Conquering the World, Psy Style

Psy has done what so many other K-pop artists tried so hard to do, conquer the world with his single Gangnam style.

If you have lived under a rock and haven’t seen the video, you are seriously missing out. Check it out below:

This seemingly middle aged, chubby man has managed to take not only Korea but the hardest place to crack musically the USA by storm.

Granted the single follows the perfect viral hit and one hit wonder, easy beat and catchy chorus formula. It is the kind of song that gets into your head and stays there. Did I even mention the dance?

The beautiful horse choreography, the simple leg movements matched with Psy’s serious face make this the perfect viral hit even if half the world doesn’t understand what he is talking about.

What makes this viral hit so surprising is that it is entirely in Korean. The only part that most people can sing along to is the chorus and this is what has made this song so successful.

Psy (real name Park Jaesung) is not your typical idol.

No he isn’t especially attractive, he isn’t young and neither does he try to be a role model. In fact the man has been busted for marijuana and had some of his albums banned for ‘inappropriate material’ under the stringent South Korean censorship rules. Although he does appear on variety shows and the like as all other idols do, his live shows allow him to be just plain silly and inappropriate. He is mainstream, but not in the same way that the rest of the idol world is. He is well known for his flamboyant and funny character.

With Gangnam Style, Psy doesn’t just provide a catchy and silly song that we can all dance to. He presents a song that condemns and lampoons the nature of materialism which is rampant in South Korean society.

Gangnam is the Beverly Hills of South Korea, with many entertainment agencies basing their headquarters there. Filled with designer shops and celebrity sightings, Gangnam is the playground of the rich and famous.

In the song Psy presents himself as a typical Gangnam man, who is rich and tries to impress his love interest with his ostentatious wealth. He is the rich playboy with a trust fund and a lot of time on his hands. Although he boasts about being in this high class places, the video shows just how out of touch he is with reality. Rather than being on a beach at the beginning, he is in a kids sandbox, rather than being in a high class venue with his cars, he is in a car park dance battling out with the ‘nations MC’ Yoo Jae Suk (beautifully decked in yellow).

South Korea has seen a meteoric rise economically and culturally over the last 60 years. However this meteoric rise has left some in not so great financial shape. In fact South Korea has a high level of credit card debt with many people purchasing their luxury items on credit. The constant search to look wealthy and beautiful has seen many people getting into debt. Furthermore many families struggle with the cost of their children’s education. South Korean children do not just attend school, but numerous after school programmes in order to get into the best universities. Even after they have completed university, it is becoming harder for youngsters to find jobs.

With numerous graduates all possessing high grades and leaving school at the same time employers are finding it even harder to choose their new employers. Many graduates aspire to work with the chaebol companies (Samsung, LG etc) but this route is hard and only a select few are chosen to work with these multinational companies. Unless of course you are part of the family, where it is expected of you to work for the company. Many films have criticised the nature of the chaebols and their influence on South Korean society.

But with an international audience, none of this resonates with them. They just see a funny man doing a funny music video.

This funny man has managed to get himself singed to an American record label and managed by Justin Bieber’s (one of the biggest stars in the US and the world) manager.

Of course this is great news but begs the question what is next? Is Scooter Braun going to push Psy to produce more songs in the same vain as Gangnam Style?

In the context of America, could Psy release a serious song that didn’t feature any high jinks or comedic elements and still be successful? For me the answer is yes.

Psy is not a newcomer to America; he studied at Boston University and is a graduate of the prestigious Berklee College of Music. Having spent many years in the US, he understands just how to connect with the American psyche. With his excellent song writing abilities he could fully create successful songs in both Korean and English.

Psy also looks like a man who knows what he wants. He doesn’t seem to be like other idols that follow blindly with what their companies wish them to do.

This is the opportunity for Psy to showcase just what talent South Korea has to offer. Furthermore he could pave the way for other K-pop acts to come through. Although they must make sure that they offer more than just bland pop with highly visual music videos.

This is where Girls Generation failed so miserably, they presented themselves as South Korea’s sweethearts. They performed in sync on primetime TV with a song The Boys that didn’t provide any excitement or anything new to the American audience.

BoA, the queen of K-pop (who at only 25 seems like a veteran in the K-pop industry) tried to debut in the states by changing herself to fit into what she thought the American audience wanted. Although her American album was good, it got lost amongst the wide variety of the American music industry.

The Wonder Girls made some inroads by being the first K-pop group to have a feature film on Nickelodeon. Of course they promoted their single Nobody to death and most of America switched off after the 3rd time the song was played. Granted they stayed in the states for a long time to perfect their English skills and to try to spread their name amongst the American audience. They gained some press but they still didn’t make a big enough splash to be remembered.

Psy came along with his flamboyant personality and instantly made a splash. The most important lesson here is that Psy was himself. He didn’t create the song with an international focus; he made it for the Korean public and also for himself.

The song is a breath of fresh air and offers an element of humour to make us laugh in these difficult times. It also offers harsh criticism on the level of materialism that is ruining societies. Although the song is relevant to South Korea, it can be translated to anywhere in the world. Fro example, you could have Chelsea style (handbags and little dogs galore)

K-pop needs to understand that no matter how gorgeous their idols are, how well their outfits are matched and their personalities charismatic the international won’t buy it.

Offer something that is genuine and quintessentially Korean and you will get the world’s attention.

Psy conquered the world, Psy style.

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