What if Gangnam Style was a Killer Idea?

This Monday, some 20,000 Parisians braved the November chill and rain to participate in a flash mob in front of the Eiffel Tower in honor of a quirky K-Pop dance hit.  I am talking of course, about Gangnam Style, the single by PSY, a 34-year old Korean musician, whose motto is “Dressy Classy, Dance Cheesy” and whose catchy song and viral video has become dubbed the new Macarena.


The music video, filmed in Seoul’s eponymous Gangnam district, features a hypnotic refrain and an easy-to-imitate horse dance.  Within its first week on YouTube this past July, the video got over 2 million hits. In a testament to its success, Gangnam Style has given rise to countless parodies, including some SoCal lifeguards (who ended up paying the price for 2 million views—parodying is apparently worse than running by the pool); cadets at the Annapolis Naval Academy (6 million views); the UO Ducks (5 million views); My Little Pony (over 3 million views); “Gandalf” (over 7 million views); and the parody “Romney Style” (8 million views)– even Ban Ki Moon has gotten in on the action!

How can you explain such an immense success? I simply think that PSY had a killer idea.  Herewith, how the success of Gangnam Style applies to my “10 Commandments for Killer Ideas” taken from my book of the same name.

PSY released his video in a time when K Pop has never been stronger, spreading all over Asia and now, into the west.  For a primer on K Pop’s rise to prominence, check out NPR’s Planet Money podcast for an excellent analysis.

Unlike many dead serious rap videos, Gangnam Style is a video that is easily self-aware, with an admittedly cheesy and simple to imitate dance.  As PSY himself stated“People who are actually from Gangnam never proclaim that they are…this song is actually poking fun at those kinds of people who are trying so hard to be something they’re not.”

In other words: PSY.  Gangnam Style is not his debut hit.  After having lived in the US, he became known to the South Korean public releasing his first album in 2001, and a second, which gained notoriety as being “inappropriate for young listeners”.  PSY recently played in Japan in front of 80,000 people.

The quality of the music video is excellent—filmed in and around the Gangnam district in Seoul the video is compulsively watchable.

Even if you don’t know what it means, “Oppa Gangnam Style” is easy to repeat and sticks in your head.

The “horseriding dance”, although chosen based on its cheesiness factor, is also universally comprehensible and easy to imitate.

The success of the video is very much linked to its simple but wacky narrative involving PSY dancing around in unexpected locations.

Not simply content with letting the video be parodied by others, filmed second version of his clip, this time featuring various Korean stars and giving a second wind to his hit single.

In addition to YouTube’s success, PSY facilitated the videos viral appropriation by waiving his copyright on the video.

This is the number of parody videos, which have only bolstered the success of the original killer idea!




This post was originally published on LinkedIn where I write as a “Thought Leader”. To follow me on LinkedIn, click here.

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