Gagnam Style & K-Pop Music

By Dave Austin, “Music Professor”

I belong to a local business group and at each weekly meeting, members offer a short statement about their particular business. This past meeting, I asked the group to name the top dance song in America.

The responses included, “YMCA,” “Cha-Cha Slide,” etc., but to my stunned amazement, not a single member had heard of “Gagnam Style!”

A musical fad, reminiscent of the British invasion, K-Pop – South Korean pop music – has arrived in America.

A Unique Mixture

K-Pop consists of trendy Western electronica and Japanese pop with numerous hooks and a combination of English and Korean language, It has been around for decades. However, over the past year, some of K-Pop’s biggest stars – 2NE1, Psy, Wonder Girls, Girls’ Generation and IU – have been steadily building a cult-like following in the United States – and world-wide – with the performer, Psy leading the charge.

Psy’s “Gangnam Style” video quickly went viral, breaking the 40 million mark. Psy’s appealing personality and his willingness to display himself in a series of ridiculous scenes, has captivated viewers world-wide. He’s been seen on CNN, NBC and ABC NEWS.

His song has topped the K-Pop Hot 100 even before his video caught fire. Now, there’s a female version of the video featuring 4Minute’s Hun-a, and there’s a rumor going round that teen idol Justin Bieber’s manager is wanting to manage Psy.

Park Jae-sang, better known by his stage name of Psy, is a singer, songwriter, record producer and rapper in his native South Korea. However, he’s certainly not a newcomer to the music biz. He attended Boston College and the Berklee College of Music and is best known for his wacky stage performances and videos.

In his concerts, he often imitates female singers, breaking down the stereotype among K-Pop fans that males cannot enjoy the same success as female performers. He’s written numerous songs in various genres for multiple performers, of which his most famous is “Because You Are My Woman.”

The girl-group, The Wonder Girls’ new full-length feature movie, “The Wonder Girls,” shows off the quintet and lets U.S. audiences get to know each of the girls as they rehearse, go sightseeing and poke American culture in general. Soul singer, Angie Stone, who plays the part of a veteran Motown singer in the movie, gives the girls the idea of playing at the Apollo Theatre.

A Significant K-Pop Event

One of the first significant K-Pop events in the U.S. dates back to 2006 when the singer-actor-songwriter Rain played to sold-out venues in Las Vegas and New York, and just six months later, the Wonder Girls became the first Korean artist to debut on Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart.

In 2009, the girls joined the Jonas Brothers on the Jonas Brothers World Tour. In 2001, as part of the 8th Annual Korean Music Festival, K-Pop artists made their first appearance at the Hollywood Bowl. Since then, major K-Pop concerts have been held in New York City, Las Vegas, New Jersey, Anaheim, CA, and have become increasingly frequent throughout the U.S., drawing larger and more diverse audiences.

However, according to some observers, the appeal is not in the music, but rather to performers’ looks, personality and friendliness to their fans.

The Fans

Many fans are so dedicated, they travel to other parts of the world to attend their favorite group’s concerts, purchasing bags of “fan rice” to show their love and support. According to Time Magazine, one group received 12.7 tons of rice from their fans for a single concert! (The rice is donated to charity.) Another way fans show their devotion is by sending lunch to the stars and there are special lunch providers in South Korea for this purpose. This trend began when fans heard that their favorite performers were not eating properly because of their busy schedules.

As with all fads, K-Pop is likely to run its course and become part of musical history. However, it’s my personal belief that the form, which is already a combination of other musical styles, will become absorbed into the broad world of popular music just as rap was picked up by hip-hop. In any event, K-Pop brings a delightfully fresh element to the popular music scene.

Well produced musically, coupled with dancing by attractive young people and state-of-the-art videos, what’s not to like?

In the meantime, just enjoy, and as Psy advises us, “Dress classy, dance cheesy!”

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