By: Marina Ignatyeva
Ever since “Gangnam Style” went viral on Youtube, the South Korean rap star Psy skyrocketed into U.S. super stardom. He brought the spotlight onto Korean pop, otherwise known as K-pop, which has already been massively popular all over Asia. The funny video, the crazy horse dance and the fact that the catchy dance song is performed by a fat guy in an outrageous suit appealed to the American public, which has a long history of loving bizarre Youtube videos. Korean media and Psy’s entertainment company, YG Entertainment (one of the biggest and most influential companies in Korea and Asia), hail this as a victory for K-pop, and that Korean artists are crossing over to the U.S. market after years of trying. I think this raises the question of just how permanent this success is.
Korean artists had been trying to debut in America for years. In 2005, R&B sensation Rain, who starred in Ninja Assassin, tried to debut. He even appeared multiple times on the Daily Show, and had funny dance offs with Stephen Colbert. After him came the pop princess BoA, who is a huge star in Korea and Japan, and Seven, another popular solo artist. All three of them released songs that were aimed to be similar as the American music at the time, and all three of them aimed for the sexy dancer/powerful vocalist image. All three of them reached only very limited degrees of success. A more successful debut was by the Wonder Girls, who opened for the Jonas Brothers on their 2009 tour. They managed to be more popular than those before them, and even released a recent song featuring Akon. However, at the end of the day, the majority of Americans did not even know that K-pop existed.
If tailoring to the U.S. market did not work, what does Psy’s success means? I believe it reflects that the U.S. Youtube users discovered a hilarious video that went viral. To most of the viewers, K-pop is “Gangnam Style”. It does not matter that Korean music is very broad, or that there are better songs than Psy’s hit. They do not try to understand the lyrics, nor do they care that Psy has been releasing songs with deeper meaning and better sound since 1993. In a sense, Psy had locked himself up in a very limited song type, and he will have a very hard time diversifying without losing his success. This probably means that K-pop is a fad, but only time will truly tell.