K-Pop (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.
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!