So PSY's song and video, "Gangnam Style," is apparently a hit with the Western crowd. My brother David sent me an article that purports to explain why PSY has succeeded at penetrating the US market where so many well-machined Korean groups have failed.
PSY himself claims that he had never intended to target anything more than a Korean audience. In this vein, Jeff Yang of the Wall Street Journal theorizes:
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.”
There may be something to this. Most Korean attempts at marketing Westward are woefully tone-deaf. But PSY doesn't come off as a slick, calculating poser; he actually seems to be having fun-- and in a freewheeling, fuck-you, devil-may-care way, no less. Americans respond to this: in true Taoist fashion, PSY succeeds without even trying.
But my own theory about PSY's success is simpler: he's a nonconformist square peg in society's round hole, and this quirky individualism is what grounds his appeal in the West. Whether PSY is parodying the rich or engaging in massive self-parody makes little difference, pace the Wall Street Journal: the point is that PSY isn't a Cylon (PSYlon?). Most Korean groups fail in the West precisely because they have a manufactured, unspontaneous, overly saccharine look about them. PSY, by contrast, doesn't have the air of someone who has undergone massive plastic surgery to make him into an aerodynamic sex doll. Far from being a boy-band clone, he's channeling the rough-edged, uncouth John Belushi, but with a bit of a Korean twang.
By all indications, PSY has been around for a while. I do hope, though, that he and his "horse" dance don't become a one-hit wonder, as happened to MC Hammer (then just plain Hammer, then just plain Nobody). Give it a year or so. By September 2013, will Americans be saying, "PSY who?"?