Scooter Braun, the management guru behind Justin Bieber and Carly Rae Jepsen, today announced he’s signed Korean rap artist Park Jae-Sang, better-known as PSY, the dude with the huge viral video hit, “Gangnam Style” (see above).
The goofy, annoying techno-dance thumper with the horsey-straddling giddyup choreography is unavoidable — with more than 107 million views as of this writing, it’s become a meme with a life of its own. There’s a pretty fun (slightly less annoying) mashup of the song with bits by LMFAO, Far East Movement (featuring Dev), Offspring and Bloodhound Gang titled “Like a Bad White Guy Party Gangnam Style” (see below).
The song’s video was choreographed by PSY, whose name is a reference to “psycho” for his outsized personality. The “Gangnam” in the song refers to the high-toned part of Seoul, where he probably hangs out — Park is a star in Korea.
No doubt the song will now become a megahit with the backing of a US pop music label. There’s a general buzz around Korean pop music, or Kpop, these days, so PSY benefits from that spotlight.
But he follows in the footsteps of other foreign stars who’ve tried cracking the code of American fame and fortune. Good luck to him — his predecessors often couldn’t crack the charts at all, or only managed one-hit-wonder status.
That’s not such a bad thing.
Kyu Sakamoto, the Japanese film and pop music star, did all right and cemented his legacy worldwide when he recorded “Ue O Muite Arukou,” which Western fans know as “Sukiyaki.”
Other Top 40 foreign language hits included “99 Luftballons” by Nena in the new wave era (she also recorded an English version of the song, but the original German was so much cooler); the French “Dominique” by the Singing Nun (Jeanine Deckers) in 1963 and another dance-pop one-hit wonder, “Macarena” by Los del Rio in 1994. Ah, memory lane.
But it could lead to a mere footnote in pop culture, like Pink Lady, the Japanese duo that were a brief flash on the US pop consciousness in the late ’70s, even snagging a comedy variety show. Unfortunately, the show was a foil for the producers to stereotype the two hapless women, Mitsuyo Nemoto and Keiko Masuda, and put them in awful racist situations. Sonny and Cher or the Smothers Brothers, they weren’t (see the promo at bottom).
The fact is, Americans may be infatuated with a foreign language hit but the pop audience here is so, well, US-centric that in the end they’ll tire of the exotic appeal of artists who perform only in Japanese, or Spanish, or French, or Korean.
I can cite a bunch of Japanese acts that I thought were great that never caught on here, or only reached cult status in spite of major-label (or minor-label) pushes and English lyrics (some, anyway): Pizzicato 5, Blue Hearts, Shang Shang Typhoon, Shonen Knife, Petty Booka. In some cases, like the very talented, US-born Japanese artist Kikaru Utada, who is huge in Japan with Japanese releases but has struggled in the US with all-English R&B recordings.
So here’s to PSY’s future as a star in the US — it’s a road much traveled but with few visitors managing a long and fruitful journey. Maybe things are different now, with social media and YouTube driving awareness in ways that Kyu Sakamoto, or the Singing Nun could never have imagined, and PSY will break through with more than just one blast of ear candy.
It’ll be interesting to watch his trip.
Here’s Braun and PSY’s announcement and soju toast on video:
Here’s the Bad White Guy Party mashup:
Here’s a thankfully short promo for Pink Lady (I have the entire season on DVD, which was available for a short time):
And here’s just one video by Utada Hikaru, a very talented Japanese star who deserves a bigger profile in the U.S.:
Had to include this parody featuring the University of Oregon Duck mascot: