Posted : 2012-12-10 17:27
Updated : 2012-12-10 17:27

Psy, Samsung push 'brand Korea' in 2012

A breakthrough year for "brand Korea" -- led by the rapper Psy and electronics giant Samsung -- has boosted efforts to promote a country that still feels overshadowed, under-appreciated and misunderstood.

While some may question the benefit of a chubby thirty-something and his horse-riding dance becoming your best-known cultural export, the phenomenal success of Psy's "Gangnam Style" undoubtedly raised the national profile.

Name-checked and imitated by everyone from US President Barack Obama, to Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei and pop icon Madonna, Psy bestrode his invisible horse and the music world like a colossus in 2012.

The hit video is already the most popular of all time on YouTube, having racked up more than 922 million views, and could well break through the one-billion mark before the end of the year.

A one-hit wonder maybe, but one with such staying power that the main sufferer of "Gangnam Style" fatigue was Psy himself.

"Sometimes, honestly, yes I get tired or I get sick of it," the rapper said in Singapore, during one of his endless overseas promotional stops.

In South Korea they gave him a medal in November for, as one foreign ministry official put it, "increasing the world's interest in Korea".

But the scrutinising spotlight of fame brought its problems, digging up a 2004 concert held to oppose the US-led invasion of Iraq when Psy rapped lyrics calling for American soldiers to be killed "slowly and painfully".

On Saturday the singer felt obliged to apologise, regretting any "pain" he might have caused.

Despite achieving extraordinary things in an extraordinarily short space of time, South Korea remains a frustrated understudy on the global stage compared to leading players like neighbours China and Japan.

The narrative of its rapid transformation from dictatorship to vibrant democracy and war-torn, impoverished backwater to Asia's fourth-largest economy is a source of immense national pride.

But outside views of the country are all too often dominated by glib stereotypes about dog restaurants or filtered from spurious sources like the long-running US television series M*A*S*H.

Even its obvious export success stories went unrecognised until recently, with many believing companies such as Samsung Electronics and LG to be Japanese or Taiwanese.

For Samsung, 2012 was a watershed year that saw it take a giant bite out of Apple Inc as it carved out a dominant position in the global mobile computing market.

Having ended Nokia's 14-year rule as the world's top cell phone manufacturer, Samsung saw its share of the lucrative smartphone market surge to 31.3 percent in the third quarter of 2012, up from just 3.3 percent in late 2009.

Apple smartphone sales in the July-September period were half those of Samsung's for a total market share of 15 percent.

The South Korean government has spent a substantial amount of time and money in recent years on raising the country's international profile -- notably through its support of the "Korean wave" of TV dramas and pop music that have become enormously popular in Asia and beyond.

For nation branding expert Simon Anholt, the success of someone like Psy is proof that state-sponsored or state-controlled cultural output is never as potent or attractive as individual self-expression.

"Countries are judged by what they do and what they make, not by what they say about themselves," Anholt told AFP.

"If a country wants to be admired, it has to be admirable, and in a way which catches people's imaginations: it's as simple as that," he said.

Samuel Koo, the new head of South Korea's Presidential Council on Nation Branding, is all too aware of the pitfalls of behaving like a "PR politburo" that simply trumpets the country's achievements.

"What is successful in, by and from Korea is already there and too big for us to do anything about. What can you possibly add to Psy?" Koo told AFP in an interview.

The presidential stamp gives the council genuine clout, which Koo is using to push for, among other things, greater recognition of overseas development assistance (ODA) and "green" policies as crucial tools for raising South Korea's standing in the international community.

But rather than throwing all its efforts behind a specific campaign, Koo sees the council's role as one of "joining dots" and presenting a mosaic that reflects Korea's diversity.

"Yes, it is the country of Samsung, but it's also a country of empathy, a country of ODA, the country of Psy, the country of Olympic medals.

"It cannot be too systematically orchestrated, but there are easy connections one can make," he said.

South Korea's film industry scored a major success in 2012 when director Kim Ki-Duk's anti-capitalist movie "Pieta" won the coveted Golden Lion prize at the Venice film festival.

South Korea has struggled to build a reputation for creativity and genuine innovation, with even Samsung's success tainted by accusations of copycat piracy and lawsuits with Apple over alleged patent infringements.

But Koo sees a generational change -- nurtured by economic growth -- that affords young Koreans the financial freedom to pursue creative avenues that were closed to their parents and grandparents.

"That's why we have the Psys. In my generation, if someone's son or daughter wanted to become a pop star, they would have been shot. Well, perhaps not shot, but at least had their arms twisted until they recanted.

"There's a paradigm shift there, and it's all to the good. Koreans would not be Koreans unless they were individualistic," Koo said.

관련 한글 기사

'싸이, 삼성' 한국 브랜드가치 크게 높여

프랑스 통신사 AFP는 10일 싸이와 삼성이 올해 한국의 브랜드 가치를 크게 높였다고 분석했다.

싸이는 버락 오바마 미국 대통령을 비롯해 중국의 반체제 예술가 아이 웨이웨이, 팝 아이콘 마돈나까지 모두 '강남스타일'을 흉내낼 정도로 세계적으로 유명해졌다.

    유튜브에서는 강남스타일 뮤직비디오 조회건수가 9억2천200만건이 넘었고 연말이면 10억건도 돌파할 것으로 보인다.

    싸이는 '한국에 대한 관심을 높인' 공로를 인정받아 지난달 대중문화예술 분야의 최고 영예인 옥관훈장을 받기도 했다.

    삼성은 올해 애플을 치고 올라 세계 모바일 컴퓨터 시장에서 주요한 자리를 차지했다. 7∼9월 애플의 스마트폰 판매는 삼성의 절반에 불과했다.

    김기덕 감독의 영화 피에타도 베니스 영화제에서 황금사자상을 거머쥐었다.

    그러나 한국은 여전히 저평가돼있고 제대로 알려지지 않은 나라이다.

    한국인들은 독재국가에서 민주국가로, 전쟁으로 황폐해진 나라에서 아시아 4위 국가로 빠르게 성장한 데 대해 큰 자부심을 갖고 있지만 외부의 시각은 다르다.

    바깥에서는 여전히 개고기를 먹는 나라라는 고정관념과 미국의 장기 방영 드라마 'M*A*S*H' 같은 드라마를 통해 전달된 왜곡된 이미지로 한국을 바라보고 있다.

    심지어 상당수는 삼성전자와 LG전자를 일본이나 대만 기업으로 알고 있기도 하다.

    한국은 최근 국제사회에서 위상을 높이려고 한류 드라마와 음악을 지원하는 등 무던히 애를 써왔다.

    국가 브랜드 전문가인 사이먼 앤폴트는 '국가가 지원하거나 계획해서 만든 문화는 개인이 스스로 빚어낸 것만큼 매력적일 수 없음을 보여주는 증거가 싸이의 성공이다'라고 말했다.

    그는 '국가 브랜드는 실제 행하고 만들어내는 것으로 평가된다'며 '멋져 보이고 싶으면 멋져져야 한다'고 덧붙였다.

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