Psy makes us proudPsy, the 34-year-old Korean rapper whose real name is Park Jae-sang, has become an overnight global celebrity with a single song and music video. He may soon have to bare his chubby physique after he promised to dance topless if his song “Gangnam Style” tops the U.S. Billboard chart. As of Thursday, his song, made popular because of the “horse dance” Psy performs, zoomed to No. 2 on the Billboard Top 100 chart. His hilarious video has been “liked” by more people than any other and it has racked up nearly 300 million views on YouTube. It has become a common sight for people to dance the funny giddyup steps every time the song is heard in malls, office buildings and schoolyards across the globe. They holler “Oppan Gangnam Style!” Psy fever has stupefied the music industry and is reinventing Korean pop culture.
The song, released in mid-July, is in the usual Psy style. It’s fun, funny and has a catchy tune. Those qualities were augmented by its hilarious video with its various settings, which spread around the world via YouTube, Facebook, and other online channels. His song ascended the global music charts and penetrated the mainstream channels thanks to the established popularity of Korean pop music stars. His song and moves, which he describes as “dress classy, dance cheesy,” coming from a serious, older and not-so-handsome guy, were intended to give a momentary laugh, a little relief for the Korean public from everyday troubles. But it hit the spot with an international audience hungry for relief from gloomy economic and political news. Psy has done more to publicize Korea’s modern pop culture and language than anybody else in just a few weeks. His song has become as big a brand and global seller as Samsung smartphones and Hyundai cars.
So far, Korean pop culture has been packaged and marketed for international consumption in the form of well-groomed boy and girl groups. After successes in Asia, many have attempted to break into the mainstream U.S. market, but most returned home empty-handed. But with a single video, Psy became an international star. He is living proof that quality and essence matter more than language and packaging in marketing cultural products. Psy succeeded because he had the musical talent, integrity and experience with tours and performing on stage. If “Gangnam Style” hits No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, it will be only the second Asian song to do so after “Sukiyaki,” a Japanese song by Kyu Sakamoto in 1963. It would be wonderful news to share with families over the weekend as Koreans celebrate Chuseok.