The first time I was introduced to the world of Peggy Gou was when my sister sent over a humorous Instagram clip of her at the Wilderness Festival at Cornbury Park, Oxfordshire, dressed in an iconic, yellow dress, skipping around in a circle while singing along to the 1995 hit “I Wish” by Skee-lo. Known for her quirky love for giraffes and her branded “Just Gou It” Nike t-shirts, Peggy is someone you cannot not love. Her recent music video for her EP’s A-side track, “Starry Night,” had been released this summer on Apple Music (I watched it through my sister’s phone via FaceTime), but this past week, it was finally published on more accessible platforms for the world to see.
Born in South Korea, Peggy Gou eventually found herself in London, first, under the wish of her parents for her to learn English, and second, to pursue her studies at the London College of Fashion, according to an article by The New York Times.
While this pursuit helped launched her career as a London correspondent and editor for Harper’s Bazaar Korea, she soon rekindled a not too distant passion for music, picking up D.J. skills from acquaintances before making her way to Berlin, the hub for techno clubs. Her roots in fashion, however, are undeniably still present, as effortless style becomes one with the aura of her energizing sets.
“Starry Night,” directed by Jonas Lindstroem, is both visually mesmerizing and musically visceral, so much that it has overpowered the automatic Van Gogh association that those very two words usually prompt. In fact, as someone who grew up with a curriculum that obsessively praised the artistry of predominantly European, male artists (although I must credit my high school art history teacher for addressing the danger of that canon), seeing a Korean artist rock her D.J. sets across Europe before a crowd chanting, “Peggy! Peggy! Peggy f***in’ Gou!” never fails to inspire me.
The music video evokes the phenomenon of “feeling alive” whilst surrendering yourself to the movement of dancing, an idea that was drawn from “Ganggangsullae,” a traditional Korean folk dance. The opening scene begins with a few seconds of Gou in a glistening dress, fixating her glaring gaze into the camera’s lens. The audio then turns off as the screen alternates between shots of Korean school girls, a Taekwondo team and a group of folk dancers. The girls are all dressed in gray and white tone uniforms reminiscent of late 20th century Korea, staring stoically under the sun as a breeze passes by, while the taekwondo team is frozen in time as they stand against the pillars of a traditional palace. Meanwhile, the group of folk dance performers are dressed in an alternating pattern of red and blue hanboks, traditional Korean dresses, while holding hands in the formation of a line above a shallow river, preparing for their own rendition of “Ganggangsullae.”
As the beat slowly turns back on, one of the school girls stands up and jolts her shoulder, almost as an initiation that calls for the gradual outbreak of a universally fluid, free movement for all. We also see a brief appearance from Yoo Ah-in, a friend of Gou as well as the actor known most recently for his role in Burning, an award-winning film which made it to Obama’s unforgettable 2018 recommendation list.
The enthralling shots balancing the power of the individual being against the breathtaking ambience of nature capture the essence of both Gou’s Korean heritage and the earworm-worthy melody, “Ocean, night, star, song, moment / Ocean, starlight, moment, now, us.”
Most memorably, the charisma of Gou resonates as she stands in a bright red dress before a white billboard on a bridge that overlooks the city highway.
In Korean, she sings, “Now I know, nothing’s worth knowing / We already know, as we’re here / Even the end of the word can hear now / Now I can hear your art, can you hear it now?” She then ends, shouting these words in English, “World, fearless, pleasure, edge, listen / World, freedom, listen, now, us.” The versatile jump from both Korean and English serves as both an introspection of the culture she embraces and the wider world she speaks to, bound by a universal message about the freedom of expression through art.
Peggy Gou’s music has become a persona of its own. In fact, in light of her obsession of giraffes, Gou has also recently launched “Kirin” (which means giraffe in Korean). Combining a plethora of colorful prints and words overlayed on snap-button, zip jackets and matching pants, her new fashion line makes a big statement.
In an interview with the The Business of Fashion, Gou explained, “You should always listen to yourself. It’s so easy to say, but you can’t lose elements of who you are to become something else. There are times when you have to make some sacrifices, but don’t give up things that are inside. With fashion, I almost gave up, but I now think, why did I want to let this go just because I wanted to build my music career? One of my mentors told me that the fashion part of me could have been my weakness but I managed to turn it into a strength.”