Gangnam Style, Jay Bildstein

Gangnam Style and the Race to Relevance

At this point I would like to let out a sigh. Uh, I mean a Psy. You never heard of Psy? I hadn’t either, till the other day. Online, over the past few months, I had seen the words “Gangnam Style.” I paid little attention to the term. I just tucked away a recognition that it existed and went about my business. Then, I gave in and began to look up what it meant. Where had I been?

Gangnam Style is a satirical song/video centered around a goofy dance. It has become a sociocultural phenomenon. Performed by Psy, a South Korean pop star, it is now the number one video, of all time, on YouTube. At present, with over 800 million views, it has eclipsed a whole bunch of videos from more well established performers.

Gangnam Style is this generation’s Macarena. But owing to the Internet, it is more potent. The music itself is nothing special. The piece has a predictable dance beat. Visually, Psy doesn’t present as an international superstar. The video is comical and its choreography seems straight out of square dancing.

Yet, while this musical offering seems average, or less so, in just about every way, the reaction to it has been remarkable. Madonna performed with Psy in New York earlier this month. Britney Spears learned the Gangnam Style dance on TV. Even the Secretary General of the UN has received tutoring in it, from Psy himself. From heads of state to the rest of us, this thing is everywhere.

Why? While it would be near impossible to purposely recreate the success of Gangnam Style or its predecessor the Macarena – or Achy Breaky Heart driven line dancing and I could go on – these things all have their roots in something we share in common with the rest of the animal kingdom, the drive to follow the leader, to copy behavior. Translated to the realm of popular culture, it’s all about being relevant.

In pop culture, sometimes a tastemaker blazes a path which is eventually followed by a group and, subsequently, society at large. At other times, a leader sees where society is headed and then jumps on the bandwagon, trying to position himself at the front of it, in an attempt to be relevant.

Good or Bad? That depends. In music, it’s fine. In fact, it can be fun. Away from pop culture, in the realms of science, finance, choosing a personal trajectory in life, etc., those endeavors are best undertaken by subordinating our instinctual drive to simply follow along, to our reason and ability to think critically.

But enough analysis. Enjoy Gangnam Style. Soon, it will go the way of the Macarena. And people will claim they were too cool to dance to it. Right.

Image courtesy of [jscreationzs] /

*Authors note: You might see this column pop up online in a newspaper, under the name Both Sides. I am publishing this column here first at For a bunch of years, I have been writing newspaper columns. Since my columns have received a good response on CYInterview, I thought I would share it with you. Hope you enjoy.

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