Why the Hell is Psy So Popular?

Why the Hell is Psy So Popular?

By now, most Southern Californians, if not the entire world where there is an internet connection, should know, in one way or the other, Psy, a South-Korean rapper, and his infectious K-Pop smash, "Gangnam Style."  It's rare that a South Korean musician breaks through the American-cultural divide and finds his way into the MTV Video Music Awards, Chelsea Lately and the Ellen Degeneres Show, but Psy's music video and dance has caused a frenzy in the States.  

Right now -- and it's still changing every second -- the video for "Gangnam Style" has over 230-million views on YouTube and the search results and statistics, according to Google Insights, are off the charts.  And anyone with a camera is parodying the music video.  But who is this rapper who dresses like a flamboyant Buddy Holly?  And how did he become so popular, seemingly over night?

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Psy's real name is Park Jae-Sang, and he has been a successful MC in South Korea since 2001, when he released his album, Psy from the PSYcho World!  And his tracks "I Love Sex" and "Bird" echo early '90s rap and R&B beats reminiscent of a strange amalgamation of Busta Rhymes, Cypress Hill and Destiny's Child.  Plus, similar to' 90s rappers, Psy had to pay fines for his lyrics, because they were considered inappropriate content.  It's reminiscent of the era when Tipper Gore made record companies put parental-advisory stickers on albums -- usually the best ones -- deemed unsuitable for children.  Inappropriateness and controversy are just more reasons to like Psy.  

And Psy is no stranger to America.  He went to school at Boston University and Berklee School of Music  - the famous music school where John Mayer quit after a few weeks.  

America obviously made a huge impression on Psy, but the lyrics and fashion of "Gangnam Style" were most influenced by his home.  Psy grew up south of the Han River, near Gangnam -- the wealthiest district in Seoul.  Picture a South Beach or Beverly Hills -- cities that influence fashion and culture with an extravagant price tag.  And Psy's video and lyrics are poking fun at the over-the-top nature and blasé approach to Gangnam's wealth and lifestyle, while capitalizing on its appeal.  

It's really hard to understand why Psy's video is so appealing.  For years, K-Pop superstars have knocked on America's door.  And we have to wonder, how did "Gangnam Style" bum rush the American social-media consciousness?  

Did the craze start when Psy appeared on the Ellen Degeneres Show and taught Britney Spears how to dance Gangnam Style?  Did it start when Psy signed with Justin Bieber's manager, Scooter Braun?  Could it have been the recent controversy in El Monte, when the lifeguards were fired for their parody of the infamous music video? And who were the first Americans to start sharing the video back in July?      

Well, finding answers to the above questions, right now, is like asking if the chicken came before the egg. And some critics and writers -- like the recent E! Online article -- are saying that the "Gangnam Style" craze is already over.  But Psy's popularity is something Southern Californians have witnessed for a long time coming -- the rise and popularity of K-Pop.  And while "Gangnam Style" might be tossed away like the Macarena, the floodgates are open, and K-Pop musicians like JWY, Big Bang and 2NE1 just might become the most traded commodity passed through the social-media ports.   

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