Everyone was amazed when YouTube saw one of its hosted videos hit 1 billion views. In fact, even YouTube wasn’t really that prepared for it, according to reports stating its internal counter needed quickly fixing to cater for the larger than expected numbers – reports that were obviously later denied by the company to save face. Whatever the case, it was quite the unexpected occasion.
Who was it that hit that landmark, though? Surely a well known name from the music industry, right? Britney, Gaga, a posthumous spurt from Michael Jackson, perhaps? No, it was a portly chap from South Korea that caused a horse riding dance craze around the world. His name is Jae-Sang Park, a 39-year-old singer, rapper, songwriter, and record producer from South Korea who had at the time already released five very successful albums in his homeland, got signed to a larger record label, and suddenly became an overnight global sensation under his stage name of PSY.
Gangnam Style – actually Park’s 18th release – was more novelty than his previous musical escapades, which include 2002’s Axel F-sampling rap fest of Champion
the rock-laden We Are the One
that was used to support the national football team during 2006’s World Cup, and the masterpiece of Right Now
which was actually slapped with an Over-19s-only label due to one apparently obscene line in its lyrics. However, behind the comical video and light-hearted music of Gangnam Style, lies Park’s trademark cutting lyricism, taking a look at the affluent lifestyle of those residing in the Gangnam area of Seoul, capital of South Korea. People outside of Korea may have been enamoured by the synth-beats and eye-catching video, but Koreans were talking about his take on the social setting.
August 2012 saw Gangnam Style take off around the world as it went viral, and it was not long before PSY claimed the crown of most watched YouTube video ever. However, the YG Entertainment artist has now lost his crown. Yes, Gangnam Style is no longer the most watched video there. Launched five years ago, it has reached a staggering 2.9 billion people on YouTube, with its follow-up, Gentleman, hitting 1.1 billion views. Nothing since has come close from YG’s popular artist. 2015’s Charlie Puth and Wiz Khalifa song, See You Again, initially crept ahead this year, and when first collecting data for this article a few weeks back, 2017’s Despacito by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee was trending to overtake both, then at 2.643 billion after just a short time from release. A few weeks later, though, wrapping this piece up, Despacito has actually now taken the top spot, and in some real style, becoming the first video to ever reach over 3 billion views (at the time of publication).
What is next for K-Pop and PSY? Well, he followed his previous album’s trend of having two lead singles come out from his 8th studio album, 2×4=8. The first, I Luv It, has limped to 55 million hits so far, while its partner, New Face, has crawled to 67 million since launch at the beginning of May, both surpassing the under promoted Napal Baji’s 48 million hits, but nowhere near the 7th album’s lead track, Daddy’s 291 million views, or even the separate single collaboration done with Snoop Dogg, Hangover, which stands at 300 million views.
Is the PSY phenomenon over in the West? After all, this is quite the fall from grace. No matter what gimmick he tries next, it clearly won’t propel him to the dizzy heights of before. In fact, looking at how sales have panned out in his homeland, it wouldn’t be surprising if he eventually changes label again sooner rather than later because sales have nose-dived. The success of Gangnam Style and subsequent musical direction change seems to have put off his older, loyal fan-base.
As for K-Pop in general, most of the big hitters are losing their appeal, groups disbanding, or potential stars not fulfilling their potential worldwide. SM Entertainment dropped the ball with Girls’ Generation, failing to crack the US market by releasing The Boys several years back and trying to market it as being by Teddy Riley, former producer for Michael Jackson – little did the company know, songs are not sold on the reputation of a producer in the West, plus the track sounded like something from the shop floor, dusted down to make a quick buck – and then JYP Entertainment has watched as Wonder Girls failed to capitalise on the hype around the classic pre-Gangnam Style hit, Nobody, and has now watched as the girl group’s members have gone their separate ways.
As for YG, well, the other big player out of the three major hitters in Korea seems to be pinning its hopes on G-Dragon’s solo venture after his group, Big Bang, never quite hit the expected highs. That group is still going but the question is “for how long.” YG had likely been hoping 2NE1 would finally make it big, with the stylish swag group looking like it may break into the mainstream after lead singer CL’s schmoozing with the likes of will.i.am, Diplo and Skrillex in the US brought them much attention, and then they even got a song picked up by Microsoft to advertise its Surface product. What happened? One member – Minzy – left and signed with a new company, and the following year the rest of the ladies split, with YG scrabbling to form a new girl group called BLACKPINK, and it is too early to tell how they will do, although the latest single, As If It’s Your Last, has already surpassed PSY’s latest songs in a shorter time span. The only success story at the moment seems to be BTS, from Big Hit Entertainment, an agency know mainly for…well, former band 2AM, and now BTS. It is yet to be seen how that company will fare given the added pressures of Western success, but seeing them enter even the UK iTunes charts is very positive indeed.
Tough times ahead for K-Pop, then? Well, not in East Asian territories, by any means, as that entire lifestyle is ingrained into the minds of the populace. Over in Western regions, though, what looked like an oncoming Hallyu wave of success seems to have somewhat petered out, leaving more room for the indie, rock, punk bands of Korea to make their mark over here through sheer will, hard work, and determination to give people what they want – a fantastic music experience, rather than the mismanaged mess surrounding K-Pop’s attempt at breaking the East-West divide.
Adam Riley hosts K-Pop Korner, which airs on Fab Radio International every Saturday from 8pm-9pm (repeated on Sundays from 10am), with regular updates posted at