psy

Social Media: Changing the Game For Korean Idols

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Social media sites such as Facebook are helping in the spread of K-pop around the world

It is no secret that social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, have become increasingly popular in the last decade. Because of the rise in the use of social media, Korean idols are achieving fame on a more international level while also facing privacy invasion and negative repercussions.

Over the past decade the use of social media has steadily increased, to the point where we now could not imagine our lives without its presence. When something exciting happens in your life, instead of telling friends in person it is now custom to post a status on your Facebook, or send out a tweet. The same goes for hearing a new artist that you really like, or seeing a movie that you enjoyed. While these thoughts used to be private, they are now published for an audience of hundreds, sometimes thousands, of other people to see. With all of this information so easily accessible celebrities are finding that their careers can skyrocket or plummet in a matter of hours, depending on what kind of information is being put out about them.

South Korea is not left out of this upward trend in social media use. It was reported that close to 95% of the population has high-speed Internet access, which is higher than most other countries. It has been noted that while countries in the West prefer social media platforms such as Facebook, which are more about connecting with friends, South Korea prefers social media that involves an exchange of opinions with others. It is home to the largest blogging community, second only to China.

It can’t be denied that Koreans are incredibly avid fans of their idols. From the throngs of screaming fans outside of concerts, to the fan art that has Internet pages dedicated to it, idols are given constant attention and praise by their fans. As one blogger puts it, “K-pop is such an addiction.” Almost every idol or K-pop group has its own official fan club, which becomes a close-knit community where fans can discuss everything about their favorite celebrities, order merchandise, and get the latest information about new music, as well as the idol’s personal lives. While Western artists certainly have strong and dedicated fan bases, they are no competition for these fan clubs.

Since Korea has such a large percentage of Internet users, as well as a huge interest in the lives of their celebrities, it should come as no surprise that social media has become an integral part of K-pop. Fans can easily follow their idols every move through sites such as Twitter, regardless of if the celebrities themselves are posting. If an idol is spotted somewhere, you can be sure that within minutes the news will spread throughout the Internet; if it is an idol’s birthday, that is sure to be a trending topic. Even celebrities who aren’t active themselves on social media sites are still talked about constantly.

Many artists and corporations have taken note of this social media craze and are able to use it to their advantage. Artists can directly communicate with their fans, strengthening their fan base and allowing their followers to feel a personal connection with them. Pictures posted to Instagram can give the fans the feeling that they are right their with their favorite artists, experiencing the same things. Record companies are posting teaser pictures or clips of new songs, building excitement about a new artist or new album. This wouldn’t be possible without the dedication of the fans, retweeting and “liking” posts.

Perhaps one of the most crucial social media platforms for K-pop is YouTube. Prior to the rise of YouTube the fan base of K-pop was pretty much isolated to Korea. Because the music wasn’t as easily accessed or as well promoted anywhere else K-pop artists struggled to break onto the scene in other parts of the world. Now, through YouTube, you can view the latest K-pop music video as soon as it comes out. There are hundreds of YouTube channels specifically for Korean pop and in addition to hearing music fans can also watch interviews or more candid videos of their favorite stars.

One of the more notable K-pop stars to utilize YouTube to their advantage, and probably the first to come to mind, is Psy. His hit song ‘Gangnam Style’ was the first YouTube video to reach 1 billion views and quickly became an international sensation. The song was inescapable for a while and even prominent world leaders such as Barack Obama and David Cameron (the British Prime Minister) have been documented dancing along. It was even hailed as a “force for world peace” by United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon. Psy recently used YouTube to his advantage once again by live streaming a concert on the site, and premiering a new song “Gentleman”.  The use of this social media site has allowed Psy to reach a global audience that wouldn’t have been possible a decade ago.

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Psy doing his famous pony dance in the Gangnam Style music video

This increased use of social media and access into the personal lives of stars does not come without ramifications. Especially since K-pop idols are held to very strict standards, a few have come into trouble by posting certain pictures or thoughts that their fans don’t agree with. Many have decided to just remove themselves from social media altogether in order to avoid trouble.

One instance of this comes from K-pop idol IU, presumably accidentally, posting a picture of herself and Eunhyuk, of Super Junior, together in a bed. This immediately sparked rumors that the two were dating and many fans were upset about this. IU didn’t communicate with her fans for nearly a month afterwards, eventually posting an apology and acknowledging that her fans “hearts were suffering”.

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The picture of IU and Eunhyuk that caused quite a controversy

There was another social media incident involving members of T-ara.  Group member Hwayoung was injured during a performance and had to sit during the group’s next show. Later, other group members took to twitter and posted statements alluding to the fact that they didn’t think Hwayoung had enough determination. Fans were very upset and felt as though the other girls in the group were bullying their fellow member.

One of the more extreme cases of negative repercussions due to social media activity is from Jay Park, the former leader of 2PM. In August of 2009, Park posted negative remarks on his MySpace page about Korea, such as “Korea is gay”. Although he tried to explain that these comments were made during a difficult time for him when he was missing his hometown of Seattle, this did not stop 2PM fans from participating in violent protests against him. He eventually went back to Seattle and was soon dropped from the group because of his “unforgivable personal life”.

After examining all of the repercussions, both positive and negative, it’s impossible to deny that social media has a growing effect on the world of K-pop. Artists’ successes and failures are easily accessed by a worldwide audience. As both K-pop and social media use continues to grow, the effects are sure to become even more prominent.

Sources:

O, Chad. “The Growing Role of Social Media in South Korea.” The Peninsula. Korea Economic Institute, 13 12 2011. Web. 29 Apr. 2013. <http://blog.keia.org/2011/12/the-growing-role-of-social-media-in-south-korea/&gt;.

“Obsession around idols and leaving the K-Pop Fandom.”NyNy Online. WordPress, 3 10 2012. Web. 29 Apr. 2013.

“Top 12 Biggest Kpop Scandal/Issue 2008-2013.” allkpop. N.p., 30 1 2013. Web. 29 Apr 2013. <http://forums.allkpop.com/threads/top-12-biggest-kpop-scandal-issue-2008-2013.132768/&gt;.

jnkm, . “IU Speaks Up for The First Time since Eunhyuk Photo Scandal.” Soompi. N.p., 26 12 2012. Web. 29 Apr 2013. <http://www.soompi.com/2012/12/26/iu-speaks-up-for-the-first-time-since-eunhyuk-photo-scandal/&gt;.

Kim, Soyoung. “K-Pop and Social Media.” Harvard Crimson. 2 4 2013: n. page. Web. 29 Apr. 2013. <http://www.thecrimson.com/column/k-pop-generation/article/2013/4/2/K-pop_And_Social_Media/&gt;.

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This work by Georgia Morgan is licensed under aCreative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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What is South Korean Tourism without K-Pop?

taken from kmc.com-lede image

This collage includes images central to the success of K-pop such as different idols, Internet resources like YouTube, top talent agencies like JYP entertainment, and architectural landmarks from South Korea. Collage is courtesy of http://www.korea-marketing.com

Korean popular music, or K-pop, is an essential component of South Korean tourism. It has become an effective and profitable method to attract tourists because of the endorsement and aid of the South Korean government, the Internet, and the utilization of Idols in campaigns. However, recent events suggest that K-pop tourism will flat line if the government cannot resolve diplomatic issues with the North. Additionally, K-pop idols should specifically tailor their image to appeal to Western ideals in order to harbor growth in European and American tourist markets.

The South Korean government has played a central role in the production and marketing of K-pop since the beginning of the Korean Wave. After the ‘national humiliation’ of the 1997 IMF crisis, one of the government’s main strategies to regain economic power included, “the need to identify and exploit new markets for its products and also diversify the range of products exported” (Dixon).  The culture industry was specifically targeted as the government mandated an aggressive international promotion of K-pop (ibid). On the other hand, it took the government much longer to grasp the importance of international tourism.

Statistics show that the development of tourism in Korea began after the Korean War (S. Kim et al.). The first inbound tourism figures were produced in 1962 and recorded 15,184 visitors (ibid).  In the same year, the government established what is now referred to as the Korean Tourism Organization, or KTO. Some scholars argue that South Korea was viewed as an unfavorable tourist destination because of student riots and perceptions of political instability, specifically, “the images of Korea typically portrayed in overseas news media reports are those of ongoing tensions between South and North Korea and the latter state’s possession of nuclear weapons” (ibid). This all changed after the 1988 Seoul Olympics, which allowed a large global audience to see Korea differently.

Korean tourism saw a significant growth in 1988, with more than 2.3 million foreign tourist arrivals and foreign tourism receipts that exceeded $3.2 billion (ibid). However, the government did not fully recognize the importance of tourism until after further economic growth following co-hosting the 2002 soccer World Cup with Japan (ibid).  For that year the country recorded 5,347,468 visitors and $5.9 billion spending (ibid). The graph below displays the steady increase of tourist arrivals from all over the world between 2000-2004.

korea article image 2

Fast-forward to 2011, where it was estimated that the Korean Wave contributed more than $3 billion alone to the South Korean economy (Cox).  Despite a shortage of nearly 26,500 rooms in Seoul during the summer of 2010, the government is still aiming to attract more tourists. In an effort to harness K-Pop for tourism, the KTO paid SM Entertainment, one of the country’s largest entertainment companies, approximately $264,000 to stage a concert in France in 2011 (Frances Cha, Harnessing K-Pop for tourism). According to a KTO survey of 3,775 K-pop fans in France, 9 out of 10 said they wished to visit Korea, while more than 75 percent answered that they were actually planning to go (ibid).  Because K-Pop draws a lot of foreign tourists to Korea, the South Korean Ministry of Culture and Tourism is developing a multi-functional theme park that will include a K-Pop Town, a K-pop concert hall, and a Hallyu Star Street. The entire project will be completed by 2022.

The future of South Korean tourism will still depend on the actions of the government especially in overcoming historical challenges. During the last quarter of 2012, Japanese tourism to South Korea saw a sharp decrease because of war threats from North Korea. A strong tourism industry is directly proportional to a strong economy, making it crucial that South Korea resolve diplomatic matters quickly to ensure the least amount of damage. The tensions with the North prompted the government to question: how can Seoul be promoted as a safe destination in the foreign media? (Frances Cha, Don’t be afraid, Seoul’s message to tourists). Similar to the situation prior to the 1988 Olympics, North Korea expert Andrei Lankov says, “the problem is that the foreign media believes North Korea’s threats when they should not” (ibid.) Lankov advised the government to flood the media with images that contradict this notion such as ones that display, “…how the day to day lives of South Koreans have remained unaffected by North Korean threats, and how its residents remain unconcerned by the hostile rhetoric” (ibid.) Lankov’s suggestion demonstrates the weight and power the public’s perception has on a country’s tourism industry.

Along with the influence of the government, the Internet and social networking services (SNS) play a significant role in the growth of South Korea tourism. Bored during Christmas break, Kayla Ann Villanueva browsed the Internet looking for an episode of a new show. Without realizing it she clicked on a link to an Asian drama. Soon she finished the season and wanted more. She searched for the names of actors, songs from the series, and for another entertaining show. Villanueva said, “Before I knew it, my computer was full of SHINee songs and my walls were covered in SS501 posters. With my new interest in Korean culture came a desire to learn the language, and with my fervent fascination with Korean pop music came a longing to attend concerts and go to the popular music shows I could only see through my computer screen” (Villanueva).

“It’s the gateway drug,” laughs Lavinia Pletosu, a 22-year-old from Italy. “The more you get into the music, the more you want to know about the language, the history, the culture, the food …”(Cox). 

Canadian Mary Zhang agrees: “When I was 15, I wanted to learn Korean so I could write to singer Kim Junsu: he’s a total god. After years of listening to K-pop and practicing the moves, though, I wanted to come and learn about the country” (ibid).

Capitalizing on an opportunity to maximize the reach of K-Pop, tourism officials have used YouTube to attract fans like Kayla Ann Villanueva. The graph below depicts the explosive online popularity K-Pop experienced in 2011. During the year, views for K-Pop videos reached 2.3 billion in 235 different countries (Min-Soo). 

korean article image 3

In 2012 when PSY’s Gangnam Style became YouTube’s most viewed video of all time, tourism officials posted a guide to the real Gangnam in an effort to ensure that current interest lasted longer than a one-hit wonder.  As of December 2012, the video had received more than 400,000 views (Cox). Taking it a step further, in February 2013 YouTube launched the “A-pop channel” which features a top 20 list of the most popular video clips that highlight pop idols in Korea, Japan and China, as well as a calendar that posts information for online fan meetings and events, according to the YouTube’s Korea blog. Users can also view the top 20 list by country, K-pop, J-pop and C-pop, as well as visit featured channels run by top talent agencies such as Korea’s S.M. Entertainment and Japan’s Avex (YouTube launches Asian-pop channel, www.koreaherald.com).

In addition to YouTube, online fan clubs and agency/tourism organization websites also depend on Twitter, Facebook and other SNS in promoting K-pop. Yeon-soo Chung, Executive Director of the Overseas Marketing Department of KTO pays special attention to SNS in regards to a marketing strategy for Chinese tourists. He says, “Bearing in mind that the influence of social networking services (SNS) is growing in China and about 70 % of the total foreign students in Korea are Chinese, we launched a SNS reporters group staffed by Chinese students studying in Korean in a bid to effectively deliver tourism promotional messages to prospective Chinese tourists” (Sung-Mi). These online resources deliver promising results in the expansion of K-pop’s reach and are essential to the heavy marketing of Idol campaigns.

Tourism campaigns that feature K-Pop Idols are not only extremely popular, but they are also the most practical way to connect K-Pop and tourism.  The method is successful because it garners participation from fans that are not in geographic proximity to South Korea. For example, KTO’s 2012 global campaign, “Touch Korea Tour Campaign,” advertised the chance for 15 lucky fans to win an all expenses paid trip to Korea during which the winners would meet the goodwill ambassadors and embark on a “mission” together (Frances Cha, Harnessing K-Pop for tourism, www.spotlighttm.com). With Miss A and 2PM as the goodwill ambassadors, the campaign drew participation from 1 million foreigners across the globe (Sung-Mi). Similarly, to celebrate the launch of MTV K in 2013, the network sponsored a “Fly to the Stars Contest” in which contestants had to “Like” the MTV K Facebook page and upload a video explaining why they deserved to meet their idols. Votes will determine the winner who will then receive an all expenses paid trip to Korea to meet their favorite idol.

In promoting these idol tourism campaigns, tourism officials rely on online buzz. “We hope fans of K-Pop around the world will promote this campaign via SNS such as Facebook and YouTube, and offer an opportunity for them to visit Korea and experience it for themselves,” said Shin Pyung-sup, a representative for the tourism brand product team at KTO (Frances Cha, Harnessing K-Pop for tourism, www.spotlighttm.com). But what about people like Kayla Ann Villanueva who stumbled upon K-pop? Although the popularity of K-pop is spreading across Europe and the United States, the number of tourists from each respective region is lower than regional tourists from Asia. Rather than wait for someone to come across the plethora of Internet resources, it is best that the industry develops a specific marketing strategy to engage Westerners in the world of K-pop.  In developing this strategy, special attention should be paid to the success of PSY.

Despite previous attempts by Rain and other Idols, PSY was the first K-pop artist to become a viral sensation. The failure of Rain was attributed to his ‘Asianness’.  Shin Hyunjoon analyzes, “the ‘Asianness’ was never a merit to appeal to a non-Asian audience. What was a ‘sensitive and delicate’ aesthetic of the Asian artist, sounded ‘soft and dewy’ to the ears of the American music critic. Thus, it was more than ‘language barriers’ that led to Rain’s temporary setback” (Hyunjoon).  Based on this analysis, PSY was able to achieve an unmatched level of recognition because he is not the traditional K-Pop idol. BBC reporter Lucy Williamson said PSY was unpolished and unpredictable, but also the most powerful star in Korea topping UK and US music charts. The ‘PSY effect’ is crucial for the development of K-pop tourism because it suggests that traditional idols and idol groups like Girls’ Generation must adopt a different style and image to garner significant attention in the United States and Europe.

To conclude, K-pop has become an effective and profitable method to attract tourists because of the endorsement and aid of the South Korean government, the Internet, and the utilization of Idols in campaigns. However, recent events suggest that K-pop tourism will flat line if the government cannot resolve diplomatic issues with the North. Additionally, K-pop should abandon the traditional idol system in order to appeal more to potential Western tourist markets.

The South Korean government has played a central role in the production and marketing of K-pop since the beginning of the Korean Wave. Recognizing the importance of tourism after further economic growth following co-hosting the 2002 soccer World Cup with Japan, the South Korean government promoted K-pop as a cultural export. In 2011, the Korean Wave contributed more than $3 billion alone to the South Korean economy, and many foreigners cite K-pop as their reason for traveling to South Korea. But this well-oiled machine has recently shown signs of struggle. According to data from the last quarter of 2012, Japanese tourism to South Korea saw a sharp decrease because of war threats from North Korea. Above all else, the government’s direct responsibility in ensuring the growth of K-pop tourism is to resolve diplomatic tensions as quickly as possible.

Internet and social networking services (SNS) play a significant role in the growth of South Korea tourism. Capitalizing on an opportunity to maximize the reach of K-Pop, tourism officials have used YouTube to attract fans like Kayla Ann Villanueva. During the year, views for K-Pop videos reached 2.3 billion in 235 different countries. In addition to YouTube, online fan clubs and agency/tourism organization websites also depend on Twitter, Facebook and other SNS in promoting K-pop.

These tools are used to help market Idol tourism campaigns such as KTO’s 2012 global campaign, “Touch Korea Tour Campaign,” which advertised the chance for 15 lucky fans to win an all expenses paid trip to Korea during which the winners would meet the goodwill ambassadors and embark on a “mission” together.

Although the popularity of K-pop is spreading across Europe and the United States, the number of tourists from each region is lower than regional tourists from Asia. Rather than wait for someone to come across the plethora of Internet resources, it is best that the industry develops a specific marketing strategy to engage Westerners in the world of K-pop. In doing so, special attention should be paid to PSY’s unconventional image in correlation with his viral success.

In order for K-pop Tourism to sustain itself and transcend time and place, it must be able to overcome cultural, political, and technical obstacles.

Bibliography:

Cha, Frances.”Don’t be afraid, Seoul’s message to tourists.” CNN Travel. 9 April 2013. Accessed 24, April 2013. <http://www.cnn.com/2013/04/08/travel/south-korea-tourism&gt;

Cha, Frances. “Harnessing K-Pop for tourism.” Spotlight. 17 April, 2013. Accessed 24, April 2013. < http://www.spotlighttm.com/groups/world-country-groups/viewbulletin/287-harnessing-k-pop-for-tourism?groupid=174>

Cox, Jennifer. “Seoul searching: on the trail of the K-pop phenomenon.” The Guardian. 28 Dec 2012. Accessed 24, April 2013. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel/2012/dec/28/seoul-k-pop-gangnam-style&gt;

Dixon, Tom. “The Journey of Cultural Globalization in Korean Pop Music.” E-International Relations, 17 Aug, 2011. Accessed 24, April 2013. < http://www.e-ir.info/2011/08/17/the-journey-of-cultural-globalization-in-korean-pop-music/>

E-Land Named Developer of Jeju Theme Park.” Visit Korea. 20 March 2013. Accessed 24 April 2013. <http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/bs/tour_investment_support/pds/content/cms_view_1806113.jsp>

Kim, Sangkyun; Long, Philip; Robinson Mike. (2009): Small Screen, Big Tourism: The Role of Popular Korean Television Dramas in South Korean Tourism, Tourism Geographies: An International Journal of Tourism Space, Place and Environment, 11:3, 308-333

Min-Soo, Seo. “Lessons from K-pop’s Global Success.” Korea Marketing. Accessed 24 April 2013. < http://www.korea-marketing.com/lessons-from-k-pops-global-success/>
Sung-Mi, Kim. “Foreign tourists visiting Korea poised to hit 10 million mark.” IT Times. 10 July 2012. Accessed 24 April 2013. <http://www.koreaittimes.com/story/22243/foreign-tourists-visiting-korea-poised-hit-10-million-mark&gt;

Villanueva, Kayla Ann. “Kayla Ann Villanueva: I moved to Korea for K-Pop.” CNN Travel.  12 Jan 2012. Accessed 24 April 2013. <http://travel.cnn.com/seoul/visit/tell-me-about-it/kayla-ann-villanueva-k-pop-was-why-i-moved-korea-925216>

YouTube launches Asian-pop channel.” The Korea Herald. 19 Feb 2013. Accessed 24 April 2013. http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20130219000974

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This work by Meredith Browne is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2012/12/07/gangnam-nationalism-why-psys-anti-american-rap-shouldnt-surprise-you/

WHICH SIDE OF PSY IS THE REAL ONE?

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2012/12/07/gangnam-nationalism-why-psys-anti-american-rap-shouldnt-surprise-you/

South Korea’s Psy performs at a 2006 concert in Incheon.

South Korean rapper PSY exploded onto the American music scene in 2012 with his boyish smile and outlandish style, quickly earning him a place in American’s hearts from Hollywood heights to party house basements.

Due to such rampant popularity, the picture above may seem somewhat familiar to all except the most incurable shut-ins. It features a make-up wearing PSY dressed in a red leotard, bedecked with sparkles, and complete with artistically placed rips. As far as fashion goes, it definitely meets the rappers unconventional image. Yet, this is not the bespectacled, suit wearing, “horse dance” gallivanting, chubby Asian pop-star who has become a much beloved staple of American culture. Not the PSY whose “Gangnam Style” video recently reached over 2 billion views on YouTube, and certainly not the PSY who performed for the President of the United States at the 2012 Whitehouse Christmas Concert. No this is another face of PSY, anti-American protest rapper whose lyrics included lines urging that American daughters, mothers, daughter-in-law and fathers be killed.

When confronted with this version of PSY, the most noticeable change is in his expression. The boyish grin is gone; the flashy shades removed, and in their place burning eyes glare out through a pale complexion, as the rapper points out to the crowd gathered at an Anti-American rally in 2006. The rally came in reaction to the recent death of two South Korean school-girls who were killed in an accident involving a U.S. military vehicle. The next thing which must be considered is the color of PSY’s outfit: Red. As his lyrics made abundantly clear, the rapper, PSY, was calling not for justice, but for revenge: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. The violent nature of his songs was exemplified by an act of smashing a model U.S. Tank on stage during his performance.  Finally, this picture stands apart aside from the fashion because it is devoid of the sheer, unworldly ridiculousness which the current PSY all but wallows in.

Despite his Anti-American past, PSY still has overwhelming popularity in the United States. South Koreans, also admire him for doing what no other Korean artist has done, break into the American music scene. Furthermore, PSY has put South Korea on the map in a way that even the Korean War never did. Electronic powerhouse Samsung went as far as to ally itself with the rapper and tailor its new product line around specifically around him. All these go to show that without a doubt he is a fantastic showman but it still begs to question which PSY behind the shades is the real one. Hopefully not the one pictured above, for that one is certainly no cause for relief.

Source

Fisher, Max. “Gangnam Nationalism” Why Psy’s anti-American rap shouldn’t surprise you.” Washington Post. December 7 (2012): n. page. Web. 4 Mar. 2013. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2012/12/07/gangnam-nationalism-why-psys-anti-american-rap-shouldnt-surprise-you/>.

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What Does Gangnam Style Mean For (The) US?

SOURCE:  http://www.allkpop.com/2012/07/psy-releases-cover-and-tracklist-for-6th-album-psys-best-sixth

The viral status of Psy‘s Gangnam Style has reached epic proportions. While some see it as an unprecedented K-pop crossover, others point to its social critique of conspicuous wealth in the South Korean district.  However, the tendency for American mainstream culture to accept stereotypical and reductive images of Asians also plays a part in Psy’s popularity.

It’s hard to deny that the song has made an impact in media.  Psy’s video appeared at No. 25 on Billboard’s Social 50 chart, which “ranks the most popular artists on YouTube, Vevo, Facebook, Twitter and MySpace, using a formula that blends weekly additions of friends/fans/followers along with weekly artist page views and weekly song plays.”  Such popularity also made Psy a fixture in American media, earning a mention on CNN as well as write-ups in major publications such as The Atlantic (more on that later).

In addition to appearing at Dodger Stadium, Psy appeared on VH1’s Big Morning Buzz Live show to teach the dance to the hosts. In addition, the popularity of the song put him in conversation with American music celebrities.   Yang Hyun Suk (the YG of YG Entertainment) sees Psy’s success as an opportunity:  “Regarding the love call from the international pop sensation Justin Bieber, the founder of YG responded, ‘We cannot reveal all the details yet, but an amazing collaboration project is in progress so please look forward to it.’

While some marvel at this popular cultural moment, others seek deeper meaning for Psy’s song in its social critique. Sukjong Hong writes:  “PSY does something in his video that few other artists, Korean or otherwise, do: He parodies the wealthiest, most powerful neighborhood in South Korea. . . . Ultimately, by declaring “Oppa is Gangnam Style,” he turns the lens on Gangnam, getting specific about power and privilege in a country where a single district has long dominated in almost every arena.”  Max Fisher credits Psy as unique in K-pop:   “Park Jaesang isn’t just unusual because of his age, appearance, and style; he writes his own songs and choreographs his own videos, which is unheard of in K-Pop. But it’s more than that. Maybe not coincidentally, he attended both Boston University and the Berklee College of Music, graduating from the latter. His exposure to American music’s penchant for social commentary, and the time spent abroad that may have given him a new perspective on his home country, could inform his apparently somewhat critical take on South Korean society.”

I find the Psy phenomenon in the America interesting, not because of what it says about Korea, but what it says about the United States.  Psy’s video did not enter a vacuum; it entered an American popular cultural consciousness that has a history with Korean popular culture in particular, and Asian representations in general.  One fan observes this history in a Tumblr entry,  “Asian Stars and The USA: A History.”  After listing BoA, Wonder Girls, Jin Akanishi, and Girls’ Generation, Asian artists who have been recognized for their talents and attained success in Asian countries but failed to enter the mainstream in the United States, the entry concludes with this observation:

Psy: lol omg guys watch me dance like a horsey.

USA: YES! EXCELLENT!

Psy: Wait what?

Psy’s video owes some of its popularity in the United States to the way the mainstream likes to portray Asian and Asian Americans in popular culture.  One of those ways is in comedic roles, where laughter comes at the expense of Asians and Asian Americans.  Chris Biddle writes about the tendency he sees in films like The Hangover and television shows like The Office:

Now I’m no kill joy, and admittedly am a fan of both the The Hangover and The Office, but while watching these scenes I couldn’t help but think about the fact that the Western audience seems like they just don’t take Asians seriously.  While hearing a French or Latino person speak English might suggest a kind of exoticism, an Asian person speaking English is downright goofy.  While on the outside this racial stereotype might not seem as malicious as some of the ones that Hollywood and broadcast television are guilty of, it nonetheless signifies a serious lack of respect for our Eastern counterparts.

What is missing from much commentary on Psy’s video is the existing American cultural context that embraces stereotypes of Asians while rejecting more realistic portrayals. When people ask why Psy’s video is so popular, this is one of the major issues that goes unanswered. I think more people are laughing at Psy than laughing with him.

The narrative that has emerged around Psy’s success in the United States also distorts the story of K-pop for audiences in the United States. Fisher misspeaks when he characterizes Psy as atypical of artists in K-pop, pointing to this as a reason for his success.  Psy has contemporaries who do the same thing.  At 34, PSY joins other older K-pop artists and groups with successful careers, some of whom debuted around the same time, including Kangta, Park Hyo Shin, Rain, Shinhwa, and Lee Hyori.  K-pop artists ranging from G-Dragon to TVXQ write their own material. Tablo of Epik High graduated from Stanford University.

K-pop has been engaging in socially-relevant issues from the beginning. While Seo Jung Min-gaph, a pop music critic, questions his ultimate impact, Seo Taiji, arguably the grandfather of K-pop, unquestionably engaged social issues in his songs:   “Seo was not only a dancer and musician, but was also an artist who delivered his messages directly to Korean society with his music.”  The narrative seems to be that Psy succeeds because FINALLY K-pop has produced something culturally significant that the United States can recognize. In actuality, Psy is not that different.  He’s not the only one by a long shot.

When thinking about what Gangnam Style means, we have to remember that it just doesn’t ride into an America that has not encountered Korean popular culture. The way we’ve been reading it says something about us in the U.S. as well.

Image: allkpop

Sources:

‘Gangnam Style’ Viral Video Sends Psy Onto Billboard’s Social 50 Chart,” Billboard

Psy Teaches His ‘Gangnam Style’ Horse Dance on VH1’s ‘Big Morning Buzz Live,’ allkpop

Yang Hyun Suk Discusses His Thoughts on Psy’s Global Success With “Gangnam Style,” allkpop 

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Video:

Psy Gangnam Style News US TV Appearance, YouTube

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