The Korean pop music industry (K-pop) is booming (see “Pop religion” in the current issue of WORLD). Although the tightly choreographed and heavily produced style is hugely popular in Asia, it has been slow to catch on in the United States.
A four-minute Korean YouTube music video, “Gangnam Style” by Psy (short for “psycho”), may change that. The video—which features some sexual innuendo and is not appropriate for general audiences—had been viewed more than 480 million times since its mid-July release. It now has more than 480 million views and has prompted parodies, imitations, and even dance tutorials by people of all races. A Mitt Romney caricature even performed the dance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. The Korean song’s popularity is a shock, especially to Koreans.
The video features singer Park Jaesang, a chubby 34-year-old modern jester, dancing “Gangnam Style”—wrists wiggling out on top of each other, both feet stomp-hopping along. Besides the silly dancing, the satire underlying Park’s romping song is obvious only to those familiar with Korean culture.
Gangnam refers to a district in Seoul inhabited by some of the wealthiest and most powerful companies and families in Korea—a composite of Beverly Hills, Silicon Valley, and Manhattan’s Upper East Side—where Audis throng, designer handbags gleam, and coffee costs more than a meal. The irony is that Park is the son of a wealthy Gangnam family.
“Gangnam Style” is clearly a parody aimed at the locals, but somehow, its message—or rather, its dance—inadvertently hit the international target K-pop has been aiming at all along.