‘Gangnam style’ goes viral

Posted on : 2012-08-08 10:43 KST Modified on : 2012-08-08 10:43 KST
PSY's humorous take on Seoul’s affluent south wins him international notoriety

By Surh Jung-min, music correspondent

The world is getting hooked on “Gangnam Style.”

The song by PSY (real name Park Jae-sang) has topped South Korean online music charts for four straight weeks since its release last month as the first single off the 35-year-old singer’s “PSY’s Best 6th Part 1” album - a rare occurrence for charts where the top spot typically changes hands every week amid a torrent of new releases. Another difference is the support across different age groups: while the fan base for K-Pop idol groups is typically listeners in their teens and twenties, the audience for “Gangnam Style” ranges from adolescents to people in their fifties.

The track has also been surprisingly popular overseas. The video on YouTube had more than 17 million views as of August 7, roughly three weeks after being posted. More than 60,000 viewers had written comments. Some wrote that they did not ordinarily like K-Pop, but this song hooked them. US hip-hop artist T-Pain and British singer Robbie Williams mentioned it in Twitter and blog posts, saying they couldn‘t stop laughing after seeing the video. It also placed in the Top 10 of the dance music charts for Apple’s iTunes store in the US, Finland, New Zealand, and Denmark.

Overseas media took notice as well. The US cable news channel CNN reported on July 2 that the song was making waves not just in Asia, but also in the US. The hosts of “Eyeopener TV,” a local morning show, did their own performance of PSY’s “horse dance.” The Los Angeles Times and Wall Street Journal looked at the phenomenon in their online editions, as did the Huffington Post.

Experts pointed to the catchy electronic riff and repetitive refrain of “Oppa Gangnam style” as major factors in its appeal, along with the slapstick dance and video. In the video, PSY is seen doing a comical dance reminiscent of a galloping horse in such odd settings as a sauna, racetrack, tour bus, and a Gangnam pedal boat.

“It’s the combination of the addictiveness of the music and the humor of the visual elements that really grabs the viewer,” said music critic Kim Jak-ga.

There are subtle differences in the appeal for Korean and overseas viewers. At home, the focus is on the tweaking of Gangnam as a symbol of high-end culture.

“You have this totally non-Gangnam PSY doing his ridiculous dance and chanting ‘Your man’s got Gangnam style,’” said music critic Choe Min-woo. “So there’s this aesthetic where he’s skewering the Gangnam image.”

For overseas audiences, experts said the comical qualities are what come across as fresh amid a wave of teen idol groups in the increasingly popular K-Pop genre.

Music critic Cha Woo-jin compared the popularity to the Korean craze over the Indian bhangra song “Tunak Tunak Tun” by Daler Mehndi in the early 2000s.

“I think foreigners like ‘Gangnam Style’ more because it’s weird and funny,” Cha said, adding that it may seem more accessible because it follows the electropop style that has been dominating music in recent years.

Uploads by internet users also appear to have contributed to the craze. Indeed, parodies have become a culture of their own in South Korea, where the lyrics have been tweaked for Hongik University, South Chungcheong province, and university dormitories. YouTube has been bombarded with overseas videos showing girls guffawing over the video and people trying to do the “horse dance” themselves, adding further fuel to the “Gangnam Style” firestorm.

Indeed, PSY is showing signs of making inroads abroad. To begin with, he plans to take a version of the song to Japan this fall, with Tokyo’s swanky Roppongi district substituted for Gangnam. Hwang Min-hee, director of the publicity team at his company, YG Entertainment, also hinted at a bid for the US market.

The singer himself said, “If I get the chance, I’d love to go do the horse dance in the US some time.”


Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]


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