Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


One year later, “Gangnam Style” still provokes reactions from the Korean-American community


“Gangnam Style.” Everyone has heard it, everyone has danced to it and everyone has laughed to it. And, nearly a year after its release and the subsequent diminishing of the fad, South Korean sensation Psy’s hit single and music video has left behind a pop culture legacy that will take some big, big shoes to fill. Racking up more than one and a half billion views on YouTube and spawning parodies too numerous to count, “Gangnam Style” has left its indelible mark on this generation, and Psy is attempting to keep his success streak going with the release of the very similar “Gentleman” just last week.

For some, however, a shadow exists to this phenomenon. Especially among the Korean-American community, the enormous sensation and the spotlight that subsequently erupted on South Korean culture is bittersweet.

Considering Psy’s success abroad, it’s important to realize that he was already famous in South Korea, even before “Gangnam Style” – sometimes not for the best reasons.


“Before ‘Gangnam Style’ became big, Psy was a troublemaker in Korea,” said Heena Shin, president of CHOOM, a University of Wisconsin performance group that focuses on Korean pop music. “He tried to avoid the military, got implicated in drugs and his image was very psychotic.”

Psy’s career is marked with iconic moments. His 2002 hit “Champion” became the unofficial anthem for that year’s FIFA World Cup, held in South Korea and Japan, and he has long been known for his extreme concerts, thumping music and a private life just as colorful as his work. By the time “Gangnam Style” became a hit, Psy was already a household name in South Korea.

“His biggest strength is that he’s very unique,” Shin said. “He doesn’t copy from elsewhere – he has his own philosophy.”

On the subject of “Gangnam Style,” Paul Lee, a Korean-American and UW freshman, believes the video was the key to its explosive success.

“Like a lot of viral videos, it’s very funny and entertaining,” Lee said. “I think the song became a hit through the video – it definitely had a large part in its success.”

Shin notes Psy plays a tremendous role in promoting multicultural relations within campus. Speaking from her experiences at UW, Shin saw a change in the way that students treated other cultures.

“Students here don’t really have an interest outside of their own culture,” Shin said. “But after ‘Gangnam Style’ became a hit, we have people that will come up to me and say, ‘Are you Korean? Do you know Psy? He’s awesome.’ In that way, I think Psy made more people become interested in Korean culture.”

However, although Shin is glad that Psy brought the spotlight on her country, she is more reserved about how interest in South Korea – and all foreign cultures – will continue after “Gangnam Style” fades out.

“I think that’s the thing that Koreans are most afraid of: that the sensation will stop after a while, and the image that Korea equals Psy will become stuck,” Shin said.

Daniel Bliss, president of the Korean-American Student Association of UW, echoed these concerns.

“It’s like your first impression of pizza being a microwave pizza roll,” Bliss said. “They don’t feel the same.”

But Bliss does not echo Shin’s sentiments towards “Gangnam Style.”

“I hate ‘Gangnam Style’ because of what it’s done to Asian culture,” Bliss said. “Walking down the street, ‘Gangnam Style’ has literally become the new ‘ching chong.’ Now, people come up to you and say, ‘Op-op-op-oppan Gangnam Style’ … I don’t like what it’s done to the perception of Asians in North America.”

Despite its somewhat racially polarizing nature, “Gangnam Style” also has some South Koreans wary of how it affects the perception of Korean pop music. With its meteoric rise, many are concerned that “Gangnam Style” might give a skewed impression of Korean music in general, of which Psy’s style is only a tiny subset.

K-Pop (Korean pop music) has been a quiet force for the past few years, spreading virtually through YouTube and the Internet. Interest in South Korean culture – also known colloquially as “Hallyu” or the “Korean Wave” – is especially strong in China, Japan and Southeast Asia with South Korean pop artists often booking foreign tours that bring both fans and money.

“When I think of K-Pop, I think of aesthetically pleasing uniformity,” Bliss said. “I think of bright, happy sounds … K-Pop is all about the image, and portraying and maintaining that image.”

Bliss believes “Gangnam Style” cannot simply be considered K-Pop.

“In that respect, [‘Gangnam Style’] is more than K-Pop – it’s got that protest element, that message element that K-Pop doesn’t have, and I don’t see them ever having. Westerners don’t realize that it’s a satirical work – not only comedy, but also making a statement.”

Despite Bliss’ reservations, “Gangnam Style” has, for better or for worse, become a new face of Korean pop culture that spans the globe. And, to many Korean-Americans, this is a somewhat troubling trend.

“At first, I was actually pretty surprised, and kind of proud,” Lee said. “This was a monumental event. Never before has a Korean pop song become so popular that it’s playing everywhere – on the radio, on the streets … But at the same time, I can see how it gets a little over-hyped and distort the general public’s view of what Korean music is, because it’s not entirely ‘Gangnam Style.'”

For new K-Pop fans that were introduced through “Gangnam Style,” Bliss said he would like them to show proper respect and acknowledge that Korean culture goes far beyond the “horse dance.”

“Do it with a genuine interest,” Bliss said. “Try not to approach it with the mindset of, ‘This is funny Asian music,’ because not only is that an improper way to approach a new culture, it’s also a little offensive.”

For Lee, “Gangnam Style” is just the tip of the iceberg to discovering even deeper Korean music.

“I’d like to get Korean hip-hop more exposure,” Lee said. “But that doesn’t mean I don’t want K-Pop to hit the spotlight at all – I want equal exposure to all sorts of genres, so people get the full picture of what Korean music is.”

Leave a Comment
Donate to The Badger Herald

Your donation will support the student journalists of University of Wisconsin-Madison. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to The Badger Herald

Comments (0)

All The Badger Herald Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *