On the charts: Psy's "Gangnam Style"

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Psy
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Last week, when I kicked off my new weekly column examining the pop charts, I said, "Pop music is a very strange and exciting place to be right now," and as evidence I offered the Hot 100 presence of "a summer-dominating song based on an obscure 80s dancehall sample, one that combines chillwave-ish synth pop with Auto-Tuned rapping, a Postal Service clone, and Pitchfork darlings who've made the jump to the pop world." Somehow I also forgot to add the Korean-language techno-rap song with a video that's racked up almost 350 million views on YouTube, inspired a dance craze, and is also, unbeknownst to most non-Koreans, a scathing critique of conspicuous consumption.

Psy's "Gangnam Style" is, among other things, the most-liked video on YouTube, the highest-placing Korean-language song in American chart history, one of the few non-English-language songs to ever reach the American top ten, and possibly a harbinger of the K-pop invasion that some critics have been speculating about for years. But what I find most fascinating about it is that it began its life outside Korea as an Internet meme.

"Gangnam Style" first broke outside Korea thanks to a July 30 Gawker post that snarkily asked if it was "the Best Music Video of the Year" and quoted a Reddit thread that ascribed its appeal to Psy "singing about what a classy dude he is while screaming at yoga butts and dancing in garages and junk." The video went viral, and its initial popularity seemed driven by typically ironic Internet-style appreciation. Then something interesting happened: it started getting played on the radio.

Essentially "Gangnam Style" was an epic bait-and-switch. The video's intentional goofiness made it an Internet meme, but somewhere along the way the song's substantial hooks embedded themselves in the brains of people who were likely listening to it as a joke—to the degree that the music has taken on a separate life from the visuals. Right now it's sitting in the number-two spot on the Hot 100, with a fighting chance of hitting number one. Here in New York City, at least, it's in heavy rotation on pop radio, and I've been hearing it blasting out of passing cars on a regular basis.

There aren't enough Redditors and 4Channers out there to prank it into that sort of ubiquity. The only possible reason "Gangnam Style" is performing so well is that people actually like it so much that it's conquered Americans' innate distrust of songs (and, well, pretty much anything) that aren't in English. A number of artists have started their run up the charts on YouTube—Carly Rae Jepsen being another notable case—but Psy is the first to leverage snarky LOL memedom into this level of mainstream pop success. What do you think the odds are that he'll be the last?

Miles Raymer writes about what's on the charts on Tuesday.

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