Gangnam Style’s Rise to Cultural Phenomenon Has Now Escalated to Conspiracy Levels
PSY has been all over American media for the past few weeks. I almost went to his appearance on the Today Show, which featured cringe inducing cuts to the show’s hosts trying to do his trademark, “dress classy and dance cheesy” moves (still not worth waking up that early).
The song has spawned a massive Wikipedia entry, thought pieces by the Atlantic Monthly on what it is like to grow up in the part of South Korea referenced as well as the hidden meaning behind the subversive lyrics. Even the New Yorker has gotten in on the action by publishing a longform piece on the cultural significant of K-Pop. And now there is a web site purporting to have uncovered a vast Gangnam conspiracy where it’s alleged that YouTube is trying to downplay how well liked the video is and instead promoting LMFAO.
Most interesting about watching PSY’s meteoric rise (other than being validated for trying to convince some friends to learn the dance), is trying to distill the signs that something is going to become incredibly popular. Whether it’s an idea, a web product or a silly music video, watching something go viral is fascinating. Last week I saw BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti speak on this very topic. According to Peretti, “in order for an idea to replicate it has to be simple enough for a friend to talk about it at a party.” When explaining in the context of one of his own viral hits he said “it hit something deeply personal that ties in with people’s sense of identity.” Gangnam Style definitely hits the first one, but I’m less sure about the second (unless you’re really into silly dancing). Virality is notoriously difficult to accurately predict.
At the same time, it’s easy get obscured by the Baader Meinhof Phenomenon, which briefly put, is:
…the phenomenon where one happens upon some obscure piece of information– often an unfamiliar word or name– and soon afterwards encounters the same subject again, often repeatedly. Anytime the phrase “That’s so weird, I just heard about that the other day” would be appropriate, the utterer is hip-deep in Baader-Meinhof.
And this is just the information they make publicly available. Google Trends has all sorts of interesting tools in this area.
The two most telling signs that Gangnam Style was becoming popular were, that everyone and their brother were making video parodies (the best by far is College Humor’s Mitt Romney Style) and that every conceivable angle of the story was being covered by the media (see a few paragraphs back). The main problem here is that by the time the average person picks up on something, it’s already peaked. The value lies at discovering something before everyone knows about it and being able to consistently make predictions as to what will rise quickly in popularity.
So how do you stay on top of trends? How to you find out if something is breaking as early as possible? Twitter, Google and many others are actively working on making it easier to figure this out. Take a look at what’s rising in popularity in NYC this morning according to Google searches:
Google also has less specific trends it uncovers. Take a look at the three most discussed topics in the news today:
One of the problems is that these topics are very general and more well known. What about something completely new? What about a moment like Gangnam Style that no one is really familiar with? It would only show up here after it’s already been on the rise for a long time. With people publishing their every thought to social media outlets, it’s getting easier to figure out exactly what people are talking about, but prediction is still lagging behind.
I spend a lot of time thinking about how to identify trends and then stay on top of those trends. Influencers are a key part of this. The traditional view of influencers isn’t completely accurate. Influencers don’t always just make trends, they also get out in front of trends that will be big and are then credited for creating (or at least influencing) them. At the same time though, if you can predict trends, you can more easily make them.