Who in the world would expect a slightly portly, and very middle-aged South Korean pop rapper with a strange dance (that simulates riding an invisible horse) to spawn the world's most watched music video ever? The song has exactly three English words - "Hey, sexy lady!" - but this hasn't stopped it from becoming a global YouTube phenomenon and a global sensation.
If you haven't heard of Psy's "Gangnam Style
" which currently has over 412 million views on YouTube (and the count is rising every minute), you've probably been living in an underground military bunker in North Korea.
Everyone around the world from the inmates in the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Centre in the Philippines to the 22nd company of the United States Naval Academy are going Gangnam style together with rock stars, pop singers and global sporting icons.Britney Spears
learned to how to do it from Psy on the hit US talk show Ellen; Ryan Seacrest was also taught by the master on air; and even Google's CEO Eric Schmidt also got the 'how to' from the dandy South Korean rapper
, while the head of the world's biggest internet company was in Seoul. Google, of course, owns YouTube which has made Psy a "viral pop pandemic", according to Rolling Stone Magazine.
The video was shared online by the likes of Katy Perry, T-Pain Tom Cruise and has been covered by the likes of Nelly Furtado
and Maroon 5
. Gangnam Style debuted at number one in South Korea's national record chart, and has also hit the top of the charts in Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Greece, the UK and Israel.
On YouTube it appears that you haven't arrived if you haven't done a Gangnam Style parody, an activity which in itself is garnering views in the millions. The Annoying Orange and Mystery Guitar Man both have their own Gangnam spoof, as do many others wanting to exploit the ratings sensation. There's even a parody remix featuring the North Korean military
marching to the now more than familiar feign.
In Beijing after the China Open, tennis superstar Novak Djokovic
was convinced to dance Gangnam Style after winning the match. Back home a local radio station even got in on the action. 94.7 Highveld Stereo's 'Breakfast Express' debuted its version of the song on air called "Springbok Rugby Style
But what is it about Psy and his epic video that has outmanoeuvred similar nineties styled songs namely, "Mambo No. 5" and "Macarena". All three feature suits singing earworms - those catchy tunes that won't escape your brain - why did Psy's crack the big time?
- It's an earworm: Psy's music is an earworm which means it works its way into your brain and lives there, and seems to keep on playing even when the music's off. An earworm creates involuntary and repetitive music in your mind, so once you've heard the song it is difficult to evict it from your brain.
- Classy but cheesy: The fact that Psy doesn't take himself or his song too seriously has won him significant 'cred'. This attitude invites parody and more serious interpretations, because it speaks to inclusion rather than exclusion.
- High entertainment: The video of Gangnam Style has incredibly high production values and is beyond entertaining. It is crazy, visual, unusual, funny, camp, colourful mash up that you cannot tear your eyes away from. Yet despite the high level of cheese, the video is incredibly well made.
- The crowd factor: Gangnam Style is a crowd activity which means it is perfect for the 'net age with its flash mobs and crowd collaboration. It's fun, trendy and perfect for creating a crowd video, which people are doing in their thousands. If watching Psy go Gangnam with thousands of university students at Kyonggi University in Seoul doesn't make you want to get up and dance, what will?
- ADD positive: Psy's song is easy to learn, as is his dance. In the world of information overload, people have increasingly become 'attention deficit disordered' or have much shorter attention spans than they used to have.
- Variety and reach: Psy has quite a few variations of Gangnam Style on YouTube, like the one featuring Kim Hyun-a, South Korean rapper, model, designer and mega girl-band member. This has given the song greater cross-over appeal.
What's remarkable is what the hit has done for South Korea's national brand, and what promoting the Korean Republic has done to pave the way or create a tipping point for Psy. For the last five years or so South Korea has been investing billions in promoting its brand through hosting global events, increasing foreign aid spending and promoting the country and its economic potential. The viral sensation wasn't a conscious part of the plan, but it came at a time when everyone had started sitting up and taking notice of the Republic of Korea.
A Korean pop group called Girls Generation had paved the way by appearing on David Letterman's show early in 2012, becoming the first Korean musical act to perform on US syndicated television. This was followed by a performance in Madison Square Garden. Gangnam Style is just a tsunami in what has been a smaller wave of what is known as 'Hallyu' or literally the "Korean wave" sweeping the world.
Psy is the tipping point of a massive investment in the South Korean brand, and all it represents, including brands like Samsung and LG which are beginning to dominate. Gangnam Style is just another affirmation that South Korea has arrived. Oppa!
But while brand South Korea will be buoyed by Psy's massive success, Gangham Style (like the Macarena) has a shelf live and will fade from the world's consciousness as soon as people are bored with it, or the next big thing comes along.