The Mysterious Appeal of Gangnam Style

As someone who has been a fan of Psy before he broke onto the U.S.’s charts, the explosion of his hit single “Gangnam Style” in the U.S. has always puzzled me. The Korean music industry, dominated by boy bands and girl groups, did not really have a place for Psy in recent years. He was never able to cement himself as a powerhouse in K-Pop due to the fact that he did fit the norm; instead of being a young, model-esque male singer that was part of a group, he was an old (by Korean music standards), average-looking soloist. Because of his apparent lack of popularity in Korea, he never attempted to break through into the American music scene, a task reserved for only the biggest names in the industry. Male pop sensation Se7en tried to gain recognition with his single featuring Lil Kim; however, that failed, forcing him to return back to Korea. BoA aimed to do the same with her single “Eat You Up,” but it only had moderate success in the states. With even SNSD, the biggest girl group in Korea, only performing on David Letterman once before returning, it seemed as if Korean artists would never make it big in the states.

That all changed with the release of “Gangnam Style.” I heard the song and watched the video when it first came out; I had no idea that it would explode in the U.S. music scene. The song and video, in my opinion, was just another typical work of Psy–funny rap lyrics paired with an over-the-top video. I paid no special attention and went off to work in an organic farm in New York that had no internet or phone signal, isolating myself from the world for a month. When I came back to Los Angeles, I was shocked to see that Psy’s single took America by storm. I would have never expected it in a million years, for it was clear that he had no intention to make it big overseas. Unlike his predecessors, his song was not sung or rapped in English. Also, he released the song in Korea, not the U.S. But unlike Se7en, BoA, or SNSD, he was the one that broke through, even topping the ITunes Music Video Chart.

The whole explosion in popularity made me think about what it meant for immigrant culture. Psy’s success showed that one does not necessarily have to try so hard to assimilate in order to succeed; instead, one can keep his or her own culture and still do well, for there seems to be a newfound appreciation for what immigrants can bring to the States.

9 responses to “The Mysterious Appeal of Gangnam Style

  1. It is truly interesting to see something that you would never expect to stimulate the minds of people explode within days of release. Hopefully this will pave the road for Korean culture as a whole to expand more in the U.S.

  2. Let’s face it, Kpop in general is terrible. But just because most of it is just utterly awful and bland doesn’t mean there can’t be a jewel in the muck. Psy is awesome. I am so glad that Gangnam Style has helped him to succeed. Though I am surprised about how popular it has become, I love how he’s still being himself. You have to hear his older songs, his goofy personality just pours out much more than Gangnam Style does. But it’s even greater because of the victory over terrible boy bands and girl bands. The majority of “successful” artists in Korea are just part of a farm system of “talent” where its just ridiculous of the competition. Everyone works their ass off to get to that point, but they lose their voice in their process. Psy does not by being that outsider I think Psy is the perfect fit for the one to succeed. You don’t want robots singing or dancing to songs that you listen to… Like Jeremy Lin, Psy is a great role model for not just Asians but everyone striving to do what they love.

  3. im actually writing an essay on this for my writing class. :B.
    i’d like to argue that psy’s made it into the mainstream music industry, partially because he fits a certain stereotype that America has for Asian men.

  4. It makes you wonder who, and when will foreigners blow up in the music industry in the United States. Is it by random chance? Did Psy do something to earn his gargantuan success? This goes to show the effect outsiders have on our nation.

  5. I have also wondered why Gangam Style has become so popular over the last several months. I didn’t realize the social context around his rise to fame, but it actually makes his popularity more confusing. Unfortunately, I think that some of his popularity may be do to the fact that Americans are making fun of his over the top style, I can’t really tell if people are laughing with him or at him. I think that it is interesting that artists who were trying to make it big in the U.S. couldn’t and that he could. I think that it probably has to do with the fact that there other artists were trying to act how they think American’s think Koreans should act, while Psy was just being himself, and ultimately was more realistic. I think this is evidence that trying to force a culture for it’s perceived benefits is not a good idea, natural cultural production is much better.

  6. I think it is also worth mentioning that this song has been remixed with a variety of different Latin rhythms to play on Latin music stations. Over the past couple of months, I have heard many different versions of “Gangnam Style,” including some with Spanish rapping instead of the Psy’s original Korean singing and rapping. I guess this goes to show how music is so open for embrace by many cultures as they mix together and form the popular culture of the U.S.

    Here is an example of a Spanish remix to “Gangnam Style:”

  7. To pseudo-piggyback on another commenter’s comment, I too have wondered if the US as a general people has been perhaps making fun of him rather than genuinely respecting him as an artist. Psy appeared on the DeGenres show a few weeks back and it shocked me how Psy had to ask Ellen if he could introduce himself before teaching Britney Spears how to do the dance he has sent viral.

    It has intrigued me however to see how accepting American culture has been of this foreign song. I’ve noticed that outside of the US, countries listen to music from the United States much more than we listen to music from outside. Though it’s just an interesting observation, it definitely is a good one.

  8. It is fascinating how the transnational and global connections nowadays, enable an outcast to be a superstar elsewhere. It would be interesting to see how other artist have had a similar experience as Psy.

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