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Gangnam Style: Three Reasons K-Pop Is Taking Over The World

Gangnam Style is, among other things, a high-tech, sophisticated export.

Yes, the video is totally crazy and awesome. But this is not some viral fluke. South Korea has been building up to this moment for 20 years.

Here are three reasons South Korean pop music is taking over the world:

1) Korea decided to produce pop music like it produces cars. Industrialize and focus on exports. South Korea is a relatively small country — any industry that wants to get really big has to look outside. So music moguls in the country created hit factories, turning young singers into pop stars and sending them on tour around Asia.

2) Korean record labels transformed the way music was released. From the beginning, new songs debuted on national television, not on the radio, like was done traditionally over here. That means the moment Koreans started listening to Korean pop music, they were listening through their screens. They were watching their music.

3) Korea is one of the most wired countries in the world. So early on in their development, record labels had to get good at YouTube. And they kind of perfected it. YouTube videos by Korean record labels were so good, they got tons of views overseas. And that's how the record labels knew where to tour their acts. They knew their customers wanted them before they even got there.

"Gangnam Style" is what happens when a developing country becomes developed. An infrastructure to make and export culture can develop just like an infrastructure to make and export anything else.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Zoe Chace explains the mysteries of the global economy for NPR's Planet Money. As a reporter for the team, Chace knows how to find compelling stories in unlikely places, including a lollipop factory in Ohio struggling to stay open, a pasta plant in Italy where everyone calls in sick, and a recording studio in New York mixing Rihanna's next hit.
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