For a while last fall, it seemed as if the whole world had gone “Gangnam Style.” The song, by South Korean musician Psy, topped music charts in some 30 countries, and the video, with its giddy-up dance style, spawned countless YouTube parodies. K-Pop, as South Korean pop music is known, had found the global spotlight.
Initially inspired by the Japanese pop stars of the early 1990s, K-Pop’s ascendancy has been helped along by social media, expatriate Korean communities and the growing influence of Asian pop culture through anime, manga and fashion, says Ken McLeod, a professor of history and culture at U of T Scarborough. K-Pop has an upbeat, techno dance style, with a mixture of English and Korean lyrics – sometimes for subversive effect, but also to increase the odds of a breakthrough in the mainstream North American market, says McLeod. It remains to be seen whether Psy’s success opens the door for other South Korean artists, he adds, but for now, at least, the country’s music industry is thriving.