14 October 2012

Modal Nodes: PSY, the Korean who Launched the Downfall of American Global Cultural Hegemony

What the hell?

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it's time NMW takes on Psy, the latest global pop sensation from Korea. Make that the only global pop sensation from Korea. What is the deal with this dude? And what makes his rise to fame so interesting? Or possible?

Psy is really one of the first international pop stars to not sing in English (mostly) and really hit it big worldwide, including in the United States. There have been other big stars that no one in the States has cared about, and of course plenty of American and British music groups that are ubiquitous around the world. Somehow, though, Psy has struck a great blow for K-Pop to launch itself on the global stage.

What does this mean?

Frankly, it's an introduction to a more global culture. The United States is on the other end of a cultural import for once - this dude has racked up 460 million YouTube views, along the way kicking the ass of other greats such as Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, Lady GaGa, and Rebecca Black. Yes, even Rebecca Black. It's unbelievable. How did this happen?

For one - his music is easily accessible on YouTube around the world. This should be a great indicator of what YouTube is really for - while it may not be able to directly monetize, it can heavily increase an artist's awareness. I find YouTube copyright laws sort of silly, because that's all it is really meant to do, after all - provide a positive public image and broadcast content to a demographic that is dispersed yet specifically targeted. Psy isn't hurting for pocket change anymore, folks. YouTube launched this guy.

It's also incredible that Psy has done so well in the States because the song is mostly Korea. It's the same reason that big movies like The Avengers (2012) have done so well overseas - it's a reliance on visual appeal over the language which forms a cultural barrier. Psy's "Gangnam Style" video is hilarious in any language, and its crisp colours and unique dance moves are translatable to entertainment in any country. The fact that the words actually do not make a difference at all could lead to a postmodern interpretation of pop music - as long as his beat and flow is excellent, it actually doesn't matter what he's saying. This is already apparent in just about any other American pop song.

Every moment of this vid - from that little weird but cool dancing boy at the beginning that really captures attention to the weird elevator guy and then yelling at women's fannies, Psy has a very natural sense of what he's doing and how to make the visuals really funny and appealing.

He's also a master of his own publicity. As soon as he started picking up steam this past summer he hit hard, baby. He's up on Ellen schooling Britney Spears, as well as in the Best SNL Sketch so far this Season. Props to Bieber's manager, Scooter Braun for signing him immediately. Will he be anything but a one-hit wonder? Considering he's been in the biz (in South Korea, at least) for the past fifteen years or so, my guess is no.

We can call Psy the first non-Anglo-Saxon global superstar who has also really hit it big in America as well. This is more of an indication of our own heavy biases towards who we may consider to be superstars. We have written off the cultural imports of much of the rest of the world since our inception. Will Psy challenge these notions - or is the American embrace of the Korean Legend a sign that his stardom still doesn't matter until he his Americanized?

Either way, I imagine Scooter makes a good buck of him, and no one will ever see his eyes.

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