Gangnam Style & PSY


The Story After "Gangnam Style": Will Psy Ever Rise to the Level of Adele?
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I. What is it about the song “Gangnam Style” that made it an international hit?

In July 2012, the world was hit with “Gangnam Style”, a song released by Korean singer Psy.

  • Music video for “Gangnam Style”
  • The “Gangnam Style” music video on Youtube becomes the first video to hit 500 million views in 100 days.
  • By January 2016, “Gangnam Style” had gained 2.5 billion views, becoming the most-viewed video in the history of Youtube. The second most viewed video was Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” at 1.4 billion views, more than 1 billion views behind “Gangnam Style.”
  • “Gangnam Style” was an enormous hit, becoming the number one song on music charts in 30 countries, including Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Colombia, Italy, Czechoslovakia, Finland, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Israel, and Venezuela.
  • “Gangnam Style” rose to second place on the [1] Billboard Hot 100 Chart and sustained this position for about 7 weeks. This was the second highest ranking ever for an Asian artist.
  • By January 2013, 12 million copies of the song had been downloaded, making it the single most sold song in the history of digital music.

The media flocked to divulge the secrets to the song’s success. As a result, they identified five main factors.

  • Catchiness: The melody and lyrics of “Gangnam Style” are easy to remember and charmed listeners throughout the world.
  • An easy-to-follow dance: The horse dance featured in “Gangnam Style” is easy to follow, even for inexperienced dancers. Bits of the song’s choreography are observed in a variety of settings, from clubs to soccer games to local festivals. The press has compared “Gangnam Style” to “Macarena” a hit song from the 90s.
  • Humorous music video: The “Gangnam Style” music video satirizes the life and culture of the rich folk living in Seoul’s wealthy Gangnam district in a relatable way.
  • Psy’s role: Having briefly studied in the United States, Psy speaks English well. He skillfully and humorously engages in conversation with the hosts of American talk shows.
  • Social media: One of the greatest reasons that “Gangnam Style” gained momentum was the dissemination of its music video via social media. The ensuing parody videos, flash mobs, and covers also helped spread “Gangnam Style” throughout the world.

However, most people do not know that Psy had already debuted ten years prior to the release of “Gangnam Style” and that he has produced several other hits in Korea.

  • In 2001, Psy debuted his full-length album Psy from the Psycho World!. He also released his second and third albums in 2002, his fourth in 2006, and his fifth in 2010.
  • Psy’s hit songs had been characterized by their fun, catchy, and [2] bizarre themes, (e.g. “Bird”, “Champion”, “Celebrity”). By the time he released “Gangnam Style”, Psy had already achieved fame and recognition in Korea.
  • Most Koreans will be able to identify at least five other hit songs released by Psy that is not “Gangnam Style” (Music video for Champion)

What was it about "Gangnam Style" that captured the attention of the world? Why was this song so beloved by people around the world?

II. Why has Psy failed to maintain prestige like that of other global musicians like Adele or Maroon Five?

Psy has released two digital singles and two albums after “Gangnam Style”.

  • 2013: “Gentleman”
  • 2014: “Hangover” (feat. Snoop Dogg)
  • 2015: Psy’s 7th album, Chiljip PSY-da, with double title tracks “Napal Baji” and “Daddy”
  • 2017: Psy’s 8th album, 4X2=8, with double title tracks “I LUV IT” and “New Face”

Psy’s popularity is still evident from the number of views that his post-“Gangnam Style” music videos have received.

  • “Gentleman”, the song that immediately followed “Gangnam Style”, received a billion views.
  • “Daddy”, “Hangover”, and “Oppa is My Type” (a spinoff of “Gangnam Style”) have each gained more than 1 billion views.

However, none of Psy’s subsequent songs have gained as much publicity or popularity as did “Gangnam Style”.

  • In the States, “Gangnam Style” was so popular that most people were familiar with or at least could imitate the horse dance.
  • On the other hand, few people have heard or remember “Gentleman”, “Daddy”, and “Hangover”, despite their high Youtube view counts.
  • Psy stated in one CNN interview, “I’m not Adele. It will be hard to create another global hit like ‘Gangnam Style’.”

Though there may be an obvious explanation for why this has happened, Psy’s [3] rise and fall contrasts greatly with artists with a history of sustained popularity like Maroon 5.

  • At the time of the release of “Gangnam Style,” Maroon 5 had released “One More Night.” The two songs fiercely competed for the first place of the Billboard Hot 100 Chart.
  • Maroon 5 has since released several hit singles like “Sugar”, and the band is adored by people around the world.
  • British pop soloist Adele, American artist Taylor Swift, and queen of R&B and pop Beyoncé are a few other examples of musicians who have consistently produced well-received songs.

⇒ Judging Psy based on “Gangnam Style” alone may make him seem like one of the most popular artists of all time. But the truth is that his subsequent songs have not had the same traction or reception. Psy was a [4] one-hit wonder, much like Los Del Rio (“Macarena”), Dexys Midnight Runner (“Come on Eileen”), and Vanilla Ice (“Ice Ice Baby”).

Why has Psy failed to sustain his popularity in the US? What differentiates Psy from other global pop stars like Adele, Maroon 5, and Taylor Swift?

III. What are the factors that prevent K-pop from taking over the global market?

There are several other K-pop musicians that have gained an international following.

  • BIG BANG: Big Bang is a South Korean boy group formed by YG Entertainment. The band has released numerous hits (e.g. “BANG BANG BANG”, “Day by Day”, “LAST FAREWELL”) since its debut in 2006. Big Bang is the most popular K-POP group in Asia.
  • EXO: Exo is a South Korean-Chinese boy group based in Seoul. Formed by SM Entertainment in 2011, the group debuted in 2012 with twelve members separated into two subgroups, Exo-K and Exo-M, performing music in Korean and Mandarin respectively. 
  • Girl’s Generation, TWICE: Both are 9-member girl groups from Seoul, both focusing on cute and fun dance songs. They are loved by fans throughout Asia.

Most K-pop fans are found in Southeast Asia. The North American and European fan bases are not as well-established.

  • We cannot say that a language barrier is what prevents K-pop from spreading to the West. Korean is a foreign language in China and Southeast Asian countries, but K-pop has been wildly successful in these regions. This is comparable to US artists finding fans in countries where English is not the primary language.
  • This is not to say that K-pop is completely unknown in North America and Europe. There are certainly fans dispersed throughout the western hemisphere.
  • But the number of Americans and Europeans who are familiar with groups such as Big Bang, Exo, Girl’s Generation, and Twice is small. A majority of people know K-pop simply through Psy and “Gangnam Style”.

Why have Korean musicians failed to gain a following in countries outside China and Southeast Asia? What should they do to overcome such barriers?

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