What worked in 2012 that doesn’t seem to in 2016?




Psy’s Gangnam Style took over the internet in 2012. 4 years later, the question of how still bugs the kpop companies that haven’t followed up to its success. 

When a seemingly random – if not crudely low brow – music video from an Asian country became an online phenomenon, no one had thus seen the true power of “viral contents” in the wired world of the internet and beyond.

For the summer of 2012, Psy had simply released a long-awaited single completely and perhaps too obviously aimed at the local fans, titling the song with a cheeky reference to the affluent neighbourhood of the capital city. The now famous music video for Gangnam Style poked fun at the elitist lifestyle pursued by the residents of the titular neighbourhood, through showing the discrepancy between his pretentious lyrics and the comical reel of everyday activities considered “mundane” in South Korea. The inclusion of Psy’s absurd dance moves, commonly known as the “horse dance,” is also a signature feature of his works, recognisable to anyone familiar with Psy’s song – virtually everyone in South Korea.

So the question is: How did this extremely localised music video become a global sensation?

The technicalities to the “how” are actually simple. The international fans of the young and beautiful kpop stars decided to check out the latest single from YG Entertainment, which manages globally popular kpop idol groups like Big Bang and 2NE1. And the pandora’s box of addictive melody, slapstick humour and exotic culture drove people to share the link to the crazy music video – to the point that it became the number one most viewed video on Youtube.

However, while the Korean wave was something that was starting to get momentum in different parts of the world, the success of Gangnam Style seemed isolated from the rest of the wave. Unlike the strategic marketing schemes behind the scintillating beauty of idol stars and their perfect choreography, Psy offered a familiar look of a chubby, middle-aged Asian man with a clashing unfamiliarity of strange dancing with a stern face. While JYP, SM and YG were struggling to appeal to the global mainstream culture, Psy had won the heart of the world by sticking to his unique “Korean-ness.” That he would soon abandon in his subsequent works.


Hangover featured Snoop and slices of Korean culture but failed to meet the success or the quality of Psy’s older works. 

Psy retrograded into a certain formulaic pattern in his works, attempting to find Korean words that foreigners could easily sing along to and putting in distinctly Korean elements into his music videos. However, having abandoned his witty charm and artistic creativity, Psy failed to overcome, or even regain, his worldwide popularity but more importantly, his reputation in South Korea.

With every song released since Gangnam Style, local South Korean fans that had stayed loyal to his works since he started his booming career in the late 90s have expressed disappointment with Psy’s struggles to please the fleeting international fans. But they are still waiting for the return of the relatable lyrics and the catchy tunes of Psy’s former style of work.

In memory and hope of Psy’s charm gone by, here is an example of what the South Korean fans miss:


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