Recently, Psy‘s “Gangnam Style” became the first K-pop video to break the 100-million mark. But was it unexpected? Well, yes. Before his latest comeback, Psy was well-known in Korea, but definitely not as relevant as the groups in the current K-pop scene (even rookies were receiving more attention than he was). So, how did a relatively unknown-to-the-world rapper with a rather unconventional body type achieve such astounding success financially comparable to that of top K-pop artistes such as SNSD or even BoA with just one song?
Is it enough that the song is catchy? Clearly, it isn’t — since many songs have hooks that stay in your head even after listening to them once. Factors like the music video, singalong nature of the song and its dance steps also come into play. There’s also peer pressure — one will naturally be inclined to listen to a song just because his friends all love it. Gangnam Style was immediately a huge hit, because of the music video,its eye-catching “horse dance” and the “Oppan Gangnam Style” line that stuck.
In 2008, when DBSK released “Mirotic”, it was one of the most popular and bestselling songs of the year. Why? Apart from having the distinctive “shoulder dance” in the rap, and seeing five good-looking, well-built young men move their bodies effortlessly with so much sensuality, the song was actually written to be a earworm. It has a “reverse beat” track, where the bass is emphasized on the usually unaccented 2nd and 4th beats of the bar, instead of the first and third beats. This effect is addictive and causes one to want to listen to the song on repeat.
SNSD’s “Gee” and T-ara’s “Roly Poly” were also hit songs in their respective years. “Gee” was a hit because of its music video that showed nine fresh, pretty and young girls doing the “crab-leg dance”, as well as the insanely catchy “Gee Gee Gee Gee Baby Baby” hook. This song earned nine consecutive wins on KBS’s Music Bank and was arguably part of the reason why SNSD still continues to be the reigning girl group and a force to be reckoned with in the industry, in this day and age.
“Roly Poly”,the song that propelled T-ara out of nugu-status to become one of the top K-pop girl groups, was huge because the dance moves were fun to watch and easy to pick up, the chorus was catchy and the girls were dressed in colourful retro-themed ensembles that complemented the music well.
Ultimately, even if one has the looks, the moves and the catchy hooks, the overall impression still matters. For a song to really hit it big time, it must have that extra-special quality that spurs one to click on the “Share” or “Like” button, and leave a mind-blowing effect on the consumer, good or bad. It must cause many to upload thousands of YouTube covers, reaction videos and become fans of that particular artiste. Gangnam Style definitely achieved that, and became the most-viewed K-pop music video of all time. This was not done by overzealous fans trying to up their idols’ YouTube views by rewatching them over and over, but simply by a combination of the power of social media, the comedic appeal of the music video, and its ability to make an American teen declare “His swag is literally off the charts.”