A highly localized critique of South Korean society, Psy’s song ‘Gangnam Style’ became a global sensation thanks lớn a YouTube video clip that went viral.

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When the K-pop industry first mix out khổng lồ crack the lucrative Western market, it’s unlikely that Psy was the figure they had in mind. At 34, he was a relative old-timer when “Gangnam Style” was released, và he had neither the squeaky-clean image (he’d been in trouble with the authorities for marijuana use) nor the traditional looks of a classic K-pop star. So how did he vì it, & what was it about the tuy vậy – a highly localized critique of South Korean Society – that turned it into such a global phenomenon?


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Setting the stage

Psy had written “Gangnam Style” with the idea of parodying the flamboyance, narcissism, và ostentatious wealth he felt had become prevalent in the newly rich country – epitomized by the youth who hung around the ultra-rich district of Gangnam, known locally as the Beverly Hills of Seoul.


Ironically, Psy was from the area himself. Born Park Jae-sung, in 1977, lớn an affluent family, he was earmarked khổng lồ take over his father’s semiconductor manufacturing business. Sent khổng lồ the United States to study, he soon quit his place at Boston University to dedicate himself khổng lồ music.

In the 11 years before “Gangnam Style” was released, Psy had carved out a niche for himself as a rapper known for his comedy, irreverence, & controversy (the blunt lyrics on his first album got him fined for “inappropriate content,” while his second was banned outright). By 2012 he’d joined YG Entertainment, one of South Korea’s three biggest entertainment agencies, & was an established star. With those elements in place, his sixth album, Psy 6 (Six Rules), Part 1, and its lead track, “Gangnam Style,” was set khổng lồ be a hit – domestically, at least.

A YouTube sensation

Shot in a mere 48 hours, “Gangnam Style”’s music video was stuffed with a host of well-known South Korean celebrities to lớn ensure local success. Seven-year-old Hwang Min-woo, whose nhảy đầm had proved a sensation on TV talent shows, was brought in to showroom his distinctive moves along with comedian và TV host Soon Jae-suk (who dances alongside Psy in a yellow suit). TV personality No Hong-chul provided the infamous elevator dance, with K-pop star Hyuna featured as the romantic interest.

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And then, of course, there was the “horse dance” itself. Psy had already built a reputation for his memorably silly dance moves. Keen to give his fans something unique, he và his choreographer spent a month coming up with “Gangnam Style’”s signature horse trot and lasso spin.

Released on July 15, 2012, the tuy nhiên galloped straight out of the gates, with 500,000 YouTube views on its first day. What happened over the next few months, however, cemented “Gangnam Style’”s place in history.

As the tuy nhiên gained domestic popularity (before the month was out, it became one of the biggest South Korean hits of the year), word began lớn spread way beyond K-pop’s heartland. US rapper T-Pain was reportedly the first lớn give the track his endorsement when he tweeted enthusiastically about it, on July 29. Before long, a cavalcade of stars, among them Britney Spears, Katy Perry, Tom Cruise, and Robbie Williams, had picked up on it, too, introducing the song to their millions of followers & creating a viral sensation in the process. By September, “Gangnam Style” was averaging over six million views a day. Having topped the charts in over 30 countries, on December 21, 2012, it became the first video to reach one billion views on YouTube. By the time it hit 2,147,483,647 views, in 2014, YouTube’s counter needed lớn be upgraded in order khổng lồ register any more. As of December 2019, the total is heading towards 3.5 billion.

‘Gangnam Style’ parodies & cultural impact

As momentum built, parodies of the dance swept across the world. The British Army và Thai Navy filmed their versions, while celebrities & politicians from countries as diverse as Pakistan, Mexico, Australia, Brazil, và Germany performed it on regional television. Flash mobs of thousands attempted recreations in California, New York, Sydney, Paris, Rome, và Milan, & professional footballers, boxers, tennis players, và cricketers all paid tribute in their sporting celebrations. Even the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, and members of the British royal family attempted their own versions of the video’s dance routine.

Ultimately, “Gangnam Style’”s international success can be put down khổng lồ a variety of factors: a great video clip filled with a mix of silliness và satire; a supremely catchy tune; and a dance that was bizarre, brilliant, and easy to parody. With perfect timing, it harnessed the power nguồn of the mạng internet to make a South Korean rapping in his own language an international break-out star.