Wednesday, October 17, 2012

KOREAN MUSIC: Q & A on PSY and K-pop

PSY Stickers are available on Google playstore
from Oct. 17, and APP store will be updated later on.
LINE APP: Android  & iTunes

Yesterday, Kitty Zheng, a student at Syracuse University, left me a message consisting of questions about Psy and K-pop. Even though I don't think I'm the best person to answer such questions, I think it's still worth sharing my two cents with my blog readers. And as always, your insight and wisdom are always welcome.  So here they are:

-How would you define K-pop and what are some of the characteristics? What are its selling points to overseas/American audience?

If K-pop is all about the Korean idol boy bands or girl groups, it means deliberately manufactured music/artists as ABC recently reported: Nightline from ABC News : K-Pop Boot Camp:

And the characteristics of K-pop mainly are beautiful faces (both boys and girls), synchronized dancing, and sweet (sometimes corny) lyrics.  Obviously, Psy doesn't fit into that category as he was never trained in any management agencies like SM, YG, or JYP.  As you may already know, there's much more than one kind of music, widely known as K-pop, in the Korean music industry/history.  And I think it’s a good thing Psy became famous worldwide because now the world knows K-pop is not all about those idol groups.

PSY shares his thoughts on his music, himself, and K-pop @2:08
in his interview with Sky News Australia.

And as I think Psy’s current global fame is accidental, I think it’s too early to talk about the selling points of Korean music to overseas/American audience; we’ll have to wait and see what happens when Psy’s second song is released in the US.

About Korean idol music (=K-pop in a narrow sense), if we agree to accept the premise that the United States is not the center of universe, then we can say the people on the other side of the American continent are buying it because of all those characteristics I stated above.  But I think it might lose its magic unless its stars move out of their comfort zone.  And talking about the US market, I think it will take a long long time, if it will ever happens, before the Korean idol boy bands or girl groups can eventually grow on the conservative American audiences, considering how badly this American boy band Heart2Heart, who benchmarked K-pop idol stars, was received last year: Heart2Heart. (Did they ever make a debut?)

However, I still believe his success was boosted by the existing popularity of K-pop idol stars. He’s currently affiliated with the YG Entertainment (YGE) that boasts a huge fan base in Asia and Europe.  (He signed to YGE in late 2010.)  The loyal fans who religiously listen to the songs and watch the music videos produced by YGE must have been the initial spreaders of Psy’s viral video, I guess.

-Why "Gangnam Style?" There are obviously many other popular Korean pop songs, but why this one enjoys such celebration? What's so special about it and how is it different from other K-pop music?

-Why now? Korean pop music has been popular overseas for a while, but none of the others have made it so popular as Gangnam style now. What has changed than before that contributed to the sudden popularity of this song?

Korean fans now jokingly say, “Psy's newly acclaimed global fame is ‘forcibly’ given to him.”  Unlike some other k-pop idol stars that have been knocking on the US market, he’s risen global stardom without any promotion. I think the global popularity of GS can translate to "Try first to make it big in your neighborhoods, then the rest MAY follow in this socially networked world."

Psy’s music, unlike other K-pop music (in a narrow sense), is a weird combination of cheesy yet classy (as he put it when describing “the mindset” of his song, “Dress Classy, Dance Cheesy”), strange yet familiar, peculiar yet universal, comic yet serious…..  But more than anything else, it’s the rhythm and the hooks which are really fun, catchy, and thus addictive. The rhythm is simple and the lyrics are easy (even in Korean), so the song became thoroughly entrenched in people’s minds.  Besides, when you read the comments on Psy’s youtube video, you’ll find so many people first thought he said “Open condom store,” instead of “Oppan Gangnam style,” which I think first attracted people's interest on the song.  Plus, look at all those parody videos.  People relate to the song making their own videos promoting their communities as in “Oregon Duck Style” or “Navy Style” to name a few.

And also his fun and refreshing horse riding dance: Unlike other idol groups’ synchronized dancing, his dance is so easy to imitate or learn; and to top it off, people don’t need to worry about looking silly when they do this dance. Most of us usually want to dance at a party or club without looking stupid but looking silly and having a good laugh are the whole point of this horse riding dance. 

-Why does it relate to the Korean Wave? Is it a good representation of the Korean Wave, or does the song have elements that go against the broader trend of K-pop music?

As I mentioned above, the song has elements that go against K-pop music (in a narrow sense) and I think it can nicely serve as the cornerstone of the next stage of K-pop.

-Why Psy? What makes him popular and so well-received by American audience? Do you think there is any "Asian masculinity" issue involved in his popularity?

I don’t think we need to worry about Asian masculinity here.  Just like his music and dance, Psy’s a weird combination of opposites: He may look and talk funny, but he’s a serious person and musician; and he may dance cheesy and funny, but he’s really a brainy and wealthy man.  And contrary to the stereotypical characters of Asian people being humble, reserved, and quiet, he’s humorous, funny, and confident (and even bold) even when speaking in English, which he used only for 4 years when studying in Boston.  He’s got this confidence unique to wealthy kids and in his case, his chubby, not classically or plastically handsome appearance, is his strength. 

-Any problems or potential challenges within this phenomenon?

Most people outside (and even inside) Korea still seem to take it just as another funny music video, and I notice that Psy also said numerous times that he just wrote this song to have fun.  I think he might not want to hit a sour note in this worldwide wild party.  This, however, might stereotype him as just a fun, comedic singer. But I don’t really worry because I know, as a long time fan of his, he will accept that come what may as he said, “Even if I end up one-hit wonder, I’ll enjoy today for today.” 


  1. I love Gangnam style song!!! I didn't like it first but now it's my favourite song in youtube ~♥ I even learned the dance :D

  2. NimuNimu, show me your dance moves! :) Welcome to my blog, btw.


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