February is going to be a very busy month for Psy, South Korea’s favorite musical son.
During this month he will perform for heads of state in Malaysia, regale revelers at the world’s largest street party in Brazil’s Carnival, and do his horse-riding dance at the presidential inauguration of Park Geun-Hye, the first woman president-elect of his native South Korea.
This flurry of activity follows close on the heels of his video Gangnam Style making internet history by topping one billion YouTube views in December 2012 – a figure that is now over 1.26 billion – and raking in U.S. $8 million in ad revenue from web traffic on YouTube alone.
With his victory of the virtual world nearly complete, Psy’s next step will be testing himself in the live performance circuit worldwide. Ultimately, this is part of an effort to make it big in the global music biz – the Holy Grail for K-Pop artists.
Towards this end, Psy will hit Carnival in Salvador and Rio De Janeiro next weekend as part of his charm offensive of Latin America. He will follow this event with a trip to Kuala Lumpur, where he will prance across a stage at the Chinese New Year celebration to be thrown by Malaysia’s ruling party in an effort to improve Prime Minister Najib Razak’s June re-election chances among young ethnically Chinese voters. Finally, on February 25, Psy will entertain a crowd of 60,000, bringing Gangnam Style back to its Seoul roots in a performance at the presidential inauguration.
Despite climbing to the top of YouTube’s ranks, where it remains, Gangnam Style ranks number 22 on the iTunes charts at present. This is no mean feat, but it’s a long shot to envision that a takeover of the global music biz will come about courtesy of one hit song by one artist currently in the number 22 slot among iTunes downloads.
Until Psy came along, only 0.5 percent of Korean music sales took place in the United States and Europe, according to Kocca, a South Korean non-profit organization that promotes Hallyu content abroad. But there are signs that this is changing. Psy’s success has spurred greater confidence in other Korean artists, who are eager to make the leap to overseas record labels that allow greater creative control.
"The Western markets have always been a kind of romantic dream and an end goal for the South Korean record labels," Clayton Jin, CEO of Billboard Korea, told AFP. “However, Korean labels are very realistic and Asia remains their bread and butter.”
As one more step towards changing this Asia-centric picture, this March Psy and South Korean super group Girls Generation both have releases on the books. The whole K-Pop world is holding its breath to see how they perform.
“Now music fans are actually giving this music a chance whilst before they thought it was just some ethnic music genre and didn’t pay much attention to it,” Kocca’s Kim told AFP. “Before Psy, Western people associated Korea with IT, now with Gangnam Style they associate the country with music.”
By any measure, this is a welcome change for K-Pop. There is a chance that the Gangnam phenomenon could fizzle just as fast as it began. But with two major K-Pop releases planned overseas in March, South Korea’s global music dreams are still very much alive.