Is Gangnam Style a Kpop Music Kpop

Before we look at what the South Korean Park Jae-sang aka Psy is up to at the moment, we should briefly recall the year 2012, when the whole world suddenly knew that Gangnam-gu is a hip district in Seoul. Psy's crazy but loving hymn "Gangnam Style" made YouTube history and for a long time averaged seven to ten million views per day. The video was then probably the decisive factor for the success.

For South Korea it was an ironic, elaborately produced ride through some K-pop video clichés, spiced with numerous cameos from pop and television: The cool boy with sunglasses was “Korea's Got Talent” candidate Hwang Min-woo, Psys Duel opponents of the comedian Yoo Jae-suk, the two old men were Daesung and Seungri from the K-Pop-Bad-Boys Big Bang in disguise and his dance partner the very successful idol HyunA, at that time still part of the band 4Minute. For the rest of the world it was more of an overwhelmed “They're crazy, the Koreans!” Moment and maybe even a first contact with the colorful spectacle of K-Pop. The clip now has more than four billion views - and it's still a lot of fun:

Psy is still one of the most successful artists in K-Pop - and in 2013 was even the official "tourism ambassador" for South Korea for one year. It is particularly interesting that Psy with his appearance, his humor and his self-irony should not have been the preferred candidate of the K-Pop industry. Back then, as now, she mostly relied on a smooth, flawless staging and, despite all the obvious sexualization, on rather conservative texts. Psy, on the other hand, already received a warning and punishment from the Korean authorities with his rap-heavy debut in 2001 because of its explicit content - there were also protests by conservative citizen groups. What was also repeated on the second album: "Sa 2" spoiled the youth, it was said - therefore it was only allowed to be purchased from the age of 19.

When Psy jumped onto the scene around the world in 2012, he was still part of the K-pop establishment. With four albums in the discography, a completed military service, a bad reputation in the meantime because he had canceled a few performances and various debts, his wife persuaded him to introduce him to YG Entertainment in 2010 - one of the so-called "Big Three" among Korean production companies. Fortunately, they recognized the potential of the entertaining "psychos", which he was considered since the time of his debut - which was also the decisive factor for his stage name Psy. His second release under YG, "Psy 6 (Six Rules), Part 1", then went through the roof thanks to "Gangnam Style".

Until his eighth album, Psy stayed with YG - and separated in 2018, as both sides credibly assert, amicably. Today, Psy enjoys a special status as an enterprising entrepreneur and a colorful bird in K-Pop. You can feel again and again that the industry has meanwhile become very sympathetic to him. For example, Psy recently appeared in J. Y. Park's music video for the song "Switch To Me". You have to know: Park Jin-young, artist name J. Y. Park, is the boss and founder of the production company JYP - also one of the "Big Three", so actually direct competition. J. Y. Park himself likes to publish tracks that are rather ironic, like this duet with singer Rain. In the video, the two vie by all means for a young woman who should choose one of the two. At the end, from about four minutes on, Psy strolls into the picture - and moves away with the lady.

This history is important when you look at Psy's label P Nation. While the internationally most successful K-Pop acts BTS and Blackpink embody the classic idol image for years, Psy is currently gathering some very interesting artists who, like him, rebelled against the conservative K-Pop Korea, sometimes voluntarily, sometimes forced.

For example, there is HyunA - the young woman who dances in “Gangnam Style” at his side. She was part of the girl groups Wonder Girls and 4Minute and also had a successful solo career - most recently all at the production company Cube Entertainment. Until HyunA dared to do something unheard of: she fell in love with her colleague E’Dawn, part of the boy group Pentagon - and confessed to it in public. Which is still a no-go in K-Pop. Cube fired both of them - and even if you allegedly rowed back shortly afterwards, both changed labels. You came to P Nation and Psy. He said in an interview with Billboard Magazine 2019: “Everyone should date who they want.” That alone is a small revolution - even if it's hard to imagine in this country. Psy told Billboard about his association with HyunA: “We stayed good friends after 'Gangnam Style', and I have a habit of wanting to be with friends for work as well. So I thought: How can we advance both of them on our label. HyunA is definitely a great performer. A very great performer. We will bet on that. "

Another extraordinary artist and Psy's first signing is rapper, presenter and singer Jessi, whom we briefly introduced last week. Through her youth, which she spent in New Jersey in the USA, Jessi grew up a little less conservative anyway, which brought her aggressive charm to her K-Pop career from the start. Her solo career really took off when Jessi was a candidate for the talent show “Unpretty Rapstar” in 2015 and charted the single “Gucci” in Korea a year later.

Whether in interviews, as a presenter or on stage - Jessi just doesn't give a damn about the lovely staging that women in K-Pop normally have to pull off. She gives the aggressive, broadly grinning Kodderschnauze, which with her very open manner by Korean standards sometimes makes one or the other idol blush. It is also celebrated by many K-pop fans for breaking the toxic body ideals of the business. To put it polemically, Jessi could perhaps be called the "Cardi B of K-Pop" - but on the other hand, she doesn't really need these comparisons. In any case, she seems to feel very comfortable with Psy, as you can see here:

Psy is very fond of Jessi and sees in her an artist who could also score points in the USA. He told Billboard: “In Korea, Jessi is known from various TV shows, but I think she is great on Instagram and can therefore play abroad anytime. And she already has a large, organically grown fan base. When I signed her, I thought to myself, 'She already has everything. I just need to get her a good song and then she'll be my first and my last job with this label. ‘It's that simple. I don't have to do anything, she can do anything. She's so ready. Plus, she raps pretty damn well in English too. I think we'll be able to do some great singles for the U.S. market in the near future. "

Like Psy and HyunA, Jessi has had bad experiences in the industry - she was doused with hateful comments from conservative fans because of her “boob job” and her production company gave her little protection against it. She was openly attacked when she gave her opinion on TV appearances. If you look at the posts by P Nation or Jessi on Instagram, you will always find comments like this: "I wish Psy could adopt every single artist that is not being treated fairly."


Even if the meanwhile four largest K-Pop production companies in South Korea (YG, JYP, SM and Big Hit) need not fear P Nation for a while due to their long existence, Psy has managed to generate new impulses in the industry with his freer approach put. So it is no coincidence that he and his artists are on the cover of the very first edition of "Rolling Stone Korea". The headline in particular is exciting: "K-Pop’s Next-Generation Family". If you look at the very old age of these acts for a K-Pop career, the wording is amazing. But the "Rolling Stone" does not name age or career status, but what this problematic and fascinating industry may need in order to continue to grow internationally: more respect for and more freedom for artists who work at a high level. Make pop. Shortly after the label was founded, Psy wrote that he wanted to “share what I have learned” - and that includes all the good but also the bad experiences that he wants to spare younger acts in his house in the future.