Music Marketing

Is PSY’s Gangnam Style The K-Pop Macarena Or The Next Party Rock Anthem?

(Korean pop) superstar PSY is getting a lot of press in the States right now for the infectious song and dance video “Gangnam Style.” Featuring an easily learnable dance, a trendy electropop beat and a goofy/cool K-Pop star, Gangnam Style seems like one of those song and dance crazes that are singular events. Yet many writers are presenting it as the breakthrough track for K-Pop in the States.

I hate to use one of the worst journalistic cliches of all time but this is one of those situations where the truth really does seem to lie somewhere in between those two extremes.

PSY – Gangnam Style

Korean rapper PSY has been releasing music for over a decade in South Korea. Gangnam Style has catapulted him into international visibility and he’s currently getting a lot of press, particularly in the States, with articles appearing on music, entertainment, business and tech sites.

The Gangnam Style Wikipedia page gives a pretty good overview of what a widespread craze the above music video has sparked. With close to 62 million views on YouTube and a version featuring HyunA passing 18 million views plus parody videos, celebrity tweets and possible interest from Justin Bieber in a remake, Gangnam Style is huge.

But it’s not only a fun music video and dance craze, it’s also a satire on Korean aspirations as epitomized by the Gangnam neighborhood that PSY describes as being similar to Beverly Hills.

What I can’t decide is whether this is the K-Pop version of the “Macarena,” a Latin song/dance that swept the States in the 90s, or is more akin to LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem.” If it’s the first, it’s destined to be a one hit wonder/dance craze. If it’s the latter, it could well be the breakthrough hit for K-Pop so many seem to be expecting.

Teens React to Gangnam Style

The above “Teens React” video from The Fine Brothers encapsulates many of the possible reactions to Gangnam Style in the States especially among insular white teens. Though some recognize it as K-Pop they also speak of Asia with a fairly typical American cluelessness, treating it as a monolith of “random” i.e. inscrutable behavior.

Some of the kids hate it, others love it. Most find it humorous and much of the group is drawn to the dance elements in the video. Some decided on the spot that they were now fans and would check out more PSY and/or K-Pop while others rejected the very idea of giving it any more space in their lives.

The case for Gangnam Style being a singular event like the Macarena is best made if one assumes that Americans are responding to the humor, that they find the song cheesy but catchy and enjoy learning little dances to perform with friends or in dance mobs.

The case for Gangnam Style being a K-Pop Party Rock Anthem is that the production is very much in line with current hits by groups like LMFAO and is only cheesy if you hate electropop. PSY has been described as the “much cooler, pre-LMFAO LMFAO of South Korea” and he certainly knows how to rock the crowd.

But for this to be the breakthrough hit for K-Pop in the States, PSY will have to follow with another big hit as did LMFAO with Sorry For Party Rocking. In addition, not only will he need to successfully tour in the States but other K-Pop groups will also need to breakthrough with similar production and their own hits.

It is quite possible that Gangnam Style could be a singular event for PSY while also raising K-Pop visibility in the States. In fact it’s already accomplished both those things. The next phase seems likely to be one in which the North American pop music machine attempts to coopt K-Pop.  Stay tuned!

Hypebot Senior Contributor Clyde Smith (@fluxresearch) blogs about music crowdfunding at Crowdfunding For Musicians. To suggest topics for Hypebot, contact: clyde(at)fluxresearch(dot)com.

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  1. Jesus!
    Why everytime,every fcuking single music to music video in the world,from K-Pop to some British song also MUST TO BE COMPARED O stated “PLAGIARISING” American music/Western?
    Eventhough every countries hav their own culture to tradition o even style, Doesn’t mean some parts are all MUST BE differ.!
    Gangnam Style is Gangnam style,is all purely Korean, those who said is the copy of LMFAO o western Music, then they must be RETARDED O NAIVE! Grown up pls? If not ,no point on continue staying alive in this world!
    I don’t even want to explain so much but Just For The Record: Western/American music is not as popular as you guys tink they were!
    IF WASN’T almost 50% of population in this country are Westerns O White People ,I bet even Mother Monster B1tch & Gay B.lieber Won’t be as popular as they think they were and Youtube Views even not that Much, Idiots!

  2. for starter you could drope some names. their some k-pop events coming in the next weeks: 2ne1(to late), bigbang, wonder girls…

  3. gayle_gail – I think you’re misinterpreting me a bit.
    I’m not saying they’re plagiarising anything.
    There are no “pure” cultures in this world. We’re all influenced by so many things.
    Korean culture is becoming a bigger influence in the States and this will move that forward. I think it will also move Korean American culture forward.
    But calling people names is no way to move things forward.

  4. No problem. K-Pop isn’t something we normally cover. And once you get started it goes on and on. Not enough room to start name checking everybody.

  5. Um I think the writer was comparing the Feeling and popularity of LMFAO to PSY, not the specifics of the song. LMFAO is catchy, but not cheezy, and that’s what the author is trying to suggest – that Psy is Cool like LMFAO, and not some cheezball like whomever did the Macarena.

  6. Hi Clyde,
    I did a short review (65 words +/- on this joint for my video column on Gorilla Leak August 20th and I have to say I watched it quite a few times myself. I really enjoyed the student sampling of viewers and their reactions here in your article. I ALMOST did a piece for this on my Yahoo column but could not have done a better job than you did here.
    I am surprised that the K-Pop genre has not been highlighted more here in the States, I find it an interesting free-spirited genre. Many of our artists here take themselves too seriously and forget the business of entertainment.
    Thanks for your great explanation and patience with Gayle_gail…you handled that wonderfully and I enjoyed it. Well done Sir!

  7. From one Clyde to another…be prepared for the bombardment from the millions of insane K-pop fans. If we’d like to compare the popularity of PSY to LMFAO, let’s compare K-pop fans to Justin Bieber fans: rabid.

  8. This is redfoo (LMFAO) rapping in 1997
    His new stuff shouldn’t be put into the same category of MUSIC, it should be in the Wierd Al category of satire music, which ALL is the father of.
    If I had to choose though, it’s PSY for the win. He actually does some revolutionary things with his lyrics in regards to poking fun at Korea and their hollow idea of grandiose living influenced by the west.. a year ago korea would of banned him (like they did before), but now he’s koreas pride. Dude is also 35, and went to berklee school of music, so he’s a smart dude, like red foo who was making real hip hop before LMFAO. Few do their homework. LMFAO’s grandpa is Berry Gordy, owner of Motown, so flipping up their style to satire, and getting enough connections to get it off the ground lead to Party Rock.
    Today, america is overloaded with a lot of ESPN background rock music drivel (brostep too), and just general loud sounds happening ALL THE FREAKING TIME. It’s to the point that breaking through to people via YOUTUBE you have to make an annoying sound… not song.. SOUND.. like WEEERRRROOO WEEEEEEEEOORRRR
    Radiohead COULD EASILY make something like this… but that’s the point.. they choose not to, and it’s unfortunate that real artists have to go through the hard times because they choose to not give into this.
    (radiohead was lucky)
    Listeners these days need to hear a sound that is so loud and obnoxious (but musical enough to not come off as pure noise) just to pay attention to something. This accompanied with a goofy video which PSY himself said he felt shallow and embarrassed when shooting every scene (because he’s smart and understands what he’s doing), makes the viral thing happen.
    But lets talk about the viral nature of things. Viralness seems to be giving things more value than it’s worth. Facebook’s stock is a good example of internet stats not being nearly as valuable as they’re valuated. Social stats are now determining human value, which is a TERRIBLE THING.
    If you remove the VIEWS from youtube videos, a lot of the things that are considered popular in mainstream media, wouldn’t even be popular. The music would have to go through a REALISTIC valuation … like handing it to someone in a car.. saying listen to this… and getting their real reaction without a social value or YOUTUBE VIEW COUNT behind it.
    Half the views on these viral videos are out of pure curiosity, and then the REAL NEWS media gets involved and fuels the fire. In the case of PSY, korea mainstream news is doing stories on how america is doing news stories about it. Everyone is fueling the hoopla and creating relevance out of irrelevance. People are simply fascinated that 200 million people saw one video.
    People take these YT views VERY seriously, and even Youtube is promoting it as “YOUTUBE CERTIFIED PLATINUM”. But what is 200 million views? It’s 1 million people watching the video 200 times each throughout the month. The views aren’t accurate and could mean multiple things… yet these views are truly changing the way business is working, and art, business, culture is and will continue to suffer.
    But what do those views mean? Nothing… unless you are google getting paid off the ads, or PSY sharing some of the ad revenue.
    Other than that, views mean nothing. Yet on views alone, Kreayshawn got a million dollar record deal for her song gucci gucci. 85% of her views were haters noted by the huge RED LINE of dislikes. She can’t even sell out a small venue, at this point the label is honoring the contract they gave her. It will expire, she will go indie, make some abstract shit, and her fan base will dwindle. This is what happens when you bet on viral acts. It’s not REAL talent, it’s INTERNET MEME.
    If you want good media to repopulate this world, eliminate PUBLIC SOCIAL MEDIA STATS. This will force people to use their eyes and ears to determine the value of media. It will also allow people to start learning how to develop their own tastes and not simply follow the crowd which happens by looking at view counts.
    For instance, when I went to the record store and found a good record, I listened to it, I was like wow, thats a nice song, and a nice drum break… i think I’ll buy it…. popular or not.. I made my decision based on what I heard… BUT… what if it said “been listened to 1,000,000 times” on the cover…. I’m a producer, so I probably would skip it cause so many people heard it… while another person would want to grab cause it’s popular.
    Either way, the stats change the perspective. And whether its popular or not, there’s no telling how I could of used the sample, which means my idea of “not buying popular records” doesn’t really protect me from anything… maybe me sampling a popular record would be better than me sampling a rare one.. and I would chop it up good enough that I wouldn’t get caught anyway and have a great song… the point is… As much as I know… stats still effect the way I interact with media…. and could deter my decision of buying something that my ear said BUY!!
    We need to get back to experiencing media without the social media stats if we want to see any real culture and talent return in abundance. Social media stats are negatively effecting how media is perceived.
    Many views = I love it cause its popular
    Many views = I hate it cause its popular
    Little views = I love it cause no one knows it
    Little views = I don’t like it cause no one knows it
    With no views, we can restore a layer of REALISTIC validity. There’s two worlds right now. The internet world, and the real world. A lot of the real world people don’t realize a lot of the acts that they see today are being picked from the internet based on viralness. That’s basically a lazy way of scouting for talent. The idea is understandable, “if people love it on youtube, then we should sign them and they will buy it. Nope. It doesn’t work like that.
    One thing is for certain, media needs to perform well in reality, not just the internet. If I played PSY to some people in the street, they would probably say turn that shit the fuck off. But it’s viral nature and hype gets you to turn off your reality sensors and jump on the bandwagon.
    When a great band was found in the 70’s (like the doors) it wasn’t because they had 100 million views and got a deal. It was because one dude who knew what good music was who was at a bar and saw them play by accident. Then brought them into a meeting without people who knew about music and offered them a deal all based on the MEDIA, not the viralness. Sure the industry is different now, but concept remains the same… views mean nothing in the long run. There is no viral sensation from 2006 still around today.
    Where’s tila tequila?

  9. diphi it’s to long,man! i’ll never going to read that shit, wtf you know we won’t so you might as well write it in your personal notebook

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