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.