy, whose real name is Park Jae-sang, shot to global stardom in 2012 with his viral hit “Gangnam Style.” The 44-year-old singer is one of the first Korean stars to make it big in the U.S. music scene and beyond. In his latest release, “That That,” the veteran K-pop singer teamed up with Suga of BTS, a supergroup from South Korea that has become the world’s biggest boy band.

Another controversy has been simmering over the environmental impact of extravagant water usage at the Drenched concerts. The drought in South Korea this spring sent shock waves across the country, with hard-hit regions reporting a lack of water for agriculture and industrial use.

The country’s nationwide precipitation for the first half of 2022 ranked the lowest since records began in 1973. The Asian nation is one of many places in the world grappling with worsening drought and desertification amid global climate change.

Each show of the Drenched concert series will consume a whopping 300 tons of drinkable water, Psy told a television talk show last month. He said the water is a liberating experience for revelers in hot summer weather.

Critics on social media accused Psy of wasting water in a time of need and called for a more sustainable alternative. South Korean actress Lee El said in a viral tweet that “the 300 tons of water better be sprayed over the Soyang,” referring to a crucial river for water supply that saw a drop in levels.

Psy said on his Instagram on Thursday that ticket sales for the series will start later in the evening. Waterproof masks will be distributed to every member of the audience, according to the official ticket sales website. A spokeswoman for Psy’s record label, P Nation, declined to comment about the concerts’ environmental impact and the coronavirus concerns raised by authorities.