PSY: Good or Bad for Kpop?

PSY, "Hangover"

PSY came back this Sunday with a hefty “Hangover,” appearing first on Jimmy Kimmel Live with Snoop Dogg before releasing his new video on YouTube. You can check out our review here. Already, the views are building, in the millions, and so is the hyperbole. And the thing is, we have mixed feelings on PSY and what he means for Kpop. With every good thing that his popularity brings, there’s something problematic. But do the good and the bad cancel each other out? Let’s take a look.

Good: PSY is a Genius

Love him or hate him, you can’t deny that PSY is a genius. “Right Now” may be one of the best Kpop songs (and videos) ever and if you get past the lunacy of “Gangnam Style,” it’s actually a biting critique of Korean culture. There’s a reason that PSY has gotten the attention that he has, many reasons, but a big one is that he’s been able to tap into something that transcends language and continents. Even if the satire is lost on another culture, PSY has managed to put together a body of work that is spectacularly entertaining. Don’t listen to the anti-fans and the haters. “Gangnam Style” is not, and cannot be, a one hit wonder. PSY’s been doing this for years. And the best part is, it’s not an agency that puts together his work, this is all PSY. What better artist could there be to serve as Ambassador of Kpop? His immense popularity cannot be denied.

Bad: PSY is Polarizing

The American populace is fickle. They’ll love a star to maximum saturation, then hate them and wish them bodily harm. PSY is still popular, but there are many more people that “just don’t get him” or “think he’s f*cking terrible.” Asian Americans either love him or cringe at yet another Asian buffoon. Even American Kpop fans are torn on PSY. Many don’t like that PSY personifies Kpop to the casual listener, when he’s unlike most Kpop artists (for better or for worse). And still, some American Kpop fans love him for bringing Kpop to the masses.

PSY is polarizing. Maybe not at Justin Bieber levels, but getting there. That can’t help the spread of Kpop to western listeners. If anything, anyone associated with PSY will get the same blowback that he’s received. Which brings us to our next point…

PSY, "Gentleman"

Good: PSY is introducing Kpop stars to the world

With “Gentleman,” PSY introduced Ga-in and Brown Eyed Girls to millions that would never have heard of them. He cemented HyunA’s place as an icon with her appearance in “Gangnam Style.” All the cameos of Korean stars has surely helped them reach new fans across the world. He has done something no one else could do: he has made Kpop, and their stars, relevant in western culture. Even attempting to do that shows tremendous character on PSY’s part.

Bad: But will casual fans remember them?

Brown Eyed Girls’ “Abracadabra” received a bump when Ga-in and the “Gentleman Dance” appeared in “Gentleman.” HyunA’s unimpressive “Ice Cream” has over fifty-seven million views and a big part of that is because she capitalized quickly on her visibility in “Gangnam Style.” Ga-in’s solo songs haven’t received the same mass audience. Most of that audience just isn’t returning.

That is no slight on these stars. After a brief PSY spike, their careers have returned to their impressive normalcy in Kpop fandom. And that’s because PSY is very very different from these and other Kpop stars. The non-Kpop fans are after that PSY mayhem, and they assume that PSY’s music is what all Koreans do. When they find their assumptions false, they don’t always embrace the amazing variety of Kpop artists. They shrug and move on. Casual fans don’t love PSY because he’s Kpop - they love PSY because he’s fun. And weird. But because PSY doesn’t represent what to truly expect from Kpop, it’s hard for casual fans to transition to Kpop fans.

PSY, "Hangover"

Good: PSY is creating a collaborative bridge between Korea and the West

Whether or not you have any desire to see Kpop come to America, it’s hard to argue that music does not benefit from cultural hybridity. Jazz, Rock and Roll, EDM. These genres were created at the intersection of cultures, producing an outpouring of innovative sounds. Korea and America might be the next intersection, and PSY is perfectly placed to bridge talent from the East and West. PSY gathered Snoop Dogg, G-Dragon, and CL, three of the most successful and long-lasting artists in America and Korea, into a single music video. And though they did not all feature in the song, there’s an implicit handshake taking place, an acknowledgement of the strengths of each genre. PSY’s career may have begun with satire, but he suddenly finds himself perfectly placed to usher in a new wave of transnational music. Each collaboration with an American artist creates a potential path for other Kpop groups to follow.

And there’s nothing bad about that.


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