05/27/2014 02:38 EDT | Updated 05/28/2014 07:59 EDT

Harper Government Wanted Meeting With Psy In 2012, Documents Reveal


OTTAWA — The Harper government appears to be a big fan of Gangnam style and the artist known as Psy.

Canadian diplomats in South Korea were tasked by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird's office to set up a meeting with the popular Korean artist and parliamentary secretary Deepak Obhrai in 2012. The photo-op with Psy was intended to promote Obhrai's three-day visit to the country among the Korean diaspora in Canada.

In the end, however, the meeting didn't happen. Government documents obtained by HuffPost don't specify whether Psy declined or his appearance fee was too steep. The performer charges as much as $250,000 just to appear, according to a talent agent contacted by HuffPost.

Obhrai was scheduled to stop over in Seoul from September 7 to 9, 2012 and attend a roundtable on human rights in North Korea, a wreath-laying and a meeting with prominent Canadian expats. Embassy staff spent several weeks organizing meetings for Obhrai with senior defectors, national assembly members and prominent non-governmental representatives.

But Baird's office really wanted a "courtesy meeting" between Obhrai and Mr. Park Joe-Sang.

"MINA [the Foreign Affairs minister's office] notes that this would make for an important cultural element/connection," said an email from Erich Cripton, the bureaucrat charged with liaising between Baird's office and the department.

"Mr. Jae-Sang is an artist, more prominently known by his English name 'Psy', and can be seen in the following clip on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9bZkp7q19f0," Cripton wrote.

Psy's 'Gangnam Style' is better known for the lyrics: "Eh! Sexy Lady! Op, op, op, op, oppa Gangnam Style!" And "Eh! Sexy Lady! Op, op, op, op, Eh-eh-eh, eh-eh-eh."

The video Cripton linked to features a close up of a woman's butt in very short blue shorts on her hands and knees presumably doing yoga while the recognizable lyrics are sung.

According to PolicyMic, the rest of the song, which is in Korean, talks about "a guy whose heart bursts when night comes" and "a girl who puts her hair down when the right time comes."

Public servants organizing the visit to Seoul had initial reservations about booking a meeting with Psy and asked the minister's office what the rationale for it was.

"We would appreciate clarity on this item as Mr. Park (PSY) is an extremely famous celebrity in S. Korea, particularly recently with all the international attention surrounding his tongue-in-cheek hit 'Gangnam Style.'

"We would certainly be interested in hearing what the objectives of a meeting between PS Obhrai and PSY would be as his people are sure to ask us should we approach them," wrote Mike Williams, the second secretary at the embassy at the time.

Williams received a reply telling him the meeting with Psy and Obhrai would be for political reasons back in Canada.

"We have spoken with [Baird's office] about the courtesy meeting with Psy. This is essentially for the Korean diaspora - a photo op to bring attention to the visit to a young generation," wrote a public servant in the visits and operations unit at Foreign Affairs.

Ottawa was very keen to have a photo taken with Psy if the meeting could be arranged, but staff in Seoul were concerned about the cost of the photographer, about $350 per day.

"We are all running on very tight budget and there is no earmarked budget to cover this," responded another public servant at Foreign Affairs.

He suggested perhaps tasking someone at the embassy to take the photo.

Despite the concerns of the bureaucracy, Baird's office was adamant it wanted the Psy meeting to happen.

"Please continue efforts to arrange a meeting with Psy. There are no plan Bs," Cripton, the liaison, wrote.

He said the minister's office was fine with the "in-house solution" to avoid the $350 charge.

But on August 23, Williams in a heavily redacted email wrote that Psy "is now the most famous Kpop celebrity - perhaps ever - and his time is at a premium [blank] As an artist under a major entertainment label [blank blank blank]."

The response from the minister's office suggested that Psy was charging too much money for a photo-op with Canada's second-tier government representative abroad.

"They understand the situation, and would like to thank you for all the work you did in trying to set up this meeting," read an email from the public servant overseeing the visit from Ottawa.

An agent with Headline Entertainment in the U.S. told HuffPost Tuesday that a photo-op alone with a Canadian representative would cost $250,000. "Psy is, last I checked $500,000 so something like that is usually half… Maybe a little less, but definitely six-figures. And it's unlikely something they would jump at."

One political source told HuffPost the figure cited to the minister's office was closer to $25,000.

But another individual involved with the visit said the meeting was kiboshed because Psy wasn't interested in meeting with Obhrai.

"Not that the Government of Canada would pay -- that would be a non-starter," the person said.

The emails were released under Access to Information more than 18 months after HuffPost made the request. The actual cost for the Psy appearance doesn't figure in any of the documents released.

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