The Fall of “Gangnam Style”

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As of July 10, 2017, YouTube’s most watched video is “See You Again” by Wiz Khalifa ft. Charlie Puth.  “See You Again” replaces “Gangnam Style” by Korean pop star Psy, which held the top spot for five years.  Five years is a long time to remain at number one in anything music related, especially in the fickle world of online clicks and views.

The Rise and Influence

Debuting in July 2012, “Gangnam Style” became the first video on YouTube to get to one billion views – all within five months of its release. “Gangnam Style” inspired flash mob dances and parodies and was touted by then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as a “force for world peace”.  President Barack Obama referenced the worldwide influence of “Gangnam Style” in his speech during a 2013 meeting with Korean President Park Geun-hye.

The success of “Gangnam Style” exceeded music industry benchmarks that were in place at the time of its release.  YouTube had to update its programming in order to allow for the calculation of more views.  Billboard changed its ranking system, placing more weight on digital sales and YouTube views.  Prior to “Gangnam Style”, Billboard charted music based mainly on data from radio air time and music sales.  The influence of “Gangnam Style” was no accident.  In an article for Harvard Business Review, Dae Ryun Chang outlines how companies can model a successful marketing campaign on “Gangnam Style”.  Chang also goes on to state that the song’s “anti-materialism theme in a time of global recession helped to broaden its appeal”.  Is there a deeper influence under the surface of “See You Again”?

The Korean Wave Subsides

While Psy is likely still riding the Korean Wave all the way to the bank, the cultural message implied by “Gangnam Style” may not have the same influence it once did.  Khalifa and Puth wrote and co-produced “See You Again” for the Furious 7 movie soundtrack; it was also a tribute to late actor Paul Walker who starred in the Furious franchise.  Puth’s somber crooning is punctuated by Khalifa’s intense rap verses: “I know we’d love to hit the road and laugh, but something told me that it wouldn’t last”.  These days the public seems less concerned with global recession than it does with government restrictions.  This is especially true in the United States.

Pop Culture vs. Political Culture

The current U.S. political climate does not favour marijuana legalization.  Wiz Khalifa is an outspoken proponent of the drug and has even developed his own prestige strain of marijuana.  Khalifa also recently released an app called Weed Farm, where users can virtually create their own pot empire.  A link to the Weed Farm app is also embedded in the “See You Again” video.   Is this coincidence or is it a carefully executed political message?





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