Mass Culture: Gangnam Style

By now everyone has heard of “Gangnam Style,” a pop record released by K-Pop star Psy with over 576,000,000 million views on YouTube. This meteoric rise in popularity and recognition is simply unprecedented in the world of music and, I would argue, is indicative of the new nature of global culture. This example is remarkable given the fact that Psy was virtually unknown in the United States and, solely because of a single 4-minute music video, became a guest on every popular television program on all the major networks.

Walking around Shanghai, the record is inescapable. And in traveling to Taipei, Nanjing, and Suzhou, I can surely say that the song was played at least once during each of my days there. I did not understand the magnitude of Psy’s success until I began reading and viewing material from popular American media outlets like SNL and The Ellen Show, listening to their introductions that usually followed a script like, “Please welcome the most popular global music star today…” The fact that I can hear the same artist in my daily life abroad in China as my brothers are listening to in the car in Maine is astonishing.

The song itself is a point of connection for me and many of the new people I have met while abroad. In the dance group FDANSO, we commonly warm up to Gangnam Style, and one girl is choreographing to the song (aka copying the music video) for the show in November. Everyone “knows” all of the words, or can at least shout the lyrics loud enough to blend in with the crowd. I find it funny when the line “Hey sexy lady” plays and people look at me in amusement of the seemingly random English addition.

The larger point I wish to make is that we now live in an age when practically anyone, or any song, can become a global phenomenon over the course of just a few days. What determines this success is not necessarily related to the talent, reputability, or origin of the material itself. In truth, Psy is not an amazing singer or dancer, and the now iconic choreography for the song is quite elementary in terms of its difficulty and artistry. Nevertheless, Gangnam Style has shown us that the combination of music, uniqueness, and the internet (when mixed accordingly) can have gargantuan effects on global culture.