So we all know that Psy is one of the biggest music stories of 2012 (a record 1Bn views on YouTube and $8.1M earnings, so far). But what about the other influences Gangnam Style has had, from a global music and culture standpoint and for other exports from his Korean homeland?
There are aspects of Psy’s success that are more profound than the numbers. The song, that in Psy’s words, celebrates “dressing classy and dancing cheesy” has influenced well beyond pop music. His official recognition by NASA and the UN as an “international sensation’ demonstrates this clearly. A talk he gave at Oxford University was so popular that tickets had to be balloted, something even Michael Jackson failed to achieve. The US President and a string of other top politicians have also been captured dancing to his horsey beats. He even got 2012 entries in both the Collins Dictionary (“Gangnam Style”) and The Yale Book of Quotations (“Oppan Gangnam Style”). Even UN Director, Ban Ki Moon, expressed his desire to work with the singer because of his "unlimited global reach”, and the potential this has for pursuing international political objectives.
Psy has also had a dramatic affect in putting Korea even more firmly in the spotlight as an exporter, as the Gaurdian newspaper notes: The song has “spawned a fascination with things Korean”. Korea had already achieved popularity in Asia as an exporter of music and TV, but Gangnam Style has rocketed Korean pop culture onto the global stage. So how has this occurred?
On the surface it is just a catchy tune (in a foreign language for most), with a comic video and a ‘cheesy’ dance routine. But what has made the package a global sensation is its accessibility, through YouTube, at a level we have not witnessed before. Whereas in the past fans had limited methods to interact with singers and music beyond MTV viewing, music purchase, and Karaoke, the reach of interactive online media channels such as YouTube has meant that parodies from relatively unknown individuals and collectives (e.g. Eton College) have themselves attracted millions of views. It has helped localize Gangnam Style dramatically, which has bolstered the fan base and credibility of the original artist.
Localization is a key aspect in the successful export of any product and the localization of Psy’s Gangnam Style was largely done for him, by others who copied the basic elements and added their own twist. Psy acknowledges this, saying; “if you look at all the parodies, and the dance moves, that might be the key, because people can add their own style”. He is also humble in acknowledging that “A phenomenon is made by people, not made by Psy”. Perhaps this will result in new marketing directions for future music, online game releases and other cultural content.
Psy has also been appointed as an official ambassador of UNICEF, further demonstrating that world-wide fame as a pop musician can have wider humanitarian attraction.
But Psy is not the only South Korean export to have had a great year. Aggressive R&D and marketing has powered Korea’s Hyundai to a 60% increase in global market share over five years and Samsung Electronics’ global mobile phone market share has more than double to around 30% in the last 12 months, and has emerged as the only real competition to Apple in the smart phone market.
In addition 2012 has seen mass acceptance of Korea as a major exporter of cultural products, perhaps behind only the US and UK. Korean TV shows are highly popular all over Asia, and spurred on by Psy’s success, the K-pop wave is set to continue gaining global recognition for its exports in the rest of the world. Korean online gaming corporations (NCSoft, Nexon, GamesVille, etc) are also highly successful names in their industry.
Looking forward, 2013 is likely to be another year in which Korea consolidates its global position, with two relative newcomers, Kakao Talk and Naver's rival Line Messsenger, looking set to battle it out in the increasingly competitive global mobile messaging playing field and the big boys, Samsung and Hyundai, expanding still further.
What Psy has taught us in 2012 is to expect the unexpected, and when a break comes to seize it and run. I have no doubt that both Psy and Korea have much more to offer in 2013, so watch this space.
beSUCCESS will be holding its annual Global Tech / Entrepreneurship conference, beLAUNCH, May 1-2 2013, in Gangnam, Seoul. Super early bird tickets ($91) available here and discounted startup booths available until Dec 31 (email@example.com). Come and join us to explore what Korea has to offer!