Tuesday, November 13, 2012

100 Things I Love About Korea: #11 - "GangNam Style"



"GangNam Style" put K-Pop on the global map - or at the very least enlarged its presence to a household word.  As of this moment, "GangNam Style" has more than 700,000,000 Youtube views, and is on pace to overtake Justin Bieber's "Baby" within a few weeks for the most viewed Youtube video of all time.
What does GangNam Style teach us about Korea and our world?
1. We are living in a visual age.  Without a doubt, the video made the song (and the singer!).  Without the video, Psy, his song, GangNam, and - to a lesser extent - K-Pop would still be in global obscurity.
2. Social media changes global marketing.  Youtube made this possible.  The most often sited statistic relating to "GangNam Style" is is meteoric rise in total Youtube views.  Youtube is what spread its fame.  Psy simply launched his video for free viewing, and through shares, facebook likes, and tweets, it spread around the world like wildfire.  Also, the ability for people to upload interesting memes (copy-cat) from their own contexts magnified the impact of social media.  User participation added fuel to the GangNam flame.  I'm not sure this point can be underestimated.  Follow the train of events.  Earlier this year, Psy was almost completely unknown outside of Korea, and inside Korea he was a satirist, jokester, and oft censored musician.  Within a few months of releasing a new music video for free - charging absolutely nothing - he has become a global phenomena and has made hundreds of millions of dollars in global sales and local endorsements.
3. Humor is an effective tool for social critique.  "GangNam Style" is a genre breaking song.  Its humor and hilarity are the sweet chocolate coating the hard nut of social commentary.  Psy relentlessly mocks the super-rich, materialism, competition, luxury, and upward mobility.  The simple message of "GangNam Style" is actually very similar to the biblical book of Ecclesiastes: "Meaningless, meaningless, all of this is meaningless ... All of this crap you're working for is just cotton candy.  It's not real, and it won't satisfy you."  Psy doesn't offer an alternative goal, but disillusionment is the first step toward change.  But the humor is the real key for getting us to deal with that bitter nut.
4. Personal authenticity trumps the attempt for mass appeal.  K-Pop is awash with pretty-boy bands and skinny, sexy girl bands.  And despite their relentless efforts and huge spending to break into the music market beyond Asia, K-Pop has consistently failed to make significant inroads in Western cultures.  Until "GangNam Style" and this middle-aged, pudgy outsider musician threw caution to the wind and made an authentic, catchy song expressing one of his deep heart-felt concerns.  This is a message to everyone who strives to be "beautiful" and "popular."  Simply be yourself and letting your creativity flow from the depths of your heart, and that will result in the best possible message and product for our world.  We probably won't experience billions of youtube views, but we can still make a more meaningful contribution through authenticity than we can by trying to measure up to false standards of beauty and "coolness."
5. Success and change can come from any corner of the globe.  "GangNam Style" is proof that our world is increasingly "flat."  Unknowns can become global phenomena overnight.  Anyone can get their message out if it catches fire on the social media network.  The gates are down.  The curbs have crumbled.  The world is wide open to anyone with internet access ... and that will soon be everyone.
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