The Phenomena of PSY’s “Gangnam Style”

By Seaver Wong

The phenomena that is known as “Gangnam Style” has simply taken the world by storm. Created by Korean rapper PSY, this song goes beyond the genre of K-Pop as it has managed to become a worldwide sensation.Everyone is now turning their attention towards Korean culture because of Gangnam Style, however K-Pop has been somewhat of an underground attraction for years. In the same vein that some foreigners love Japan, the same can be said for Korea. How is it that the spotlight has managed to turn to Korea in such a public way that really never was done to Japan’s culture?

The music video for Gangnam Style was uploaded to YouTube on July 15. 500,000 views were recorded on its first day. It was around mid-August that people started taking notice of it and commenting on the music video itself. The dance moves, while cheesy, suddenly became cool. Colorful lively outfits and the overall nonsensicalness of the video to Western viewers have actually helped to endear it. Especially when you figure out that there’s an underlying meaning to the music video in which PSY is actually poking fun at people who are trying to be something they’re not in the Gangnam district in Korea.

What’s more interesting is that the music video is nothing like a typical K-Pop song. He’s not model thin like all the other stars and he’s expressing his personality. Some may say that this is more of an American pop song even though it’s sung entirely in Korean. As of October 23rd, PSY’s music video had 550 million views. Compared to the interest in Japan to the interest in Korea, I think the interest in Japan has always been sort of an underground niche. It’s there, but definitely not mainstream. What PSY did was be the catalyst in turning Korean culture interest from an underground niche to something that’s mainstream. Everybody now wants to see more of the next big thing coming from Korea, China, Japan, Taiwan, India and more. There’s now a renewed interest towards the Asian community, which in general, will be a good thing in the long run for everyone as people continue to try to find new talent and get noticed.

It speaks to how YouTube has become an important part of going viral and getting your marketing brand out there. People who don’t necessarily have a way of getting noticed now have YouTube to get noticed by showing off their talents on a digital platform. Without YouTube, I would say that Gangnam Style wouldn’t have been as popular as it is right now. It would still have been a Korean hit and harder to find unless you’re a die-hard fan of K-Pop. What is also amazing is that there are millions of parodies of Gangnam Style out there thanks to PSY opting to not put any sort of copyright on it. It’s easily accessible and can be edited to suit people’s needs. That is a good thing as it allows people to spread the song by modifying it to suit their needs. YouTube is the de facto way of distribution and to express creativity. PSY was smart to leak his music video on YouTube supposedly to the dance community as such a limited crowd can help spread it virtually before the rest of the world catches on. The music video showed that he was comfortable in his own skin, which made him extremely likable and he eschewed the typical Korean pop idol. He certainly doesn’t look anything Hollywood and that’s why people are taking a second look at Korean culture and cinema.

YouTube, though a big part of how the video became a viral success, wasn’t the only reason. As stated, PSY doesn’t have that stick model thinness of other K-Pop stars. He’s fat (well, Asian standard), but he’s also comfortable with who he is. Self- confidence goes a long way and it shows in that video when he’s doing the invisible horse dance, among other dance moves. Those moves look very cheesy, but if he has no problem doing it, then that says a lot about PSY. That makes it more likely that people will want to do those dance moves as well, especially when it comes to flash mobs. Those dance moves definitely look catchy to do with friends. PSY is Korean, so he immediately has instant appeal to the Asian community (i.e. Chinese, Japanese, Korean, etc.). A lot of them will root for one of their own. PSY is more of an underdog that I think people want to see succeed because he came out of nowhere with one big hit. Everybody loves an underdog. It helps that Justin Beiber’s manager was smart enough to sign him. He is going places and gaining popularity because of the nature behind his music video, his character, and his insanely popular YouTube video.

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