“Gangnam Style” at 10: How Psy’s Hit Made Korean Culture Worldwide

The early 2010s were the era of instant hits. From Harlem Shake to Party Rock Anthem, digital platforms have ushered in a new era of publicity and virality.

On July 15, 2012, South Korean singer and rapper Psy burst onto the global music scene in a bright blue tuxedo, with an unforgettable horseback dance and an energetic beat to the catchy lyric “Oppan Gangnam style”.

“Gangnam Style” soon went viral and made a splash all over the world. The song took over the airwaves, the music video flooded the Facebook feed, and Psy’s slicked-back hair and sunglasses appeared on late-night American shows. The song debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 in September and peaked at number one 2 weeks later. It also became the first video to reach 1 billion views on YouTube.

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

Psy, who was already popular in his home country but barely known worldwide, quickly became one of the most recognizable artists in the world. Within a year, he broke three Guinness World Records and performed at New York’s Madison Square Garden with Madonna. For the then 35-year-old native of Seoul, the whirlwind success was something he could not have imagined.

In an interview on the eve of the song’s 10th anniversary, he compares this period of his life to celebrating a birthday. “The night before, you’re excited about anticipation,” he tells CNN from the Seoul headquarters of P-Nation, the record label and entertainment agency he founded in 2018. a little wild and crazy.”

But the song’s influence extended far beyond the music industry. In fact, the success of “Gangnam Style” is considered the main catalyst for the “Korean Wave” or “Hallyu” – a term describing the recent spread of Korean culture internationally – that the South Korean government is trying to push through. music and media since the 1990s.

According to Kyu Tag Lee, an associate professor of cultural studies specializing in K-pop and Hallyu at George Mason University’s South Korean campus, it was “Gangnam Style” that brought Korean pop culture mainstream recognition outside of East Asia.

“These kinds of media platforms that go viral on the internet, (like) YouTube, have made K-pop and hallyu really popular and popular overseas,” he says.

Paving the way

Fast forward a decade and South Korean talent has reached a new level of global popularity and fandom.

K-pop group BTS was the world’s top-selling music group in 2021, and since then the group has performed at the Grammys and appeared at the White House to discuss Asian representation and anti-Asian hate crimes. Meanwhile, girl group Blackpink performed at the Coachella Music Festival and collaborated with artists such as Lady Gaga and Selena Gomez, with its four members joining major brands or luxury fashion houses as ambassadors.

Lee believes these highly successful K-pop artists have followed in Psy’s footsteps by using shared video content to reach a global audience.

“Without the big hit that ‘Gangnam Style’ was, there might not have been BTS or Blackpink,” says Lee.

BTS has often been quoted and thanked Psy for helping to globalize K-pop. One of the boy band members, Suga, even co-produced and featured on “This is what” , the lead single from Psy’s new album “Psy 9th”. Like “Gangnam Style”, the song is catchy and danceable, and the music video features the singer’s signature humor and has already amassed over 272 million views on YouTube.
South Korean rapper Park Jae-sang, also known as Psy, performs "Gangnam Style" in front of a crowd during a flash mob on November 5, 2012 in Paris.

South Korean rapper Park Jae-sung, also known as Psy, performs “Gangnam Style” in front of a crowd during a flash mob on November 5, 2012 in Paris. Credit: Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Images

In a behind-the-scenes video interview posted on Psy’s YouTube account, Suga expresses his gratitude to the “Gangnam Style” singer.

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

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

Beyond Records

Psy has always had another side to its global success. As excited and happy as he was during those Gangnam Style days, he said performing and touring made him feel “too down” and “a little empty inside.”

The fame also created new expectations – and a need to make more hits.

“When a song becomes a hit, your songs should stay hits,” he says. “When a person becomes a hit, success is more sustainable. In this case, I’m first and BTS is second.”

Although Psy has never been able to replicate the success of “Gangnam Style”, he has spent the last decade proving himself to be a musician and dancer with an exceptional desire to entertain. Since 2012, he’s released three full-length albums that showcase his diverse style, from the dance hits he’s best known for to softer, upbeat ballads that are reminiscent of his earlier work. Since the founding of P-Nation, he has used the label to discover, develop, and creatively support a new generation of South Korean artists.

Psy at the press conference for his new album "Psi 9" at the Fairmont Ambassador on April 29, 2022 in Seoul, South Korea.

Psy at the press conference for their new album “Psy 9th” at the Fairmont Ambassador Hotel on April 29, 2022 in Seoul, South Korea. Credit: Chung Sung-jun/Getty Images

Meanwhile, Psy still plays venues in his home country. His annual “Summer Swag” concert series is currently underway after being canceled due to the pandemic.

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

And his mission has not changed since he released his breakthrough hit: “Make fun music, fun dance and bring joy to my fans.”

“This is my hope,” he adds. “I was of the same opinion 10 years ago and I think I will feel the same way in 20 years. I will always be true to it.”

Watch the video above for more from Psy.

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