South Korean rapper PSY is enjoying rising global fame as he gallops on an invisible horse along Korean streets and travels through the Internet highway. With only a handful of English lyrics to his song Gangnam Style, PSY is shedding light on the Korean music industry with his song’s success. In the last few years, Korean artists have been setting their sights on becoming famous in America. PSY is South Korea’s poster boy for this campaign.
What is K-pop?
K-pop is short for Korean popular music. Because the term K-pop is so general, Korean songs that could be classified in North American genres such as “rap”, “pop”, and “R&B”, will be referred to as K-pop. K-pop songs usually contain some English with memorable hooks. Visually, every song has a signature dance and concept. K-pop has been around for at least 15 years.
Gangam Style Sets World Records
PSY, whose real name is Park Jae-Sang (박재상), released Gangnam Style (강남스타일) on July 15, 2012. The music video on Youtube sparked a Gangnam Style phenomenon for the months that followed. The intense popularity of the video gained PSY three Guinness World Records. Gangnam Style became the most viewed video on Youtube on November 24, 2012 beating Justin Bieber’s Baby. On April 13, 2013 PSY released Gentleman. The video had the most views in a day at 38,409,306 edging out Justin Bieber’s Beauty and the Beat. This achievement was awarded another World Record.
K-pop artists are known synonymously as “idols.” Jooyoung Lee, former VJ of Music Bank on the Shaw Multicultural Channel says, “Everyone wants to be an idol. I heard in Korea that there are a lot of academies to become an idol; how to do well on auditions, and how to sing well.”
Many entertainment companies want to expand their presence globally. These companies have been trying to achieve this by being multicultural. There are idol groups with non-Korean members, multi-racial members or North American-born Asians, such as Miss A, ChoColat, and f(x). Idols and trainees are taught Japanese, Chinese, and English before debuting or when it is necessary for overseas promotions.
The Korean Music Industry Approach
The Korean music industry is different from its Western counterpart in its approach. There are tons of k-pop groups debuting all the time and there is no shortage of trainees. Fei Ho, a dancer, choreographer, and instructor at Creative Motion Dance Studio, says, “It’s the groups that actually sell well in Asia as compared to America where it’s all solo artists. For example, in one K-pop group you have one member that’s in charge of being cute, one’s in charge of being sexy, one’s in charge of singing, one’s in charge of dancing. Everyone can relate to a certain member.”
Western-born K-pop artists such as Surrey’s Gina “G.NA” Choi and Seattle’s Jay Park are famous in South Korea yet they haven’t made attempts to appeal to the general North American population. Speaking fluent English and being familiar with the culture is not an issue. “You have to be able to produce the style of music that is widely accepted in America,” Fei explains. The fact that the artist is Korean is secondary.
Kid Carson, Vancouver DJ at SONiC 104.9FM, credits the music director “DJ No Luv” who made the choice to play Gangnam Style. “We all agreed that it was cool hearing something so different. Korean is a cool language to listen to,” says Kid. Playing more Korean music is possible if DJ No Luv gives the go ahead. Gentleman can be heard occasionally on SONiC.