Psy’s success launched Korean pop culture to the world


(CNN) — The early years of the 2010s were a time of instant success. From the “Harlem Shake” to the “Party Rock Anthem,” digital platforms ushered in a new era of advertising…and virality.
On July 15, 2012, South Korean singer and rapper Psy burst onto the world music scene in a bright blue tuxedo, an unforgettable horseback dance, and an energetic beat falling to the catchy lyrics “Oppan Gangnam style.”


“Gangnam Style” soon went viral, causing a sensation around the world. The song took over radio, the music video flooded Facebook timelines, and Psy’s slicked-back hair and sunglasses appeared on American late-night talk shows. The song debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 in September, reaching number 2 weeks later. It also became the first video to reach 1 billion views on YouTube.

Already popular in his home country but barely known globally, Psy quickly became one of the world’s most recognizable artists. Within a year, he had broken three Guinness World Records and was performing at New York’s Madison Square Garden with Madonna. For this 35-year-old from Seoul, lightning success was something he could never have imagined.

In an interview prior to the song’s tenth anniversary, he compares that period of his life to celebrating a birthday. “The day before, you’re excited by the anticipation,” he tells CNN from the Seoul headquarters of P-Nation, the record label and entertainment agency he founded in 2018. “And then the day of… it’s quite a little wild and crazy”.

But the song’s impact extended beyond the music industry. In fact, the success of “Gangnam Style” is seen as a major catalyst in the “Korean wave,” or “hallyu,” a term that describes the recent proliferation of Korean culture internationally, something the South Korean government has tried to push forward. through music and media since the 1990s.

The music video for “Gangnam Style” became the first video to reach one billion views on YouTube in 2012. (Photo: Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images)

According to Gyu Tag Lee, an associate professor of cultural studies specializing in K-pop and hallyu at the South Korean campus of George Mason University, it was “Gangnam Style” that gave Korean pop culture recognition outside of East Asia.

“These kinds of viral platforms on the Internet, like YouTube, made K-pop and hallyu very popular and big overseas,” he says.

preparing the way

A decade later, South Korean talents have reached new levels of popularity and fandom around the world.

K-pop band BTS was the world’s best-selling music act in 2021, and since then the group has performed at the Grammys and made an appearance at the White House to discuss Asian representation and anti-Asian hate crimes. Asians.

Girl group Blackpink, meanwhile, has performed at the Coachella music festival and collaborated with the likes of Lady Gaga and Selena Gomez, and its four members have joined big brands or luxury fashion houses like ambassadors.

Lee believes that these highly successful K-pop groups are following in Psy’s footsteps by using shareable video content to reach global audiences.

“Without the huge success of ‘Gangnam Style,’ there would have been no BTS or Blackpink,” says Lee.

BTS has often cited — and thanked — Psy for helping to globalize K-pop. One of the boy band members, Suga, even co-produced and participated in “That That,” the lead single from Psy’s new album, “Psy 9th.” Like “Gangnam Style,” the song is catchy and danceable, while the music video features some of the singer’s trademark humor and has already garnered over 272 million views on YouTube.

In a backstage interview posted on Psy’s YouTube account, Suga expresses his gratitude towards the “Gangnam Style” singer.

“He paved the way for K-pop in America, which allowed (BTS) to follow that path more comfortably,” says Suga.

And the gratitude is mutual. “I think that’s an amazing feat,” Psy says of BTS’ success. “Every part of me applauds and cheers for them. That heavy burden I felt in 2012… BTS has been carrying it for six or seven years.”

Beyond breaking records

For Psy, there has always been another side to his global success. As excited and happy as he was during the “Gangnam Style” days, he said that performing and touring made him feel “too overwhelmed” and “a little empty inside.”

Fame also brought with it new expectations, and the pressure to make more hits.

“When the song is a hit, the songs have to stay hits,” he says. “When the person is a success, the success is more sustainable. In this case, I come first and BTS comes second.”

Though Psy never quite replicated the success of “Gangnam Style,” he has spent the last decade proving to be a musician and dancer with a singular drive to entertain. Since 2012, he has released three full-length albums showcasing his diverse style, from the dance hits he is best known for to softer, more rhythmic ballads reminiscent of his earlier output. Since he founded P-Nation, he has used the label to creatively discover, develop and support the new generation of South Korean artists.

Meanwhile, Psy continues to sell out venues in his native country. His annual concert series “Summer Swag” is currently underway after being canceled due to the pandemic.

“Interacting with the audience (and) sharing that experience is something I can’t even describe,” says Psy. “I feel incredibly proud and happy at that moment.”

And their mission hasn’t changed since their initial success: “Make fun music, fun dance, and bring joy to my fans.”

“That’s my hope,” he adds. “I thought the same thing 10 years ago and I think I’ll feel the same way 20 years from now. I’ll always stay true to that.”



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