AGI Top 12 in 2012: K-Pop Takes Over the World – One Meme at a Time

AGI recaps the highlights of 2012, which we think made an impact and will continue to drive change in the coming years. These highlights and events are picked by AGI editorial team from fields of business, politics and culture across Asia.

‘Op, Op, Op, Op, Oppa Gangnam Style’. If you don’t know what song this opening line is taken from, where have you been? From international leaders, such as the UN Secretary General, to mega celebrities like Madonna, and over 700 million Youtube viewers, everyone is embracing the catchy tune (and unforgettably hilarious video) by South Korean pop star, Psy (aka Park Jae-sang). The video, which Psy meant to share only with his Korean fans, went viral within a few months across the world, making him an overnight global. ‘Gangnam Style’ managed to climb to the top of US and UK Billboard charts, and recently won an MTV Europe Music Award for best video, and American Music Award for New Media.

With the growing influence of the East, some argue it was only inevitable that sooner or later an Asian artist would break into the Western music market, dominated mostly by US and UK-based artists. But these are not the only barriers Psy is breaking – at 35 years-old he is crushing the traditional image of youth and beauty promoted currently in the Korean and Asian pop industry. Talented singer and songwriter Psy began his career as a rapper, but gradually turned his distinctive satirical style to pop music. ‘Gangnam Style’ is not only a compilation of pop culture references, it’s also a parody of the vulgar nouveau riche lifestyles and excessive materialism of Seoul’s affluent Gangnam neighbourhood.

For those with an understanding of the context in which the song was written, and a translation of the song’s lyrics, its deeper social messages reflecting the reality and aspirations of modern South Korean society are very clear. On an international level, Psy has become a cultural ambassador for his home country.

South Korea’s Culture Ministry has acknowledged the contribution of this self-proclaimed ‘bad boy’ of the Korean music industry, and awarded him the Okgwan Order of Cultural Merit for raising interest and awareness of the country. UN General Secretary Ban Kimoon, who invited Psy to a reception in support of UNICEF, also hopes to bank on his compatriot’s new celebrity status and global reach for the benefit of humanitarian causes. Now with a leading US label contract in hand, Psy will continue his assault on the Western music charts. In 2013, he plans to release his first international album of Korean and English songs. In the meantime, we wait with anticipation for his next cultural crossover musical offering.

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