In Korea, people have no idea why us crazy Americans love Psy, but within his popularity is a lesson for future Korean artists who want to break into the market.
“People are surprised — bewildered, really — at his popularity abroad,” says Susan Kang, chief evangelist for Soompi.com, the mammoth online site dedicated to Korean pop music. “You have people saying, ‘We have all these beautiful guys and girls that have tried to break through to the U.S. market with little success. So why PSY?’ But of course they are embracing it to the fullest, and it’s causing a renewed interest in and respect for his music.”
“My motto is ‘be funny but not stupid,’” PSY told Korea’s Yonhap News Agency. “I think the humor targeted for social outsiders reflected throughout the song, dance and music video really hit the bull’s eye.”
Not all social outsiders — at least not initially. “I didn’t make this for foreign countries,” he said. “This was always for local fans.”
But that may actually be a part of “Gangnam Style”‘s transnational allure. Susan Kang of Soompi recently spoke to former K-pop idol Danny Im (of the boy band 1TYM) about PSY’s out-of-the-blue success, and says that his take on was quite insightful. “He said all the K-pop groups trying to enter the U.S. market are singing songs they think Americans will like, which at the end of the day, makes them foreigners trying to sing Western-style songs,” says Kang. “What sets Psy apart is that his song and video are completely catered to the Korean audience, in terms of style and humor. He wasn’t trying to make it in the U.S., so what we saw was something completely novel and unexpected.”
Three key quotes in here.
1) “We have all these beautiful guys and girls that have tried to break through to the U.S. market with little success. So why PSY?”
2) “I didn’t make this for foreign countries,” he said. “This was always for local fans.”
3) “He said all the K-pop groups trying to enter the U.S. market are singing songs they think Americans will like, which at the end of the day, makes them foreigners trying to sing Western-style songs.”
Honestly? This entire article was like one big verification of the thoughts of TESTAMENTVM‘s post here.
No one in America wants to see a bunch of Asians get on stage and do a vocal cover of Beyonce or a rap cover of Eminem. Contrast that to the way Korean variety shows are styled, where idols are constantly given opportunities to show their vocal covers and their dance skills.
What stood out to me was the last quote from Mr. Harrell – “…you hear two bars – Oh, my God, that’s Rihanna”. What this really says is that vocal talent is important, but what’s even more crucial is individuality, something unmistakably you.
Note that Mr. Hicks doesn’t talk about talent, or things that are quantifiable, or measurable. He talks about qualitative, subjective things. Mr. Hicks’ decision to highlight qualities like belief and authenticity — necessarily skipping over the opportunity to highlight the sweat and effort artists put into their music — in and of itself shows us the value hierarchy Mr. Hicks, and perhaps other American music executives, subscribes to.
Authenticity over training. Uniqueness over talent.
The whole appeal of Psy is exactly that he’s not REALLY K-pop.
He’s not a creation of a robotic idol factory, he doesn’t have stans proclaiming his “perfectness” or delusionally defending everything he does. His career has had a lot of ups and downs and controversy, and say what you want about it, but he does his shit however he wants.
That’s what we Americans love to see. Individuality and uniqueness.
So if the Korean music industry does want to make legitimate inroads in America (and not just fluff articles trying to associate Psy with K-pop), then Psy’s success teaches them the important lesson of the need to do away with this obsession with the facade of “perfection” and focus more on the individuality of special talents and unique personalities.