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Cascades of Gangnam Style





Over the past few months, the worldwide invasion of South Korean rap music “Gangnam Style” and its music video have truly been sensational.  Since its first official appearance on one of the most popular social video network, YouTube, it has rapidly attracted few hundred millions of viewers and “likes” around the world over short time. Even outside the social network services, the music has been placing itself on the very top of almost every country’s music charts including the renowned iTunes and Billboard charts. Furthermore, the music video has already set historical records such as Guinness record of the most “liked” video as well as the third most viewed YouTube video in its own history with well over 60 million views as of November 1st.

It may be nonsense to claim that such sensational spread has no reasonable explanation behind it. Among various theories on information exchange and networks from the course, we may be able to associate this phenomenon with principle of information cascade based on the power of social network and media. It is important to note that online social network and especially the online mass media already has grown to strongly connected network of enormous size worldwide and also that “Gangnam Style” has set the Guinness record of the most “liked” video.

Information cascade may be defined as a phenomenon where long sequence of people all makes the same choice regardless of whether their own info supports it. It also has notable characteristics: it can end with infusion of a bit more information; it can be based on very little generic information; it can happen easily regardless of personal ability to rationalize.

We need to focus on the “likes” of Gangnam Style. Information can easily spread these days with “like” button and people around you can see it easily. With the pre-existing fame of PSY within Korea, it has been easy for “Gangnam Style” to gain initial popularity with the support of domestic fans and the spread of “likes” among them. Recent promotion of K-POP around the Asia and partially in Europe and America especially by YG Entertainment, the label that PSY belongs, also contributed at the earlier stage to cause millions of fingers to click the mouse button. By hearing from your close or distant friend or seeing a comment that they “like” the “Gangnam Style” may have caused you to also click on the “Gangnam Style” music video. Your own thoughts should not have mattered because it was your friend who said it is good, it was PSY and YG Entertainment that released the new song, and it was popular among groups of people near you. Growing number of click through rates and increasing amount of web contents pointing to “PSY” and “Gangnam Style” must have promoted it further upstream as it started gaining attention from other continents as its page rank shoot up in various social networks and music charts.

What may actually have triggered the infinite acceleration of its fame and popularity must have come from world-cultural celebrities such as Scooter Braun, Britney Spears, Tom Cruise or T-Pain [1]. Their sharing of “Gangnam Style” on their own social network service account where millions of their fans visit is a good source of information cascade at greater scale than that described in the previous paragraph. Without doubt, celebrities have huge impact not only on the mass media but also on general public and their “likes” are strong enough to easily nullify your own preference even for a short moment and boost its promotion by impacting multiple mass media.

Having thought about the principles of information cascade, the rapid increase of the “Gangnam Style” becomes more understandable when imagining people that clicks it in curiosity or from mouth to mouth dissemination. It also demonstrates that it may end with a bit of infusion. Recent changes in YouTube ranking algorithm, coupled with 23mile skydive of Felix Baumgartner temporarily pushed “Gangnam Style” out of most viewed list, which clearly demonstrates one important characteristic of information cascade [2].

As social network grows exponentially in its size and strength of the network, dissemination of information becomes increasingly easy and viral, as observed from the recent insanity of “Gangnam Style” virus. It proves the value of studying network principles in order to understand contemporary social phenomenon as we were able to apply a slight variation of information cascade to understand the spread of “Gangnam Style.”


** The author personally thinks the quality of the music and music video itself inherently deserves the fame it gained


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November 2012