It all started on July 15, 2012 with this:
Since then, Korean entertainer PSY’s music video “Gangnam Style” has shot up to being YouTube’s most watched Korean pop (K-pop) song EVER. As I write this, #Gangnamstyle is garnering 10+ tweets a minute months after its debut. There are clearly some lessons to be learned here. As cheesy as the whole thing looks on face value, there are some very specific things about this global pop phenomenon that we can learn as savvy, global do-gooders. Here they are:
1) There is power in being chubby - OK, so this might be a weird point to lead with but part of the hidden power of this music video is PSY’s ability to go where K-pop normally does not. He does not take himself too seriously. Whereas the usual K-pop fare is singers looking sexy and singing about lust and romance, PSY uses his own portly frame and less-than-perfect looks to disarm us. And by allowing the whole world to chuckle on his behalf, he injects steroids into his reach. Think about it – a svelte, GQ-looking guy would not have been able to pull this off. The song is mocking in its tone, and the mockery start with light self-mockery. It works. Which brings me to my next point…
2) The whole thing is a parody – The whole point of the song is that PSY is mocking the Gangnam lifestyle. Gangnam is the ritziest part of Seoul. My wife Jammie worked in Gangnam for 6 months a few years ago while we were dating. I visited her there. Gangnam is the Beverly Hills of Seoul. It was oozing with wealth and excess. And PSY is being provocative about mocking its excesses. Parody is powerful. Especially when it is genuinely entertaining. How have you employed the power of parody for the cause of savvy, global do-gooding?
3) Soft power is real power - The reason political and industry leaders in Korea go ga ga over someone like PSY is that he bolsters the Korean brand without seeming domineering or arrogant. The song is fun. It is self-deprecating and it generates a lot of positive buzz about Korea and its growing ability to influence the world entertainment stage. Check this clip out. PSY, interrupts Ellen de Generes to insist on introducing himself as PSY from Korea. His national identity is extremely important to him…
Learning to use this kind of soft power is critical for savvy, global do-gooders. Raw domination is, increasingly, an antiquated currency. How can you bolster your soft power reserves? Charm is a subtle yet effective tool. Use it.
4) Cultural fusion is king – East meets West in this song. Apart from the obvious – PSY blending some English into a mostly Korean-language song – there is a fusion of dance styles. You’ve got some Western dance moves blending with PSY’s own unique “horse riding”. Also, you have symbols of both Western and Eastern excess littered all over the video’s landscape. Fusion is powerful because it is different, it is buzz-worthy, it allows borrowing from the best of multiple cultures.
Global travelers are often more flexible and creative than their landlocked counterparts because they are capable of blending cultures and ideas from many different places as they problem solve. Don’t neglect the power of cultural fusion in your savvy, global do-gooding. Draw on the experience and perspective of your international friends and make sure that you personally are on a constant quest to better understand the international landscape.
5) Vibe trumps language barriers every time - The beauty of something that communicates as strongly as Gangnam Style is that we don’t even have to speak Korean to dig the strong, overall vibe. The story line that has PSY trying to find the perfect girlfriend who knows when to be classy and when to be crazy is almost beside the point. The song is about trying too hard and failing. The sheer vibe transcends all this. The over-the-top style of the performance strikes a very human chord that transcends cultural or language barriers. How can you learn to communicate on a level that allows you to vault over intercultural challenges?
What else have you gleaned from thinking about Gangnam style in terms of what we can learn from it to advance the cause of savvy, global do-gooding? Tell me in the comment section.