Gangnam Style goes gangbusters

September 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

This much is confirmed. The Korean Wave has landed in New Zealand. I don’t just mean it in that it is doing the rounds at the Korean clubs and restaurants in Auckland. That much is a given and has been for years. No, the moment K Pop announced itself here was at the rugby of all places, and the song that hit the ignition switch was the massive global hit, Gangnam Style.

If you haven’t heard it or seen the video – which is saying something going by the nearly 300 million plus views on YouTube – Gangnam Style is a one-hit disco inferno that has been burning a hole in the internet since July and astonishingly, it is entirely in Korean language, except for one English phrase.

Perhaps it is not so astonishing that Asia would eventually create a breakout global pop hit and, given the strength and vibrancy of the Korean entertainment industry, that it would be a Korean artist to crack that code. I can’t believe that when Gangnam Style hit the Web that the artist – the Korean hip hop and dance music artist PSY – and the record company money men would have predicted its runaway success.

But the word runaway doesn’t seem to do it justice. The song is more than a runaway. It is an escaped convict of a tune and it is precedent setting becoming the first K-pop song to go to number one on iTunes, to be the most ‘liked’ song on YouTube and now it is knocking on the door of getting into the top ten of most watched YouTube videos which at this rate could be sometime next week.

For the record, Justin Beiber’s Baby tops the list with over 770 million views. In tenth place is Eminem’s Not Afraid with over 350 million views. And somewhere in between are Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance, Shakira, LFMAO and Charlie Bit My Finger – Again! You can find the list here.

Already, Gangnam Style is the most popular K-pop song of all time. K-pop stands for Korean popular music. It is the South Korean iteration of various styles of Asian popular music as characterised by nationality and language. There’s J-pop from Japan and C-pop for Chinese popular music. C-pop is further broken down into Cantopop for Cantonese pop music (largely out of Hong Kong) and Mandopop (Mandarin language popular songs out of Taiwan and the mainland).

Wikipedia tells me that Mandopop is most popular in China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, and Japan and Cantopop has a fan base mainly in Southeast Asian countries such as Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand and southern China, especially in the Cantonese speaking province of Guangdong.

J-pop on the other hand has a significant Western following through the country’s successful cultural exports of video games and anime where J-pop songs are often integral to the rest of the product. Anyone who has seen Hayao Miyazaki’s Ponyo and had its theme song (translated for the English version of the film) become an earworm for days will know exactly what I mean.

K-pop on the other hand has a below the radar fan base in many Western countries, apparently driven by an explosion in South Korean popular culture in the 1990s that included cinema, television as well as music. This soft power surge in Korean creativity extends beyond Asia and into many European, Middle Eastern and Latin American countries where dubbed versions of South Korean television soap operas and historical dramas are popular.

But in the West, that fan base appears to be a niche one. Who knew that K-pop has fan bases in Poland, Germany and France?

And just when it appeared that the Korean Wave was running out of steam, along comes an unlikely looking flag bearer. He’s a portly, girl-obsessed singer with a campy dancing style who has become a global phenomenon. It is impossible to say if PSY’s Gangnam Style has blown K-pop sky high in terms of permanent awareness but for a while, millions of people around the world are doing the horsey dance, even the gangs of Bangkok.

Here’s the clue that alerted me to Gangnam Style’s big time arrival in New Zealand – a tweet and a video taken at a provincial rugby match at Auckland’s Eden Park that shows spectators dancing to K-pop while the speakers blare out. It is all so Gangnam Style.

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Twitter shows us where rugby lives

September 17, 2011 § Leave a comment

If the Rugby World Cup is a global sporting tinderbox, then it took the Tongan and Argentinian fans to really set it alight. Although both teams lost their first round matches, the best images from the start of the tournament arguably belong to their fans.

Thirteen years ago, when the FIFA World Cup was held in France, I sat behind an Argentinian fan dressed in blue and white as an aardvark, a type of African anteater. It was the tournament’s opening game at the Stade de France and the teams playing that day were Brazil and Scotland. The memory of the Argentinian aardvark has haunted me for years. What did an aardvark have to do with Argentinian soccer?

But seeing the Argentinian fans on television dressed as pumas to support their rugby team against England, I had a realisation. What if Aardvark Man hadn’t been an aardvark? Some quick research shows that he had probably been Giant Anteater Man because – wait for it – giant anteaters are a native of South America. It was as if I had cracked the Da Vinci Code! And here’s the evidence.

Somehow though, the thought of the Argentinian football team being called the Anteaters doesn’t seem feasible. But Los Pumas is a handsome name for a rugby team and the sight of the Puma People really brought it home that yes, the Rugby World Cup had finally arrived and sections of the world are watching avidly, and many overseas fans have actually come to support their teams.

In truth, rugby struggles to be called a world game. But the tournament’s 20 teams illustrate that there is enough ‘world’ in the Rugby World Cup to justify the global billing, although, only one of the code’s five traditional super powers has any realistic chance of winning rugby’s biggest showcase. The same could be said of cricket and, obviously, much less so of baseball despite its premier tournament being called the World Series.

I thought it would be an interesting exercise to use Twitter as a gauge for global expressions of interest in the Rugby World Cup. The tool I use for these kinds of rule of thumb musings is Trendsmap.

Beginning with New Zealand, the #rwc2011, #rwc and #rugby hashtags are, unsurprisingly, the most popular on our Twitter landscape and among the Pacific Island nations to our north. But that changes as we move out across the Tasman.

Hovering over Australia, the #rwc2011 and #rugby hashtags were evident especially in the eastern side of the country but, at the time of this survey, overshadowed by Aussie battler Samantha (#stosur) Stosur’s historic US Open tennis triumph in New York.

The rugby family of hashtags is also blossoming in Southern Africa, the United Kingdom and Ireland. It is also visible in European centres like Rome, Marseilles, Paris, as well as in Madrid and Barcelona (where rugby must have a following, even if there is no Spanish team at RWC2011). Rugby tweets are also emanating from Cluj Napoca in Romania and the Russian capital, Moscow.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, rugby also rocks in South America, and not just in Argentina, with tweets coming out of Caracas, Bogota, Guayaquil, Lima, Santiago and even Mexico City. There is rugby country outside Uruguay and Argentina, even if the game walks in the long shadow of the round ball. There are also small clouds of rugby tweets floating out of North America, from San Francisco, San Diego, Seattle, Vancouver, Toronto, New Orleans, Orlando (Florida) and Round Rock (Texas).

Less predictably, there are visible hashtag clouds over Honolulu, Nairobi, Accra and the Bangladesh capital Dhaka. Meanwhile, Dubai, with its Anglo expat population, also features like an oasis among the Gulf nations.

Where is rugby invisible? The answer is the rest of the world. Surprisingly, Japan and Hong Kong are not on the tweet map, as you might expect, given Japan’s Rugby World Cup heritage and Hong Kong’s large expat UK, Aussie and Kiwi communities. But it hardly comes as a surprise that rugby tweets don’t feature in Asia, home to a third of the world’s population (except as mentioned, in Dhaka! Go figure!). Africa, apart from South Africa, Namibia, Ghana and Kenya, is also by and large absent, as is South America’s big Portuguese speaking power, Brazil.

On the big Twitter stage and a slow Twitter day, Rugby World Cup tweets are clamouring to be heard among trending topics like the new film, Warrior, and the death of New Zealand actor, Andy Whitfield and subjects like #themostcommonlies.

But the Rugby World Cup still has five weeks to run. There is still plenty of time and drama ahead for rugby fans to leave fleeting Twitter imprints that say the Rugby World Cup was here. Just don’t expect them to echo feverishly throughout the rest of the Twitter world, except in pockets of rugby country.

I often think of the Argentinian football fan in the blue and white giant anteater suit. It must have been hot under all that faux fur but at least it was a cold day. Funny to think that back in 1998, there was no way to tweet about it.

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