‘Gangnam Style’: Is Japan Immune to PSY Mania?

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If you’re tired of Korean rapper PSY’s ubiquitous viral hit, “Gangnam Style,” it may be time to pack your bags for Japan.

It’s an unsual paradox: Korean pop, a.k.a. K-Pop, is huge in Japan as it is elsewhere in Asia, with artists like Girls’ Generation and TVXQ regularly drawing teenyboppers’ ears. But for a variety of reasons, “Gangnam Style” — which rose to #2 on the U.S. Billboard charts and has been viewed more than 460 million times on YouTube — just isn’t all that big in Japan.

(MORE: Seoul Music: The World Is Finally Ready for K-Pop)

Maybe it is because no one has just been paying attention all that much. “Over the past month, Japanese media  rarely reported about “Gangnam Style” fever,” reports the English-language version of the South Korean news site Dong-a Ilbo:

As a result, Japanese are familiar with Korean actors such as Bae Yong-jun, aka Yonsama, and Jang Geun-seok but hardly know PSY.

The leading [Japanese] daily Mainichi Shimbun on Friday featured Psy’s song in the article, “Close to #1 in the U.S.,” but gave just a brief mention about his concert at Seoul Plaza the previous day that was broadcast worldwide and the song’s position on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100.

Intereretsingly PSY, a.k.a. Park Jae-sang, is far from unknown in Japan, despite the fact that he fails to fit the mold of a typical K-Pop star (which is to say, young, svelte and extremely attractive). According to the Japan-based publication Rocket News, PSY’s own rise to fame was in fact reported by Japanese music publications and pundits.

(MORE: WATCH: PSY’s ‘Gangnam Style’ Is the Best Invisible Horse-Riding Rap Video You’ll See All Week)

But as the Japan-watching blog Kotaku noted, it’s common practice for K-pop stars to release Japanese-language versions of their hits in order to capitalize on their biggest market outside Korea. And according to Rocket News, the local version of “Gangnam Style” never made it to Japanese shores  — but not for lack of effort:

As it turns out, [PSY] tried. Back in August, PSY’s Japanese record label, YGEX, announced that PSY would release a slightly-modified Japanese version of “Gangnam Style” called “Roppongi Style” in late September. After the original song exploded in popularity overseas, YGEX decided to stick with the original Korean “Gangnam Style,” but still aim for a September Japanese release.

For reasons that are still unclear, “Roppongi Style” never quite made it on the air. YGEX put the single on hold without further explanation.

Lastly, it’s entirely possible that the recent political climate in northeast Asia might have cooled the Japanese fever for Korean pop songs.  In late August — just as PSY was quickly rising to worldwide prominence — a dispute erupted over the Takeshima and Dokdo islets between Japan and Korea, with both countries claiming ownership. With diplomatic tensions running high, the Japanese public increasingly steered away from any perceived pro-Korean sentiment.

(MORE: War’s Legacy Plagues Japan and Its Neighbors)

It’s a shame, really. In NewsFeed’s opinion, there isn’t a diplomatic row in the world that couldn’t be resolved with a little invisible horse dancing.


Erica Ho is a contributor at TIME and the editor of Map Happy. Find her on Twitter at @ericamho and Google+. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.