The Korea Herald


Unlikely Korean pop star conquers the U.S. -- 'Gangnam Style'

By 윤민식

Published : Sept. 13, 2012 - 16:34

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(YouTube) (YouTube)

A chubby thirty-something with wacky dance moves, Park Jae-Sang falls far short of the prettified, teenage ideal embodied by the stars of South Korea's phenomenally successful K-pop industry.

But Park, known as "Psy," has succeeded where the industry-manufactured girl and boy bands have tried and failed, making a huge splash on the mainstream U.S. music scene thanks to a viral video and a rare sense of irony.

Since being posted on YouTube in July, Psy's video for "Gangnam Style" -- the title song of his sixth album -- has racked up more than 150 million views and spawned a host of admiring parodies.

The accompanying worldwide publicity has earned him a U.S. contract with Justin Bieber's management agency, a guest appearance at last week's MTV awards in Los Angeles and a spot on NBC's flagship "Today" show.

Earlier this week he was given the opportunity to school U.S. pop diva Britney Spears on his increasingly famous signature dance moves on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show".

The breakout success of "Gangnam Style" has been viewed with a mixture of pride and surprise in Psy's home country, with industry analysts scrabbling to identify the magic ingredient that made it such a phenomenal success abroad.

The Gangnam of the title is Seoul's wealthiest residential and shopping district, lined with luxury boutiques, top-end bars and restaurants frequented by celebrities and well-heeled, designer-clad socialites.

The video pokes fun at the district's lifestyle, with Psy breezing through a world of speed boats, yoga classes and exclusive clubs -- all the while performing an eccentric horse-riding dance accompanied by beautiful models.

Humor, especially satirical humor, is rare in the mainstream Korean music scene, and that coupled with the 34-year-old's embrace of his anti-pop idol looks has helped set him apart.

According to Simon Stawski, the Canadian co-founder of the popular "Eat Your Kimchi" blog on K-pop and Korean culture, Psy is the "antithesis of K-pop" and its stable of preening, sexualised, fashion-conscious young stars.

"K-pop bands are exceptionally controlled by their management. Psy doesn't buy into that at all, and that's partly why he's such a breath of fresh air," Stawski told AFP.

"Above all, Psy doesn't take himself seriously and uses irony and self-deprecation that are absent from K-pop," he said.

This, Stawski adds, is what has allowed Psy to jump the English language barrier and find a wider audience for a song which, apart from its title, is almost entirely in Korean.

In South Korea, "Gangnam Style" has won Psy a new fan base by appealing to those for whom the sanitised image of K-pop bears little resemblance to their actual lives.

"His somewhat 'normal' appearance makes him feel familiar, and the comic dancing and wacky fashion style give off a friendly image, branding Psy as someone people would want to party with," the daily Munhwa Ilbo commented.

Psy himself says he invites laughter, not ridicule.

"My motto is to be funny, but not stupid," he said in an interview with the Yonhap news agency.

"I want everyone who sees my performance to feel the efforts I've made so far as a singer rather than a lucky guy who got here without anything," he said.

A relative veteran after 11 years on the Korean music scene, Psy has always had a small but loyal fan base that has stuck with him through numerous ups and downs, including an early brush with the law for smoking marijuana.

In 2007, he was forced to serve a second period of compulsory military service after it was revealed that he had continued with his showbiz interests during his first two-year stint.

His overnight leap from relative obscurity to global sensation came as a personal, if welcome, shock.

"It's all so surreal to me," he told Yonhap. "I never thought such a day would come in my life as a singer."

It remains to be seen if "Gangnam Style" will prove to be anything more than a one-hit wonder, but its success so far, especially in the United States, is likely to prompt a review of marketing strategies in the Korean music industry.

"It's not going to be a revolution, but more of a baby-steps evolution," said Esther Oh, online news editor at CJ Entertainment, the country's largest media conglomerate.

"Psy has shown you can be successful as a human, regular guy with a touch of humor. Other artists and management companies are going to look at that and maybe rethink their own styles and strategies," Oh said. (AFP)

<관련 한글 기사>

해외언론, “강남스타일, 미국 점령하다!”

최근 유튜브 조회수 1억5천만 건을 돌파하며 전세계적인 인기를 끌고 있는 가수 싸이 (35, 본명 박재상)의 ‘강남스타일’에 대해 프랑스 AFP통신이 미국을 ‘점령하고 있다’고 보도했다.

“예상 밖의 한국 가수가 ‘강남스타일’로 미국을 점령하다”란 제목의 기사에서 AFP는 “익살스러운 춤 동작을 선보이는 30대 박재상은 한국의 K-팝 시장의 스타들의 잘 꾸며진 이상적인 형태에는 크게 못 미친다. 그러나 그는 이들처럼 ‘제조된(industry-manufactured)’ 가수들이 도전했다가 실패한 미국 주류 음악계에서 커다란 충격을 주고 있다”라고 13일 보도했다.

강남스타일은 올해 발표된 싸이의 6집 앨범에 수록된 곡이다. 이 곡의 뮤직비디오는 밤문화를 포함해 다양한 한국의 문화를 익살맞게 패러디했는데, 국내외 인터넷 네티즌들 사이에서 온갖 패러디를 양산하며 큰 인기를 끌고 있다.

특히 이 뮤직비디오는 아시아뿐만 아니라 미국, 유럽 등지에서도 큰 인기를 끌고 있는데, 미국의 허핑턴 포스트가 최근 보도한 바에 따르면 강남스타일이 유튜브 조회수 1억 건을 돌파할 당시 절반에 가까운 4,348백만 건수가 북미지역과 유럽에서 조회된 것이었다.

강남스타일의 대성공에 힘입어 싸이의 미국 내에서의 인지도도 올라가고 있다. 싸이는 지난 10일 진행된 토크쇼 ‘엘렌 드제너러스 쇼 (엘렌 쇼)’ 녹화에서 깜짝 게스트로 출연해 팝스타 스피어스와 호스트 드제너러스에게 뮤직비디오에 등장하는 ‘말춤’을 가르쳐줬다.

엘렌 쇼는 미국의 퍼스트 레이디 미셸 오바마, 팝스타 저스틴 비버 등 유명인사들이 출연한 바 있는 인기 토크쇼다. 싸이의 소속사 YG엔터테인먼트는 싸이가 다음 주 이 프로그램에 정식 게스트로 출연할 예정이라고 밝혔다.

K팝과 한국 문화를 조명하는 유명 블로그 ‘김치 먹어 (Eat Your Kimchi)’의 공동 설립자 중 한명인 사이먼 스타스키는 싸이가 ‘잔뜩 몸치장을 하고 성적인 매력을 내세우는 어린 K팝 스타들’과 극명한 대조를 이룬다고 설명했다.

“K팝 그룹들은 그들의 소속사에 의해 유별날 정도로 관리를 받죠. 싸이는 전혀 그렇지 않기 때문에 신선한 겁니다”라고 스타스키는 AFP와의 인터뷰에서 밝혔다. “무엇보다 싸이는 스스로 진지하게 하는 대신 K팝에서 볼 수 없었던 아이러니와 자기비하를 하죠”라고 그는 덧붙였다.

스타스키는 이러한 점 때문에 강남스타일의 가사가 거의 전부 한국어임에도 언어의 장벽을 뛰어넘을 수 있었다고 분석했다. (코리아헤럴드)