‘Gangnam Style’ at 10: How Psy’s resounding success propelled Korean culture around the world

Written by Liz Kang, CNNJane Sit, CNN

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

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

“Gangnam Style” quickly went viral, making waves around the world. The song hijacked the airwaves, the music video flooded Facebook timelines, and Psy’s slicked-back hair and sunglasses appeared on late-night US shows. The song debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 in September, before climbing to number 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 hit a billion views on YouTube in 2012. Credit: Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images

Psy, who was already popular in his home country but barely known around the world, quickly became one of the world’s most recognizable artists. Within a year, he had broken three Guinness World Records and was performing at New York’s Madison Square Garden with Madonna. For the then 35-year-old man from Seoul, the meteoric success was something he could never have imagined.

In an interview ahead of the song’s 10th anniversary, he compares this period of his life to celebrating a birthday. “The day before, you’re excited with anticipation,” he told CNN from the Seoul headquarters of P-Nation, the label and entertainment agency he founded in 2018. “And then the day of… it’s all kinda wild and crazy.”

But the song’s impact extended far beyond the music industry. In fact, the success of “Gangnam Style” is seen as a major catalyst for the “Korean wave“, or “hallyu”, a term describing the recent proliferation of Korean culture internationally – something that the southern government -Korean tried to push through. music and media since the 1990s.

According to Gyu Tag Lee, an associate professor of cultural studies specializing in K-pop and hallyu at the South Korean campus of George Mason University, it was “Gangnam Style” that gave Korean pop culture the recognition. dominant outside East Asia.

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

Opening the way

A decade later, South Korean talent has reached new levels of popularity and fandom around the world.

K-pop group BTS was the world’s best-selling musical act of 2021, and the group has since performed at the Grammys and made an appearance at the White House to discuss Asian representation and hate crimes. anti-Asian. Girl group Blackpink, meanwhile, performed at the Coachella music festival and collaborated with Lady Gaga and Selena Gomez, with its four members all joining major brands or luxury fashion houses as ambassadors. .

Lee believes these highly successful K-pop acts are following in Psy’s footsteps of using shareable video content to reach global audiences.

“Without the big hit that was ‘Gangnam Style,’ there might have been no BTS, there might have been no Blackpink,” Lee said.

BTS has often quoted – and thanked – Psy for helping to globalize K-pop. One of the boy band members, Suga, even co-produced and performed on “That That”, the first single from Psy’s new album, “Psy 9th”. Like “Gangnam Style,” the song is catchy and danceable, while the music video features some of the singer’s signature humor and has already garnered over 272 million views on YouTube.

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 United States, which made it easier for (BTS) to follow that path more comfortably,” Suga said.

And the appreciation is mutual. “I think it’s an amazing achievement,” Psy said of BTS’ success. “Every part of me applauds and encourages them. This heavy burden I felt in 2012 – BTS has been carrying it for six or seven years now.”

Beyond breaking records

For Psy, there has always been a downside to his global success. As excited and happy as he was during those “Gangnam Style” days, he said playing and being on the road left him feeling “just too overwhelmed” and “a bit empty inside”.

The fame also brought new expectations – and the pressure to do more hits.

“When the song is a hit, then your songs have to keep on being hits,” he says. “When the person is a hit, the success is more lasting. In this case, I am the first and BTS is the second.”

While Psy never replicated the success of “Gangnam Style,” he’s spent the past decade proving himself to be a musician and dancer with a singular will 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 smoother rhythm ballads reminiscent of his previous output. Since founding P-Nation, he has used the label to creatively discover, develop and support the next generation of South Korean artists.

Psy at a press conference on his new album

Psy during a press conference for his new album “Psy 9th” at Fairmont Ambassador Hotel on April 29, 2022 in Seoul, South Korea. Credit: Chung Sung Jun/Getty Images

Between all of this, Psy is still filling venues in his home country. His annual concert series, “Summer Swag,” is currently underway after being canceled due to the pandemic.

“Interacting with the audience (and) sharing that experience is something I can’t even describe,” says Psy. “I feel incredibly proud and happy in that moment.”

And his mission hasn’t changed since his hit: “To make fun music, fun dances and bring joy to my fans.”

“That’s my hope,” he adds. “I felt the same way 10 years ago and I think I will feel the same way in 20 years too. I will always be true to that.”

Caption for top image: Park Jae-Sang aka Psy performs “Gangnam Style” in front of a crowd during a flashmob on November 5, 2012 in Paris.

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