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Could ‘Gangnam style’ be a game-changer for the international music scene?

gangnam new 300x225 Could Gangnam style be a game changer for the international music scene?I have tried to ignore it, but Gangnam Style by pop sensation Psy, seems to be playing everywhere. I first became aware of it when I saw the Seoul rapper introduce Britney Spears and Ellen DeGeneres to the dance moves on The Ellen Show a couple of months back. Britney did okay, Ellen did better. The lesson? It’s probably better to wear flats rather than very high heels while performing dance moves which mimic a horse.

Then, last week, the website of L’express, one of the main dailies in the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius, featured a YouTube clip of Gangnam Style performed by a group of young Mauritians of diverse ethnicities at Le Caudan waterfront in the capital Port Louis. A young Sino-Mauritian man equipped with the requisite suit, bowtie and dark glasses takes the place of Psy. It has had over 66,000 hits, which is a huge number by Mauritian standards.

There’s no doubt that Gangnam Style is a catchy pop tune, with even catchier dance moves. The official YouTube version, with over 716 million visits, is the second most popular in history. Now record executives from Universal Music Group, Psy’s record company, are talking up the prospects of other South Korean artists like the nine-strong girl group Girls’ Generation, who are popular not only in their home country but in other parts of the Far East. The calculation is that K-pop artists could be an international rather than just a regional success story.

It seems that new mobile technologies, especially smart phones, have created new markets in parts of the world which previously lacked a strong international pop music culture. Furthermore, the belief amongst many leading lights in the recording industry is that for the first time in history, the flow of popular music won’t just be from North America and Europe to other parts of the globe, but will move the other way as well. It’s no surprise then that the big music companies are scouring the world to find the next big thing According to an article in The Independent today, record executives are convinced that the “British charts will increasingly be filled with foreign-language hits from Asia and South America”.

If true, this will be good news for new artists in emerging economies, who are by definition not part of the traditional North Atlantic pop music conveyor belt system. Nevertheless, having listened to Gangnam Style, as well as a number of other K-Pop artists like Girls’ Generation there is something that has been overlooked – that is, some of the lyrics as well as the hook line of the globally successful songs are nearly always in English. Even Psy’s song is punctuated by “Eh, Sexy Lady oh oh oh oh” which seems to have set a trend. Therefore, it would seem that the necessary ingredient for international pop music stardom (at least of now) is to include something familiar for English speakers.

Dr Sean Carey is research fellow in the School of Social Sciences, University of Roehampton


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  • Sal M

    Wow, reading some of the comments here they come across as quite hateful “utter brainless, pointless moronic tripe” anyone? The point of this song – as PSY has said in past interviews – was he was doing it for fun. If you watch the making of the music video, the whole production crew looked like they were having an absolute laugh making it. This song is just that, fun and anyone who can’t see that really needs to develop their sense of humor. On terms of international distribution, K-pop has been in the ‘western world’ for quite a few years and has been readily available on iTunes as well. It’s not a new fad, it has just been brought into mainstream commercialism with this song.

  • Ananya

    Hardly a passing fad or novelty, and definitely a genre. K-pop has a huge, global audience, which Psy, as a K-pop artist, is also part of.

  • bojam100

    What have wearing a style of shoes got to do with MUSIC?

  • sean carey

    Good point Katie. However, I’ve looked at the Britney and Ellen clip again
    on YouTube. Britney’s pencil skirt certainly doesn’t help, but the extremely
    high heels she is wearing means that her body weight is falling forward all the
    time, which to my eye affects her ability to move her feet. You will also notice that
    despite the invitation to join in Simon Cowell sits it out – as befits a pop
    mogul.

  • sean carey

    Actually, I think Gangnam Style is a combination of horse and rider. Playing
    around at the interface between humans and animals is why the man is a genius.
    Claude Lévi-Strauss, God rest his soul, would have liked it.

  • ajb888

    the short answer: NO (unlikely, it’s just a fad, an internet meme!)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001224409264 Smail Buzzby

    What an insightful theory…for a three year old. It’s catchy. There’s a silly dance. The fact that he is Korean has nothing to do with it. Catchy dumb songs become popular sometimes. If there is a silly dance to go along with them all the better.

    Or, put this another way…certainly this will change everything forever. Just like the Macarena did. Everyone still loves that wonderful song and dance, right? It changed the game, right?

    Vienna called and Der Komissar says that Falco wants his foreign song with English chorus back.

  • disqus_lrh1aBKhUv

    You can’t stop it! Gangnam style is everywhere ;) http://gangnamstyle22.blogspot.com/


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