A Gangnam Style World

Guest post by Emma Miller (UG ’16)

The day Psy’s “Gangnam Style” was uploaded to YouTube was average at best. I watched it with a confused expression, laughed a bit, then talked briefly with some of my k-pop friends who all made remarks like “lol, wtf just happened?” and “I swear I’ll never understand k-pop.” The rest of July passed, more k-pop videos were released, and “Gangnam Style” left the front of my mind. As August arrived and I finished the eleventh draft of my “NYU Freshman Packing List of Awesome,” Allkpop – an American-based k-pop news site – announced that Psy would be flying to the US to have a meeting with “Justin Bieber’s agency.” We all know what happened next.

Psy would not be the first artist to travel out west in search of a deal, but Psy was definitely the most unexpected. Over the years there have been many attempts to make k-pop big in America. Top solo artists like BoA and Se7en along with groups like the Wonder Girls and Girls’ Generation made valiant attempts with English lyrics, slick dance moves, and good looks yet some gave up and went back east while others continue to try to slowly grow their American fan base. Psy accomplished a decades’ worth of work in just over four minutes.

The past few years have witnessed the rapid growth in popularity of both k-pop and k-dramas (Korean dramas) in what many call “Hallyu” or “the Korean Wave.” Outside of Asia, Hallyu’s influence can be seen in South America with k-dramas airing on TV, k-pop being played in public areas, and unofficial fan clubs gaining numbers that make North American fans jealous. K-pop has also been gaining popularity in Europe with SM Town (a large-scale concert featuring all pop groups under the company SM Entertainment) selling out Le Zenith de Paris in fifteen minutes last year. A second date was made at the same venue after European fans organized a flash mob asking for one more additional concert.

Even before Psy, k-pop was not completely unknown in the United States. Here we have seen a large amount of k-pop become available on iTunes within hours of its release in Korea, when in 2008 you’d be lucky to find anything at all. Hulu and Netflix have also started carrying k-dramas and movies; many of them are even recent. YouTube created an official k-pop channel, MNet (a Korean TV channel) launched MNet America, MTV K was created, the Wonder Girls starred in a movie on Teen Nick, and fans have come to expect at least one or two concerts to happen in NYC and LA every year when in 2009 we thought the ones who reached our shores would never come again. Shortly after SM Town Paris, SM Town also came to the US to perform a sold out show in Madison Square Garden just after GIrls’ Generation released the English version of “The Boys.” Before “Gangnam Style,” Girls’ Generation held the title of “most viewed k-pop video on YouTube” with “Gee.” Since that small feat, “Gangnam Style” has gone on to be the most viewed YouTube video of all time.

More recently, JYJ member Kim Junsu performed at the Hammerstein Ballroom in August, 2NE1 performed at the Prudential Center in October, Big Bang performed two shows (an additional one was added after tickets sold out in around two hours) also at the Prudential Center in November, the New York K-pop Festival was held in Skirball during Welcome Week, and multiple “Gangnam Style” flash mobs have been held throughout the city. On November 29th, the TV show Glee even had a k-pop episode featuring “Gangnam Style.” “Fantastic Baby” by Big Bang was also shortly featured, further introducing more k-pop songs to the general American audience. It is an exciting time to be a k-pop fan living in New York City but the rest of the world may be wondering, “what happens after Gangnam Style?”

Psy is not scheduled to release a new song until 2013 and all stateside k-pop events have wound down as Korea launches into its 2012 award show season. They say this has been the biggest year for k-pop yet but the post-Gangnam Style world will hopefully be overflowing with more worldwide k-pop hits. The MNet Asian Music Awards (MAMA) aired on November 30th from Hong Kong outlining just how many good things are happening in the current k-pop scene. Here are some of the winners:

Artist of the Year: Big Bang

Song of the Year: Gangnam Style

Album of the Year: Super Junior – Sexy, Free and Single

Best Male Group: Big Bang

Best Female Group: SISTAR

Best Rap Performance: Epik High – “Up”

The entire list can be found here.

Until next time, keep an eye on k-pop!