South Korean popster PSY’s “Gangnam Style” is an absurdist tour de force of a four minute viral video. It's also an object lesson in how YouTube is driving global culture. Now that kpop (short for South Korean pop music) has broken through to the mainstream, get ready for a whole lot more of it.
Uploaded to YouTube on July 15th, Gangnam Style, by 34-year-old singer Park Jae-Sang, has racked up 52.8 million views, collecting at least 2 million views every day since August 1. The video occupies the #2 spot on YouTube’s yearly chart, second to the infamous agit-prop film Kony 2012.
Western press mentions of "Gangnam Style” abound, from France and Canada. The Atlantic “dissected” all the “subversive meanings” behind the song and video this week, and the Washington Post noted the “invisible horse dance” craze sweeping the media. Predominantly male (and not kpop friendly) redditors went gaga for Gangnam Style with the video sitting on the front page of the social news site on July 30. Gangnam Style even beat Justin Bieber as the most watched video on iTunes.
No other kpop song has seen this kind of global reception. Even Stephen Colbert’s fake feud with Rain in 2007 and 2008 did not bring Western success to the Kpop star. The song's words are very South Korean specific, referring to a ritzy neighborhood in the capital city Seoul. The song wasn’t made for a global audience, and its reach has startled even PSY.
How did this happen? The answer isn’t just that the music video is ridiculous. Kpop has been creeping into the mainstream international market for years. YouTube has been instrumental in exposing the music to the global audience.
Because of the large fan base in Asia, any new music video uploaded to YouTube enjoys at least half a day on the video-sharing site’s front page due to high view counts. Today’s example is kpop girl group KARA’s latest video, sitting at the number 3 spot on YouTube’s music charts with 2.3 million views, right under “Call me Maybe” (which is under, you guessed it, "Gangnam Style").
Not only do kpoppers use YouTube to stay on top of new hits (as it is nearly impossible to get the music outside of South Korea), kpoppers also make fan videos discussing the over-the-top fashion sense of kpop bands, unboxing videos of elaborate kpop merchandise, and English translation videos.
The global success of “Gangnam Style” might very well change the musical, and cultural, landscape, especially if the Justin Bieber collaboration pans out.