Ritchie Valens … Chubby Checker … Elvis … Michael Jackson … Psy?
Psy, electropop sensation and international phenomenon, reigns YouTube with over 221+ million (yes … million) views and 2+ million “likes” with his hit single “Gangnam Style.” Does he compare to other notable sensations?
I have a challenge for you. Think about this for a moment:
Can you name an artist who has transcended cultural barriers, who writes, produces and records his own material, who has created a dance phenomenon craze courtesy of a massively popular tune and done it in a foreign language? And just for the fun of it, let’s toss in ultra-popularity as an added bonus. Ready? Go. Hit me with your best shot.
I’ll toss out a few to get the ball rolling to see if there’s any comparison:
- Ritchie Valens: Self-taught musician and one of the rock ‘n’ roll pioneers (not to mention an influence to the likes of Carlos Santana, Los Lobos, Selena and many more), “La Bamba” was big, sung in Spanish and hugely popular in its day. But … it wasn’t original (it was originally based on a Mexican folk song) and it never spawned a dance phenomenon. (Interestingly, Valens didn’t speak much Spanish and had to learn the lyrics to “La Bamba” in order to record it.)
- Chubby Checker: Talk about your dance craze, “The Twist” was sweeping in its take over of America. There’s no denying its legacy … but it wasn’t Checker who wrote it, the song wasn’t original (it was not only recorded previously, but was a previous hit) nor was his “The Twist” an original dance. Checker expounded on Hank Ballard’s earlier R&B hit. Plus, no international recognition to speak of.
- Elvis Presley: Elvis might be everywhere (and still is … and he might need boats, too) with multi-cultural influence, irrepressible dance moves and overwhelming popularity that still reigns today, but he never wrote any of his recorded tunes.
- The Beatles: Undeniably a corner stone of rock ‘n’ roll history, but where is that international flavor? “Michelle” you say? Well, it was an original song, a Grammy award winner and internationally popular, complete with foreign lyrics. But “swaying” isn’t a dance craze … and it was by a group, not a single artist.
- Michael Jackson: MJ is the only artist who comes close to the criteria above. But … where’s that foreign tune? He doesn’t have that multi-lingual or foreign language track in his arsenal of songs, either.
Park Jae-sang (better known as “Psy”) is all of these. Boston University and Berklee College of Music taught, this South Korean is a phenomenon in the Korean pop circles, regardless of the fact he rather shuns — and is a polar opposite of — the K-pop brand. Not only comedic in his performances and videos, he wasn’t the perfect child by any means and has had a bit of a checkered past.
But … to my points:
- Transcended cultural barriers? Check. He’s a South Korean and also speaks fluent English.
- Does he write, produce and record his own material? Check.
- Dance craze phenomenon? Check. Courtesy of his internationally famous, viral and mega-popular “Gangnam Style” which has infected the radio airwaves, clubs and YouTube (to the unbelievable 221+ million hits — that’s right: more than 221,000,000 million – and counting), television and popular culture like nobody’s business. And if it hasn’t yet, be prepared to dance to it at the next wedding you attend. Mark my words.
- Ultra-popularity? You betcha. YouTube. Cemented Korean-pop cultural figure. The Ellen Degeneres Show. NBC’s The Today Show where he taught the anchors his moves. Saturday Night Live. More to come.
Is Psy a one trick pony? Not overseas. He’s been popular there for more than a decade. While rather unique, “Gangnam Style” might still position Psy in the novelty section as his only hit here in the states. And whereas it might sound typically cheezefest on an initial spin, the song is infectious and can become an earworm rather quickly.
By the way: Did you come up with any artist who falls into the categories I listed above? I didn’t think so.
Oppa Gangnam Style, indeed.