Writing Project 3: Trans-national Pop Culture Analysis
Context & Description
South Korean pop artist Psy’s smash hit single “Gangnam Style” is more than just a song. It is a cultural phenomenon. The video has gone viral on YouTube, garnering over 600 MILLION hits in just three months, becoming the third-most viewed video on the website (YouTube.com). “Gangnam Style” has been remade and parodied by hundreds of people all around the world. Psy’s popularity has crossed over from South Korea to many countries including the United States. He has granted interviews to the Today Show and the Ellen DeGeneres Show, danced “Gangnam Style” with Britney Spears, and become one of the most popular Halloween costumes of 2012. And through of this buzz in the United States, one thing remains the same: the song is sung in Korean (not English).
“Gangnam Style” is one of the many K-Pop (Korean Pop) songs in what Chinese journalists called the Korean wave (韓流), “a phenomenon that refers to the onslaught of South Korean entertainment in Asia and, more recently, in other parts of the world” (Valerio). Despite differences in language, Psy’s song is now a mainstay in popular (pop) culture in the United States and beyond. However, Psy’s “Gangnam Style” is definitely not the first K-Pop song to exist: groups like 2NE1 and BIGBANG are certainly popular in Korea, but they did not make as big of a splash as Psy’s hit. What was it that made “Gangnam Style” so popular? Why Psy? Why now? Is it Psy’s appearance? The dance associated with the song? The music itself? The lyrics? The splashy, fun music video? Or is it the catchy concept, “Dress classy and dance cheesy”? And what might be the influence of this song on K-Pop music in the US in the future?
The purpose of this project is to explore the nature of popularity by examining a transnational flow of pop culture–a situation that requires the negotiation of different values, assumptions and tastes. What makes a popular artifact from one culture “cross over” to other cultures? What makes the artifact popular in the first place? Why are people drawn to artifacts from certain countries? Why do people seek alternatives from other cultures? What ideological, social, cultural, political, economic, and/or historical factors affect the popularity of an artifact in different countries? What makes one artifact internationally appealing while other artifacts from the same country do not gain the same kind of popularity? How does the success of one artifact open the door for other artifacts from the same country?
Write a feature magazine article that analyzes a transnational cultural artifact: a song, music video, user-created video, movie, blog, book, fashion style, celebrity, etc. In preparation for this project, explore the criteria that help explain what makes a cultural artifact popular in one context and consider how the same criteria may or may not apply to another context. Then, identify a pop culture artifact. It may be something that has crossed over the national boundary or one that you think has the potential of becoming a transnational phenomenon. Alternatively, you can choose an artifact that has no hope of becoming accepted beyond its original cultural context. Once you have identified your artifact, explore the literature to find out what has been said about the artifact and its reception–both within its original cultural context and in other countries. The literature may include various media, including newspaper and magazine articles as well as blogs, parodies, comments on interactive websites. You may even find articles about the artifact in academic journals. Then, using the sources you have identified as well as your own analysis of the artifact, write an article that describes the artifact and explains why it has become the international success that it has, why it has the potential for such success, or why it has no hope of becoming one. You may also consider how the artifact has been and can be adapted to audiences in different locale. Based on your analysis, also consider its implications for transnational pop culture as a whole, for other pop culture artifacts from similar cultural contexts, or for the future of the artifact that you have examined.
Through this project, you will learn to:
- Use discussion with peers to explore and develop ideas
- Synthesize ideas and information from multiple sources
- Engage in research in multiple venues, such as the library and internet resources
- Explore an idea from multiple dimensions
- Analyze an artifact (object, concept) by developing or exploring criteria
- Present your ideas and analyses
- Consider the implications of your analysis
For this project, your audience will be readers of an entertainment magazine. You could choose a publication that is specific to the type of pop culture artifact you are examining (e.g., movies, video games, or music). You could write for a pop culture magazine in general that cuts across different kinds of artifacts. You might choose a magazine or publication that is specific to the particular culture where your artifact originated. Or, you can write for an age-specific magazine, such as a publication that targets college-age readers.
Your readers could include music lovers, movie buffs, or video game fanatics. Or, they might be members of a mass audience who are curious about, interested in, or surprised by the shift in today’s pop culture scene.
The Genre of the Feature Magazine Article
There are several specific steps you should take to complete the final written copy of this feature magazine article. First, create an opening to identify your chosen cultural artifact and to explain its transnational status. Next, provide a detailed description of the artifact and how it has been received in different cultural contexts. Then, write an analysis of what makes the artifact popular (currently or potentially) or not so popular. You may follow with a discussion of how it may be adapted (if applicable). Finally, include a discussion of the implications–what the artifact says about transnational pop culture in general or about pop culture from similar cultural contexts, or about the future of the artifact under consideration.