A pudgy Korean man dressed like a campy Lady Gaga fan prances, gallops, swoons and finds his way in to millions of peoples’ hearts. The song is catchy, but certainly not the year’s best pop track. The beats are undeniably toe-tapping but it’s the video’s visual absurdity that’s lifted PSY’s Gangnam Style to become a true global sensation.
Hearing the song without having seen the video would leave little long-lasting impression, nor drive one to hum the tune and repeat the only line they know, “Gangnam Style”, dozens of times per day in their mind. It’s the link between video and song, a rare culmination, that’s propelled this silly song to become something much larger than just a song.
Until mid-August, I, like much of the world, had never heard of PSY. And why should I have? South Korean music, or K-Pop as it’s often known, isn’t aimed at my demographic or nationality and just isn’t my thing. But 28-year-old PSY created a novel song, paired it with a borderline absurd video and let YouTube do the rest. While reading TIME Magazine in August a blurb mentioned this oddly-named video that had gone viral. I was intrigued, called it up on my iPhone, and was astonished to see it had already logged more than 40 million views. Fast forward three weeks and it now has more than 130 million. There’s hardly a semi-conscious person on the planet that doesn’t know Gangnam Style, has seen it and likely smiles at its mention.
So instantly infectious, it’s spawned dozens of copy-cat videos around the globe. Two Thai versions, one by Crying Tiger and the other by Bie the Ska, relying on equally silly situations and costumes, have themselves gained millions of views and inspired a recent flash mob on September 6th in Bangkok. There’s even a version set to scenes from North Korea entitled Pyongyang Style, which can hardly be what PSY originally had in mind but it’s got to be none-the-less flattering and a bit frightening, for now he soon faces becoming one of the most reviled artists on the planet.
With such instant stardom and glory over a catchy song typically comes the tune and artist being disliked in relatively short order almost as much as they were once loved. Think “I’m Too Sexy”, “The Macarena” or “Mambo Number Five”. Chances are you don’t remember who they were by and the only time you’ll ever hear them again (and it will be too soon) is at a wedding. People rarely remember these songs with any amount of fondness nor do the artists tend to follow-up with another smash hit.
Only time will tell what PSY’s future in or outside of his native South Korea holds, but for now much of the globe will be hearing “Gangnam Style” both in life and in their minds for some weeks to come. Enjoy the ride while you still like it!