The Impact of Psy’s ‘Gangnam Style’ on K-Pop Culture and its Significance in a Global Perspective

As it is known, the advancement of economic and social life of Koreans begot the development of their culture. Nowadays, K-pop culture is noticed to be recognizable and even popular in many developed countries. Furthermore, it is expected to make a significant impact on the social life and cultural preferences of the contemporary people.

To comprehend the contribution of K-pop culture to the global world of show business one should survey the following aspects. Firstly, it is appropriate to identify the main characteristics of this impact. Secondly, it is critically important to study the means through which today’s Korean culture affects cultural development of other nations. Specifically, the main of them include psychological phenomenon of reflectivity and its meaning for interpersonal communication and rapid development of social media. Being combined together, these two peculiarities significantly facilitate the penetration of K-pop culture. In addition, the personality of Psy (the singer of ‘Gangnam Style’) and the features that point to the uniqueness of ‘Gangnam Style’ can be considered as the means of achieving success. Finally, striving to detect the positive impact of Korean culture, it is natural to observe the downside of the modern K-pop. This approach will help to identify the ways in which negative tendencies contribute, or vise versa, inhibit the further strengthening of this culture on the global market. The purpose of this paper is to research the above-mentioned aspects aiming to convey a complete and unbiased picture of how and to what extend the cultures of different states are being influenced by today’s K-pop culture.

The Impact of ‘Gangnam Style’ in Economic, Political and Social Perspective

First and foremost, it is important to understand that the phenomenon of global expansion of K-pop culture is extremely beneficial for the domestic economy of the state. Considering that earlier Korea was known mostly for its rapid technological development, this tendency reveals the premise that while experiencing financial prosperity, Korean people strive to satisfy their cultural needs as well. The interdependence between economic, social, and cultural advancement is natural; what is surprising is that K-pop culture manages to cross the domestic borders. It contributes to the formation of a positive and attractive image of this country in a global perspective. Today, K-pop culture is associated primarily with Psy’s megahit ‘Gangnam Style’ that was released in 2012 and managed to win the hearts of millions ever since. Thanks to this breakthrough, domestic economy of Korea is positively impacted by the increased interest of the entire world. Consider the case, CNBC International news informs that “the country last year raked in $5 billion from its pop-culture exports, and the government aims to double this figure by 2017” (Holliday and Wong n. pag.). This statistics is a vivid example of huge profitability of the Korean entertainment industry. As it is seen, the government relies on the further development of this sector. What is more, the growth of K-pop’s popularity increases the prosperity of other related industries. For instance, the CNBC’s authors, Katie Holliday and Li Anne Wong, in their article “Korea Builds on Next Wave of Hallyu” accentuate a beneficial effect of the Korean pop culture on the tourism industry. Consider the case, “inbound tourist arrivals jumped 8.3 percent on year to a record 12.2 million visitors in 2013, statistics from the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) show” (Holliday and Wong n. pag.). This peculiarity has two important outcomes. Firstly, considering that the further global penetration of K-pop is beneficial for domestic economy of this state, it is appropriate to assume that the government will support this trend in the future. Secondly, the increase of tourism may enhance the growth of business connections especially in frames of the middle and small businesses either in the entertainment field or in other industries. Undoubtedly, K-pop would thereby affect the cultures and even economies of other states.

Apart from that, modern Korean culture is reported to affect political modes of the countries with so-called “semi-liberal democracy” (Khoo 149). Specifically, it is noticed that the communities with semi-liberal democracy strive to parody ‘Gangnam Style’, thus displaying crucial social movements from totalitarianism towards liberalization. This claim is made by the researcher Gaik Cheng Khoo in his article “We Keep it Local—Malaysianising Gangnam Style: A Question of Place and Identity.” Khoo states that numerous Malaysian parodies are made with an attempt to satirize social inequality as well as point to other related issues of this community. In this way, Korean pop culture lays the foundation for further changes in the Malaysian society. Besides, Khoo admits that Psy’s megahit is a powerful means of union of the nearby Asian countries. In particular, the viewers from those countries (Malaysia, China and others) easily detect similarities in the message that the singer sends. Without doubt, this particularity facilitates the process of penetration and enhances the chances that with time Korean pop culture may become an equal part of those individuals’ social and cultural lives.

The K-pop’s Tools and Mechanisms of Influence

Given that modern K-pop is known to have an important impact on the economic, political and social life of foreign citizens, it is essential to explore the means and mechanisms due to which such considerable influence becomes possible. For example, to a great extend the infectiousness of Psy’s ‘Gangnam Style’ is determined by human’s peculiarity of perception that is known as reflectivity. For example, Youna Kim in her article “Korean Wave Pop Culture in the Global Internet Age: Why Popular? Why Now?” claims that “the potentiality of TV talk” can be considered “for an understanding of women’s everyday life” (78). The meaning of reflectivity is hard to be overestimated. It is extremely important for a person to have an accurate reflection of perceived emotions. The opposite approach is known as the oppression of one’s expressiveness, which can be caused by socially hostile environment. In this case, the lack of reflexivity creates favorable conditions for various manipulations conducted with the help of mass media. Particularly, people tend to see and recognize what was once oppressed; afterwards, they begin to associate these details with themselves. Using this characteristic of human’s perception the producer of ‘Gangnam Style’ makes this video rather contagious, since it contains materials that are easily recognizable by a great number of people.

Taking into account what have been mentioned above, it is appropriate to presume that in the contemporary world the rapid development of global social media increases penetration of K-pop culture into distant lands. Notably, even the language barrier cannot prevent individuals from all over the world from appreciating modern K-pop. The New York Times’ article with the title “Bringing K-Pop to the West” reveals an interview with the fans of Korean culture who are the citizens of Indonesia, Peru, and the USA. All these people agree that “K-pop is a good icebreaker for foreigners” (Russell and Sang-Hun n. pag.). Keeping in mind this revelation, one should comprehend that to become ‘an icebreaker’ this culture must be always in sight and easily accessible whenever and wherever needed. In other words, the development of social media makes it possible for people from the most distant areas to be involved in K-pop. Introducing the readers with this opinion and ways in which it is formed, the authors make two assumptions. The first is that K-pop culture differs from other cultures because it is softer, more innocent and thus irresistible. The second premise is that the insights that help to form such impression are being transmitted and delivered with the help of the Internet. Given the above-mentioned, it is possible to state that the role of modern K-pop is to introduce different views and approaches towards one’s lifestyle, which is aimed to enhance tolerance. Besides, “it gives a lot of affinity for Koreans and the Korean culture” (Russell and Sang-Hun n. pag.). In this natural way, K-pop engages the interest of foreigners towards Korea, thus promoting its way of life and strengthening the basement for further international communication and cooperation.

Undoubtedly, implementation of reflexivity along with increased influence of social media is not enough for tremendous success of ‘Gangnam Style’. Mostly, the world-wide popularity is achieved thanks to the highly imposing personality of the singer. What is more, it would be fair to state that it is Psy who manages to attract new audience outside his country and promote K-pop culture throughout the world. It is identified that ‘Gangnam Style’ is “the first video in history to surpass two billion views on YouTube, a little more than 17 months after becoming the first to surpass the initial billion mark” (Benjamin n. pag.). The facts revealed below will help to understand what personal and professional features of this showman help him to gain a world-wide popularity. In addition, Psy’s attitudes and approaches will be identified with the aim to understand the causes of his success.

One of the most important peculiarities is the age of this singer. Being in his middle 30s, Psy manages to conquer the hearts of older individuals. The fact is that K-pop culture is a rather competitive industry; therefore, it is known for its strict features that every current or potential star is supposed to have. Specifically, pop idols are expected to be in their teens or early 20s. Nevertheless, Psy manages to break this pattern gaining more fans from different countries than his rivals mostly due to his age (transition from youth to maturity). At the same time, maturity is exactly the point that is being satirized. In the article “Why Psy’s ‘Gangnam Style’ Is a Hit with Listeners Who’ve Never Heard of K-pop” Hua Hsu explains that among the reasons of Psy’s success there is his hilarious manner to hyperbolize details (n. pag.). In particular, the luxury lifestyle that is shown in the video points to the lack of wisdom and maturity of certain rich people. This message has several goals. For instance, the purpose of the singer is to create a funny project that would make people smile distracting them from daily burdens. Simultaneously, there is a serious aspect that in spite of being presented in a hilarious form reveals implicit assumption of reproach. Consider the case, Psy displays ‘Gangnam Style’ as an immature life attitude that is characterized with a bad taste, unscrupulousness, and a lack of spirituality.

Psy implements several techniques to communicate his ideas to the audience. As it was revealed above, the video becomes contagious due to vivid exaggeration of the matters that are associated with wealth. Moreover, one can also notice explicit inconsistency of scenes and motives throughout the video. For example, the producer of this clip collapses the scenes of playing domino, dancing funny moves, riding luxury sports cars, getting tan on the beach, and other activities. At the first sight, he combines the scenes that bear little resemblance, but this is an important peculiarity that makes the video extremely contagious. Consider the case, unexpected transition from one place to another, whereas every location comprises bright remarkable objects, helps to evoke emotional perception of the viewers. In other words, achieving the purpose to amuse and entertain the audience, Psy also strives to engage their logical thinking (people are supposed to connect those various images into one comprehensive picture). As a result, “with its absurd horse-riding dance routine and infectious groove, Gangnam Style launches into the nouveau riche values of the rapper’s home district Gangnam, the Beverley hills of Seoul” (Hudson n. pag.). Assessing the singer’s performance in the professional staging of ‘Gangnam Style’ one should understand that in spite of his average appearance and considerable age, Psy is a talented showman with a decent education and relevant background. Given considerable experience of Psy, it is appropriate to deduce that the simplicity which he performs, is acting like the truth. This very thought is revealed by Mark Hudson in his article “Ten Things You Need to Know about PSY’s Gangnam Style and Korean Hip-Hop.” Therefore, the acting skills and charisma of this singer are essential factors of ‘Gangnam Style’s’ popularity.

As it is known, today’s entertainment industry is highly competitive; however, proper identification of contemporary demands is a key to success. As Psy confesses, the ability to make people smile is one of the decisive factors of the modern K-pop culture. For instance, in the article “Gangnam Style’s U.S. Popularity Has Koreans Puzzled, Gratified” the writer Jeff Yang informs that to become popular the modern showmen are not required to be sexy idols. Instead, it is highly preferable for their projects to be “either very humorous, or can sound serious, but with silly lyrics” (Yang n. pag.). Given the fact, it is possible to state that Psy managed to correctly identify people’s needs and expectations. This approach becomes one of the main factors contributing to success. Nevertheless, it would be wrong to claim that ‘Gangnam Style’ does not contain scenes that correspond with excessive sensuality. The way in which K-pop culture refers to physical attraction is visually different from some Western motives. For instance, the notion of innocent remains present in the clips like ‘Gangnam Style’. None of the singers, dancers or entertainers display too exposed bodies; besides, there are no vulgar scenes. This peculiarity is another factor that impacts the minds of Psy’s fans around the world. It attracts and familiarizes the individuals from various states with the today’s Korean pop culture.

What is more, Leon Kaye in the article “Why PSY and Gangnam Style Demolish Cultural and Socioeconomic Barriers” reveals Psy’s confession that ‘Gangnam Style’ was created to distract people from financial hardships (n. pag.). Taking into account that there are more people who are unsatisfied with their financial situation than those who consider that they have succeeded in life, Psy’s targeted audience is immense. To excel with this goal, the producer uses exaggeration, collapses inconsistent scenes, uses the singer’s charisma, and plays on human’s attitudes. The above-mentioned means help to amuse the audience creating the impression of carelessness and lack of problems, which serves the initial purpose of distracting people from their financial burdens. It goes without saying that in this way ‘Gangnam Style’ makes a positive influence on the daily life on common people either in domestic or international areas.

Undoubtedly, speaking about the current influence of K-pop on the rest of the world, it is necessary to study its emergence. The authors, Jessica Oak and Park Young Woong, in their article “The Root of K-Pop: The Influences of Today’s Biggest Acts” detect the similarities and differences between ‘Gangnam Style’ and other musical projects of the former years. According to their survey, the main resemblance between prior and current K-pop is the combination of comic gestures and ballad manner of singing (Oak and Woong n. pag.). Similarly, the major difference is comparatively less soft manner of performance. Oak and Woong connect this distinguishing feature with the cultural exchange that nowadays is especially rapid and excessive thanks to the process of globalization. In other words, not only Korean culture affects the Western world, but it is relevant to point to the ongoing interpenetration and mixing of different cultures. It is noticed that “today, idols have gone international, performing concerts from Rio De Janiero to Paris and Los Angeles to Bangkok” (Oak and Woong n. pag.). In this way, impacting and being impacted, K-pop has good chances to be blended with the cultures of other nations creating one culture of the future that would be familiar and understandable for the entire humanity.

Current and Potential Factors that Inhibit the Development of K-pop

Meanwhile, it is natural to presume that there is a difference between the former K-pop and the current one. ‘Gangnam Style’ is noticed to vary from typical modern hallyu music in numerous ways. This idea is rather important because it implies the ambiguous future prospects. Undoubtedly, the representatives of Korean hallyu style have been attempting to conquer international market (in particular, American consumers) for many years. At last, the breakthrough of ‘Gangnam Style’ along with other Korean hits contributed to successful cooperation with the other countries in the future. Nevertheless, as certain musical critics claim, the popularity of other Korean bands in a global meaning is characterized with limited success (Park 87). At the same time, Psy’s ‘Gangnam Style’ is accepted and recognized all over the world, but it is considerably different from typical hallyu culture. Therefore, it is impossible to state that the breakthrough of ‘Gangnam Style’ would lead to further penetration of K-pop. To advocate this claim Jung-Sun Park points to the simplicity of choreographic moves in this music video. In addition, the author states that Psy is “chubby, average-looking, middle-aged and married with children” (86), and therefore, cannot be compared or associated with his Korean colleagues. Simply put, the uniqueness of this project may be equally beneficial for similar Korean projects or unfavorable since it does not possess the distinguishing qualities of the modern hallyu style.

Even though contemporary world of the Korean show business displays richness and glitter, there is a terrifying downside of this coin: the stars are often treated as slaves, and their rights are neglected. This provoking conclusion is made by Mimsie Ladner in the article “K-Pop and the Future of Korea.” In particular, as was mentioned above, the portrait of typical idol presumes that this person is in his/her teens or early twenties. Naturally, the future pop stars start their career path pretty earlier, at the age when they can be easily manipulated. Ladner reveals that these young people are supposed to sign long-term contracts that obligate them to remain with the manager and even obey his rules for about 10-15 years. Simply put, under the glitter of luxury and fashion, the notions that are often actively promoted by the entertainment industry, there are work relations similar to slavery. For example, once the contract is signed and the entertainers are settled in company dormitories, they are deprived of the right to privacy. The author states that “their lives are controlled by their managers; even after the performers become household names, they receive a minimal portion of the profits of their success” (Ladner n. pag.). What makes the things even worse is that young females are “being coerced to make sex tapes with producers to ensure their chances of being signed on to a label” (Ladner n. pag.). Meanwhile, these acts of maltreatment are hidden from the viewers and fans of K-pop culture; there is a publicly visible sign of mistreatment, the objectification of females. As it is known, in Korean society sex topics are forbidden and reproached by the government. Thus, the messages of this kind are being concealed and avoided by local mass media. Nonetheless, in terms of great competition, young female singers are often obligated to deliver the notion of sexuality to their audience. Ladner claims it to be an obvious sign of social inequality. Consider the case, young women are encouraged to expose their bodies and perform provoking moves in order to attract the attention of male audience. It goes without saying that the above-mentioned samples of human’s exploitation are both illegal and unethical. Thus, the negative aspects of K-pop should be eliminated in order to reduce potential expansion of negative word of mouth that can spoil the reputation. Otherwise, this culture is at risk of being rejected either by domestic or foreign citizens.


Summing up the above-mentioned, it is appropriate to state that modern K-pop undergoes significant changes that are dictated by the impact of western cultures. In addition, it transforms in order to meet the needs of today’s youth all around the world. Simultaneously, acquiring qualitatively new features, the Korean culture strengthens its impact on the foreign nations. This tendency has a positive influence on the domestic economy of this state. In particular, it promotes Korean way of life and increases the interests of tourists and investors. Moreover, expressing the signs of liberalization, contemporary K-pop advocates democracy and promotes it in other states with semi-liberal democracy. Considering the significance of its impact, it is necessary to apprehend that K-pop has certain effective tools and methods of influence. Firstly, the expansion of this culture is based on the principle of reflectivity that is capable of making the message more contagious. Secondly, there are all kinds of mass media among the implemented tools, but the rapid growth of social media is the main factor that facilitates penetration of modern K-pop into other nations. Thirdly, the charismatic personality of Psy, his professionalism and ability to correctly identify public demands contribute to the success and popularity of ‘Gangnam Style’. Nevertheless, this tendency has certain downsides. Firstly, it is presumed that mega popularity of Psy’s ‘Gangnam Style’ is hardly repeatable; and considering the differences between this music project and other hallyu songs, the global success of K-pop will be less prominent. What makes the things even worse is that there are concealed issues regarding the violation of human rights by the managers of the entertainment industry. Finally, it is claimed that K-pop displays the objectification of female singers. Undoubtedly, these negative tendencies should be brought under control in order to encourage and facilitate further development and penetration of K-pop culture.

Works Cited

Benjamin, Jeff. “PSY’s ‘Gangnam Style’ Hits 2 Billion YouTube Views.” Billboard, 30 May 2014. Web. 13 Nov. 2014.
Holliday, Katie, and Li Anne Wong. “Korea Builds on Next Wave of Hallyu.” Art and Culture, 27 Aug. 2014. Web. 14 Nov. 2014.
Hsu, Hua. “Why Psy’s ‘Gangnam Style’ Is a Hit with Listeners Who’ve Never Heard of K- pop.” Vulture, 24 Sept. 2012. Web. 12 Nov. 2014.