Add new comment

Soft power, Gangnam style

PSY's single could hit a billion YouTube views.

South Korea's most successful export ever: Pop music.

More specifically, Gangnam Style. The K-Pop single by PSY surpassed 828 million views on YouTube this weekend, replacing Justin Bieber for the all-time lead. Even better, it may give South Korea's other exports a boost, too.

The song's been mentioned, parodied and danced to by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, Nelly Furtado, The Thai Royal Army, David Cameron and flash mobs of over 20,000 in France and Italy.

According to Foreign Policy, this particular export goes well beyond just a catchy tune with some signature dance moves:

The rise of K-Pop is the bellwether of a variety of trends that are changing the global economy (and emerging markets in particular) in fundamental ways. Its success as a product - but, more importantly, as a cultural brand promoting Korean exports ranging from soft drinks to cosmetics to consumer electronics -- suggests that Western countries aren't likely to have a lock on the hearts and wallets of developing countries for long. More generally, it illustrates the new reality that the North-South pattern of trade and cultural exchange that has dominated the world since the ascendance of European colonialism is giving way and making room for unexpected soft power.

The Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism is K-Pop's No. 1 fan. Like states in the U.S. vying for Hollywood's attention through tax breaks, the government ministry is using PSY's success to help push Korean exports abroad by establishing more Korean Cultural Centers in foreign cities and joining up with the Federation of Korean Industries to form a "Bureau of Culture Diplomacy."

Mark Russell, formerly the Korea correspondent for Billboard and The Hollywood Reporter, continues:

Linkages between popular culture and commerce are hardly a novel phenomenon. What is new is the evidence that a relatively small country with a language nobody else speaks could become so trendy so quickly, and convert the new image to soft economic power so effectively. It's become a cliché that digital technology smashes barriers of all sorts. Korea's dazzling success with pop culture suggests we're not even close to understanding the breadth and depth of the impact on global commerce.

It barely matters that Gangnam Style lampoons the consumerism of South Korea's "Beverly Hills;" few outside the country understand the lyrics. But if pop helps 'Made in Korea' products find their way into markets around the world, its power for frontier countries is understood as loud and clear as the speakers blasting its beat.

Curated news and insights about innovative, market-driven solutions to poverty explored through news, commentary and discussion.

Learn more »

Global Envision newsletter