From Gangnam to LA: is Justin Bieber turning Korean?

A Korean rapper's music video, "Gangnam Style," goes viral stateside

Yiping Yang By Yiping Yang

Want to make your day brighter? Look no further than this Korean pop video.

“Gangnam Style” by South Korea’s PSY, or Park Jae-sang, has gone viral on YouTube. The video has had almost 30 million visits since its release in mid- July. It remains tops in Korean sales and is number one on Billboard’s K-pop charts. And now Justin Bieber is interested.

In the music video for “Gangnam Style,” rapper PSY dances amidst white trash (YouTube)

So what’s the magic?

First, a bit of background courtesy of Hey Rim Jeon, jazz pianist and faculty advisor for the student group “PopKorn,” a K-pop club at Boston’s Berklee College of Music.

She tells Latitude News Gangnam is a neighborhood of South Korea’s capital Seoul, a very nice neighborhood. Closest equivalent? Beverley Hills. Say “Gangnam” and Koreans think “wealth,” “rich parents,” “luxury.”

In the video, PSY takes us on a tour of Gangnam – from parks along the Han River to tourist buses and private saunas. Oh – and there’s also artificial snow, toilet rapping and literal “white trash” raining down on him as he dances. The LA-based Opposing Views website quotes a fan’s thumbs-up interpretation on Reddit:  “Gangnam is the fancy schmancy rich part of Seoul. The video is making light of him singing about what a classy dude he is while screaming at yoga butts and dancing in garages and junk.”

As to the music, PSY says: “The song is characterized by its strongly addictive beats and lyrics, and is thus certain to penetrate the foundations of modern philosophy.” Hmm.

The lyrics are a bit more straightforward – about an ideal girlfriend “who looks quiet but plays hard. A girl who puts her hair down when the right time comes. A girl who covers herself but is more sexy than a girl who bares it all.”

PSY is a graduate of Boston University and attended the Berklee College of Music from 1997 to 2000. He is also no stranger to controversy. Some of his music has been banned in Korea for having a “negative influence” on young people.

But this time, PSY has received plaudits across the board. As Berklee professor Hey Rim Jeon put it in an email to Latitude News: “The popularity of the song is not based on the image of the band or its members, but rather based on the how simple and catchy it is for everyone to follow.”

American fans are among the loudest.  Rapper T-pain tweeted on Sunday that “Words cannot even describe how amazing this video is.” Gawker called “Gangnam Style” the best music video of the year.

Singer Justin Bieber performs at the 2012 Teen Choice Awards Gibson Amphitheatre in Universal City, California July 22, 2012. (Reuters/Mario Anzuoni)

And then there’s Scoooter Braun, Justin Bieber’s manager who reportedly tweeted: “HOW DID I NOT SIGN THIS GUY!?!??!… GANGNAM STYLE!!!! #THEGREATEST.”

And he meant it. According to the Jakarta Post, PSY’s agency said that PSY will be flying to U.S. this week to meet Braun to discuss  a“joint venture” project, a possible cooperation with Bieber. It’s speculated that Braun may buy the rights of “Gangnam Style” to release “L.A. Style.”

PSY  never thought his music could become so popular in U.S. “The YouTube video never targeted foreign countries. It was for local fans,” he told Reuters on the sidelines of a concert at the weekend.

Sun Jung, Research Fellow at National University of Singapore (NUS), has studied the emergence of Korean culture in Asia since 2003, says social media have only intensified the popularity of K-pop around the world.

“People can share, distribute and consume foreign pop cultures much more easily these days,” Jung told CNBC. “Internet and social media technology kind of enhance those flows.”

Can’t wait for that Gangnam/Beverly Hills mash-up!