Which hit had the strangest title

YouTube hit "Gangnam Style": The rider from South Korea

The world's most successful YouTube clip was made by a clumsy singer from Seoul. What actually happened there?

Dance like ride: Gangnam Style. Image: Reuters

He dances as if he were riding a horse, is chubby and at 34 years old is no longer necessarily the prime pop star age. He certainly doesn't have the style of a star. But for months the whole world has been moving to a song by the South Korean singer Psy.

His clip "Gangnam Style" is the most watched YouTube video of all time. It has overtaken Justin Bieber's "Baby" and now has more than 1 billion clicks. Thousands and thousands of "Gangnam Style" versions are circulating on the Internet, a comedy double for the US President, for example, is dancing "Obama Gangnam Style" and a newly married couple is dancing "Wedding Gangnam Style".

Psy, from whom the original comes, is an inconspicuous Korean with sunglasses and a brightly colored suit. He invented this special dance in which he sits in the saddle like a rider and swings the fictional reins. His real name is Park Jae-sang. Psy does not correspond to the South Korean ideal of beauty. He is not slim and hardly looks European. His clumsiness is his trademark. In China and Japan he has been known since 2002, since his first single "Bird" - under the name "Uncle Bird".

How is it that a piece like “Gangnam Style” becomes a worldwide hit? Who makes sure that suddenly millions of people watch a strange equestrian dance? A video whose message can hardly be understood outside of Korean society.

Starcraft brings the thrust

"Gangnam Style" was released on July 15, 2012. The company YG Entertainment, with which Psy is under contract, uploaded it to YouTube without copyright. This is how all the imitations could come about. With this strategy, YG Entertainment wants to beat the low-cost download offers on the Asian music market. After all, YouTube is the best platform to also reach fans from the USA and Europe.

In the very first week, “Gangnam Style” is like thousands of other YouTube videos: It is not particularly noticeable, especially not outside of Asia. The video starts like ordinary electro pop. Psy's sunglasses are reflected in a private jet, the sun is shining, a beautiful woman is fanning him. Cut. Psy lies under a parasol, dreams and says: "I am Gangnam Style", "Oppan Gangnam Style". He later dances at a horse farm in the Gangnam neighborhood of Seoul, which the clip is about.

The computer game Starcraft, in which characters called Terrans or Zergen fight, brings a decisive boost to the clip career of “Gangnam Style”. A Starcraft tournament will take place in South Korea in July. The organizers choose "Gangnam Style" as the theme music. This is how American and European Starcraft fans get to know the piece. Then the song soars to number one on the Gaon charts, the best-selling song in South Korea and number one on the iTunes video charts. But this is just the beginning.

You can even better understand what has changed in the past decades of music history if you remember a band like the Beatles who played their way from clubs to radio and from radio to television and from television to the charts of this earth. That's how it went for decades. As a new type of television, YouTube makes it possible to skip several steps on this path.

Then T-Pain and Katy Perry tweeted

At the end of July, "Gangnam Style" took the next level: Justin Bieber's manager Scooter Braun and the American rapper and music producer T-Pain tweeted almost simultaneously via Psy's clip and thus reached more than 3 million followers. The pop singer Katy Perry follows: "Help, I am in a gangnam style k hole". She was on a kind of drug flash because of the song. In November, Psy dances with Madonna at their concert in New York City. The fans follow. You click, like, forward.

Without the recommendations of the big brand names, Psys success would be unthinkable. Starcraft, T-Pain and Katy Perry provide the impetus necessary for the masses to become aware of YouTube.

For South Koreans, Psy was not a new name. He is one of the most popular singers there. He studied at Boston University and at Berklee College of Music in the USA. His music works through its intelligent irony, according to the motto: "Be funny, but don't be stupid." In an interview, Psy once said that he is not a particularly handsome guy, but his music is like a serving of bibimbap, a Korean rice dish, the crowds love it. The success in America reinforced that at home. Right in front of Seoul City Hall, Psy gives a concert in front of more than 80,000 fans.

Whereas for a long time western light music only streamed into Korea from one direction, there is now a reversal movement: the Korean wave sloshes in the opposite direction. It was kicked off in the early 1990s through plays and pop songs. K-pop, Korean pop, established itself in the Korean music world in the nineties, analogous to Japanese J-pop. Today, K-pop is growing just as the popularity of contemporary South Korean pop culture is growing in the 21st century. With bands like Big Bang, a boy group, or Girls Generation, K-Pop has a fan base, especially in Asia. For some years now, the phenomenon has been wowing more and more American and European teenagers.

Persiflage of the rich

Psy's music video was shot in Gangnam, a wealthy part of Seoul, the most affluent area in all of South Korea. However, Psy tries to appear as uncool as possible and dances with awkward movements. He repeats endlessly: “I'm Gangnam Style.” He satirizes the lavish lifestyle in Gangnam, actually strange for someone like him. Because he comes from a rich family.

In recent years, the gap between rich and poor has widened, especially in China, Japan and South Korea. Taking this up in a song hits the heart of the Asian present. An internet culture with parodies of serious current issues has been emerging in East Asia since 2009. She calls herself "Kuso".

People like to differ in their wealth. There is “big, rich and attractive” or “small, poor and frustrated”. As a guy who isn't “tall, rich and attractive” but claims to be “Gangnam Style”, Psy hits a sore point in the Asian attention economy.

"Gangnam Style" is K-Pop's first smash hit. For Americans and Europeans, it might be just fun to dance the horse dance. You don't necessarily have to understand the lyrics, and “Oppan Gangnam Style” or “Hey, sexy lady” really brings everyone off their lips. Meanwhile, Psy has gotten even richer with YouTube royalties and advertising contracts. The man with the strange dance is now a multi-millionaire.