by Joy Panaligan


In the year 2012, “Gangnam style” a popular Korean song by Psy made a huge wave in the international scene. The song is such a viral hit that it  accumulated billion views and surpassed ‘Baby’ by Justin Bieber, a popular teen heart-throb. Hallyu or Korean wave definitely made a mark in the world special thanks to ‘Oppa gangnam style” and soon dominated the elusive western music industry.


I first encountered the song in my last year in college, my thesis mate was humming and singing the song. I thought it was just one of the popular videos that would lead you to experience LSS (Last Song Syndrome). I also find it odd that my thesis mate who is a guy unexpectedly like a South Korean song. Girls usually gravitates to K-POP songs since boy bands was so popular at that time and my guy friend isn’t exactly the type who enjoys listening to K-POP. In fact in one of our thesis meeting, he was so entertained and excitedly encouraged us to watch it. He shared the video to us and we were also entertained because the song is indeed catchy.

In a way it was a foreshadowing of the global success of the song which transcended border regardless of gender, race and class.  The  video is peculiar which is charming in it’s own way it invites the audience to sing and mimic it. In fact, the hype was real that in 2012 you can hear the song almost everywhere. I heard it playing, from various places such as student booths, jeepneys, taxis and local radio stations. The online community is certainly in awe. I remember myself telling  “oh this must be the song of the year or the new dance craze like Asereje or Macarena”. And true enough, the world took noticed and the success of the song even reached the biggest music industry on earth, Hollywood. Gangnam Style become such a phenomenal hit that it accumulated the most views in the history of Youtube. It was the first video who earned billion of views and remains the most viewed video earning 2.8 billion views up to this date. It was so phenomenal that a Korean singer in his 30s, launched his career and unexpected stole the most coveted spot in Youtube from a worldwide superstar, Justin Bieber.


Gangnam Style is innovative in a way because it is not common that a music video from Asia can be the most viewed video in the history of YouTube. It does not follow a traditional formula of success because the artist is not a  well-renowned Hollywood star like Justin Bieber, Beyonce or Taylor Swift. A 30s something Korean rapper dancing is not the first thing you would think of if you are concocting a formula for instant success. Yet PSY emerged in the scene showing the world that an Asian man can dominate the scene even without help from a major international label to make a hit song.


It had an unusual aesthetic that is refreshing to see. The dance step contributed to its success and ensnared a lot of people to create their own style of Gangnam. The content of the video is so rich that it is easy to replicate from flash mobs, parodies and international celebrities dancing gangnam style. It was such a successful global hit.


In one article, Nigel Hollis cited a study which explains why Gangnam Style was a hit.

According to the group in Shanghai, here are the 10 reasons why Gangnam Style has been so successful:

  1. The music is catchy: The rhythm is simple and repetitive.

  2. Synergy between the music and visuals: The visuals are cut to fit the rhythm really well, making the most of the interaction between the two.

  3. Silly but fun: Yes, it is silly, but, as someone in the group said, “it is a pure joy to watch.”

  4. Ambiguity and intrigue: Several of the scenes are ambiguous and make people wonder what is going on. Who is the guy in the sports car? What’s up with the guy in the elevator?

  5. Doesn’t take itself seriously: Psy is making fun of himself while making fun of every pop video cliché you have ever seen.

  6. South Korean cool: Would the video have the same appeal if it came from a U.S. or UK rapper? The origins of the video lend it a certain charm for people elsewhere in the world.

  7. The format lends itself to parody: Whether it is the Thai Navy, Eton School or My Little Pony, the video provides content that is easy to replicate.

  8. The dance: It is simple to learn and extends the engagement from the digital to the physical world.

  9. The back story: The fact that Gangnam is a district in Seoul, originally somewhat seedy but now the haunt of the nouveau riche lends extra depth to the video’s success.

  10. Peer pressure: Now that the video has been seen by so many people, peer pressure encourages people to watch the video in self-defense – “What? You still have not watched it? Lame!”


We can all agree that the music industry is pretty much dominated by western music. In a sense the western influence and contributions were used, replicated and served as a cultural reference. For example, English songs are performed by various local artists around the globe. To a certain extent you can observe that there are subtle and obvious western elements in the worldwide music industry. From clothing, fashion, hairstyles, music genre and the like you can see that there are similarities and parallelism. The flashy outfits, great choreography skills, catchy songs you can see in K-POP songs are the same characteristics you would not miss in a MTV song.

In reference to the article of Dawei Wang, the concept of globalization of media is in play because there are clear parallelism between K-POP and western pop songs. It’s interesting and refreshing to see that the big shots of media industry was swept by an Asian pop song for a change.

When you examine Psy’s Gangnam Style closer, it has the elements of western influence such as the title song and some English words in the chorus part.  However, the eccentric style of East Asian culture is still incorporated and you can still see that the video is still very “Korean” in nature and reflects a glimpse of South Korea’s culture.

This basically echoes the truth that a content created cannot be entirely pure “Korean” in nature. The music borrowed some essential rap themes you can find in some US rap songs like girls, short and skimpy outfits, money and flashy lead singers.



The name “Gangnam”  was  in fact named after a rich and  popular district in Seoul, South Korea.

“Gangnam (officially “Gangnam-gu”) is one of the most affluent areas of South Korea’s capital city Seoul that, according to Adrian Hong, a well-known Korean-American consultant cited in Fisher’s article, is overwhelmingly populated by “trust-fund babies and princelings.” Put in terms of the Occupy movement, the residents of Gangnam are South Korea’s one-percent”.


The video itself portrays in excess that seems like a satirical portrayal of Gangnam but it may also be in reference to Psy’s privileged background as he was born in Gangnam.

It is also worthwhile to notice that South Korea,also shows their rising cultural influence. According to researcher Stephen Epstein, the director of Asian studies at Victoria University of Wellington, in New Zealand. She noted that there is a global shift in the cultural influence of Asia/Pacific regions.

“It’s the first time an Asian video has captured the world and may well become, in cultural terms, the point where the Asia/Pacific century started”.

The hit song does not only recognize it’s rising cultural influence but the economic side as well that can be related to the power shift of geopolitics.


WHY Gangnam style was such a big hit? SOCIAL MEDIA.

Social media like YouTube, Facebook and twitter played a pivotal role why the dissemination of Gangnam Style was successful. Everyone can now create, share and view a content in a matter of seconds.

“New media imperialism seemed to succeed more easily than the previous international propaganda because of its form of ordinary entertainment and the willingness of mass audiences to enjoy popular culture.”- Dawei Wang


Popular artists like T-Pain and other international artists who tweeted and made a comment about Gangnam Style in social media lead to the unexpected promotion of Gangnam Style. It reached a large audience that no ordinary medium can reach.

“But then the unexpected happened. Thanks to social-news site Reddit and tweets from high-profile artists like Robbie Williams and T-Pain, “Gangnam Style” went viral beyond Korea, spreading across Asia, Europe and South America-and now, finally, to the United States.”

Gangnam style amass a large following and views because social media platforms allow people to interact with one another. It disseminates information faster compared to any generation. It was the first successful online hit song that literally break the internet. Due to its popularity, PSY was also signed in the same company like Justin Bieber in Hollywood. The South Korean culture successfully crossed transatlantic borders. The worldwide attention it garnered was so big that even popular studios from Hollywood took notice and sign him. Which can be also interpreted as a capitalist move in order to profit from it.
Gangnam Style’s Legacy


In December 2012, “MTV noted Psy’s rise from litte known outside South Korea to an international superstar, and, for being first in the YouTube-era to secure a place in pop-culture history, hailed the singer as the “Viral Star of 2012”.

Social Media sites play an integral to Gangnam Style’s success and  years after the song’s release people are still watching it around the globe. It is still earning views even after the release. It lasted as long as it did  and PSY successfully placed his name on the map of music industry. Gangnam style will forever be remembered as an online hit song and helped PSY to breakthrough in the   international scene.

The audience also contributed to the success because they were able to be active participants by sharing the video and even creating their own version of Gangnam style. Which also generated thousands and even million of views such as the famous Cebu prisoners and a long list of content.

It was not only an online sensation, it also received attention from notable people in politics. From UN Secretary-General Ban Ki- moon to President Obama, the most powerful man in the world  mentioned it in one of his press conference.


“Psy met United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the UN Headquarters where Ban expressed his desire to work with the singer because of his “unlimited global reach”.

He received numerous awards, international TV guestings, recognition and big performancesaround the globe such as the the 2013 New Year’s Eve in Timesquare. Aside from his numerous recognitions he also received the Guiness World Records for Gangnam style as the most viewed and liked video online, the first video to accumulate billion views.

Gangnam Style did not only break the internet it literally break YouTube’s view counter. It was so popular “that it has surpassed 2,147,483,647 views on YouTube, maxing out the site’s view counter”.

According to BBC News, on December, 1, 2014 a statement was posted

“We never thought a video would be watched in numbers greater than a 32-bit integer (=2,147,483,647 views), but that was before we met Psy,” said a Google representative.

Psy did not sing an English Song or came from a reality TV show, he was a Korean rapper that created a Korean song that made the whole world dance.The success of Gangnam Style captures the impact of new media in this digital age. Anyone can be instant stars and generate worldwide attention in just one click away. The viral hit song does not only represent the success in numbers but it also involves the rising cultural influence of South Korea and the potential of Asia’s rise to economic power as well.

Online Sources:

Psy “Gangnam Style”: Viral Internet Sensation Or Subversive Korean Commentary?



  1. I remember this song being played all over Manila. Every street, every radio, or restaurant and even kids in the streets singing and dancing to its beat. Facebook was even filled with Gangnam challenges and acoustic covers. Totally agree with why Gangnam Style was a hit. From a normal rapper turned global superstar, Psy was known all over the globe for his viral dance moves and catchy music. South korea now mostly dominates not only in the music industry but also the television scene.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi, Joy!

    There really is no denying that Gangnam Style was such a big hit. Your points on why the song became viral are on point. I was just reminded of the song Nobody by the Wonder Girls. The way I see it, these two songs had the same fate. They both were viral. Both songs had a repetitive melody, a catchy English chorus, and memorable dance steps. Both were well-received worldwide and became overplayed on the radio. I’m not sure thought but upon my observation, there always is a song like this every year (not necessarily Korean) – a good, catchy song which became a worldwide hit and got overplayed on the radio. Examples are 2015’s Twerk It Like Miley and 2016’s Closer. Aside from having a catchy tune, lyrics, and dance, another thing in common with the artists is that they relatively are unknown beforehand. Once these songs were released, they became instant worldwide stars.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Homayghad. I haven’t heard this song in years! Hahahaha. My college friends and I even recorded ourselves dancing to this song in one of our classes. :))) It’s crazy how Gangnam Style’s music video now has 2,767,741,055 views on Youtube (the good kind of crazy), and I totally agree as to why the song is so successful.
    And even though Psy’s Gentleman wasn’t as big of a hit as Gangnam Style (Psy’s Gentleman music video currently has 1,039,373,763 views on youtube), I still found the video and tune funny, enjoyable, and unique (and of course, meron din kaming video nito HAHAHAHA). 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Good evening Joy, Gangnam style is one of K-Pop that break the border of the worl using global media. The first thing I remembered from this song is not the word, it is the melody that in the beginning I felt annoyed but because of the globalization of Gangnam style affecting my friends it becomes enjoyable thing. The virality of this song is truly amazed me because in a certain event in my hometown there is a performance in an event that dancing the gangnam style and they persuade the audiences to dance too.

    Liked by 1 person

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