'Gangnam Style,' We Hardly Knew Ye

Mark 2013 as the year that Robbie Burns, the hallowed Bard of Ayrshire for more than two centuries and muse of Guy Lombardo and the Royal Canadians and a multitude of tipsy warblers, lost his mojo to Psy, the suddenly ubiquitous South Korean whose “Gangnam Style” video has racked up more than 1.1 billion views on YouTube since its debut on July 15.

“Karaoke fans rejected the traditional sentiments of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ this New Year and saw in 2013 ‘Gangnam Style,’" writes Robert Dex in The Independent. “It accounted for almost a quarter (23%) of the 100,000 songs sung on Monday on Karaoke firm Lucky Voice's online service.” The Burns standard was a distant second (4.5%), followed by Adele’s “Someone Like You” (4.3%).

Psy himself, meanwhile, took the world’s most celebrated New Year’s Eve stage -- “Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve” in Times Square (minus the late Dick Clark, of course, but with a cameo by MC Hammer) –- after proclaiming the performance the official end of the song, according to assorted headlines. Well, sort of.



“The song became too popular, and so you start to have some concern about its life period,” Psy told MTV News’ James Montgomery. “I'm really working hard on a new single right now, and I'm not saying ['Gangnam'] is ending on ‘Dick Clark’ — I still have a lot of invitations to perform it ... I'll be in Paris, and in February I got invited to perform in China, and I've still got to do promo.”

The song last month was the first to surpass a billion views on the Internet and, a couple of weeks ago, was attracting about 6.5 million looks a day, Michael Kovac reported in Rolling Stone. No wonder that Psy and his wife recently could plop down $1.249 million “in cold-hard cash” for a 2,776-square-foot condo in the exclusive Blair House on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“With a reported rate of $2 per 1,000 views on YouTube, ‘Gangnam Style” has generated $2,000,000 from the site alone,” according to Kovac. “Psy has also pulled in nearly $4 million in digital downloads, with more than 3 million singles sold for $1.29 a pop, and $50,000 from streaming services.”

How has a song that is completely in Korean except for the phrase “sexy lady” become such a global phenomena? We honestly can’t tell you, although Business Insider provides some graphs that chart its virality

Gangnam (“south of the river”) is a wealthy neighborhood in Seoul, and Psy is actually satirizing the lavish, Beverly Hills-like lifestyle of its residents, The Wall Street Journal’s John Jurgensen pointed out in a “Lunch Break” segment in September. “But I don’t think kids are watching this song on repeat to get that message,” he says. “They love the song, they love the hook and the video is crazy. That’s why it’s a video phenomenon more so than a sales phenomenon.”

“The Gangnam Style phenomenon has shone a western light on K-pop, too, the genre of slick, mass-produced teen-idol boy and girl bands that dominate the southeast Asian music scene,” The Guardian’s  Simon Rogers pointed out in a piece in October that revealed that the Gangnam area accounts for almost 10% of the land value of all of South Korea. “You might not have heard of it before Psy, but K-pop videos were viewed more than two billion times in 2011. The future of British pop may include acts such as A Pink and B2ST too.”

The district, meanwhile, has not resisted the urge to cash in on the phenomenon, as passive-aggressive as Psy’s message might be. A “hastily built plywood stage” erected across the street from the world headquarters of Samsung may seem “puny and tasteless” compared to the “designer glass skyscrapers and upscale fashion boutiques” that surround it, Martin Fackler wrote in the New York Times Monday, but it’s only the beginning.

“The local government plans to open a visitor center in February that could eventually include a life-size hologram of the singer, whose real name is Park Jae-sang, performing his buffoonish dance,” Fackler reported. And the district’s mayor intends to ride its viralness for every “won” that it’s worth, hoping to  “win the global recognition that it believes it deserves as a center of fashion, entertainment and, self-professedly, conspicuous consumption.”

“Psy appeared right when we were ready to take Gangnam global,” Shin Yeon-hee told Fackler. “We already believe we are on par with Manhattan or Beverly Hills in every way.”

Well, at least in its leader’s chutzpah.

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