It was a worldwide hit, reaching number one in the music chart in more than 30 different countries. The video of it has been viewed more than a billion times on Youth, and is now the site’s most viewed video of all time. Here, I will locate ‘ Kananga Style’ in relation to the circuit of culture, identifying a range of issues as I proceed. In terms of production, it is useful to begin by focusing on Sys single in relation to some of the debates about globalization, and the idea that we are increasingly able to access cultural products from distant and disparate places around the world.
One argument about the nature of cultural reduction today suggests that the process of globalization has left us with a progressively uniform culture across the world. This argument would point to the increasing global dominance of the ‘ Big Six’ Seabed media corporations (General Electric, Walt Disney, News Corp., Time Warner, CBS and Fiasco), and the fact that the processes of convergence and conglomeration seem to continue to increase their economic power.
It would also point to the fact that people from all around the world are increasingly watching the same films (in 2005, for example, a quarter of the world’s box office was accounted for by just 1 0 Holly. DOD films (Screen Digest, 2006)) and listening to the same music (four record companies (Sony, Warner, MI and universal) are responsible for 71 % of global music retail sales (Long and Wall, 2009: 144)). An alternative argument suggests that, rather than uniformity, the process of globalization has ushered in increasing cultural diversity.
One way to illustrate this argument is to point to forms of regional media dominance which challenge the power of the ‘ Big Six’. The success of ‘ Kananga Style’, and of South Korean popular culture more generally, is a good example of this regional Edie dominance. Commentators have used the term ‘ Korean Wave’ to refer to the SUCceSS Of Korean cultural exports of film, TV and popular music throughout East Asia. The South Korean government has also recognized the economic potential of its media industries.
In this respect, the global success of ‘ Kananga Style’ would seem to show that new, diverse forms of media content (in this case, K-Pop, or Korean popular music) can now find a global market in spite of the dominance of the ‘ Big Six. Having said that, apart from some of the lyrics, there is little about the song itself which seems to be authentically’ Korean. Instead, the tune seems similar to many forms of western dance music.
One commentator, Chichi Buckish, has argued that cultural products which play down their cultural origins in this way are ‘ culturally odorless’ (Buckish, 2002: 27), and are therefore particularly well equipped when it comes to finding global markets. In this respect, it could be argued that, although Psych is Korean, his music belongs to a fairly homogeneous global style of dance music. In a similar vein, it is worth noting that, at the end of 201 2, Psych signed a contract with universal Republic Records.
This company is owned by Universal Music Group, which is part of General Electric, the largest of the ‘ Big Six’. Overall, this suggests that ‘ Kananga Style’ tells us quite an interesting story about the nature of global media production, and shows that the dynamics of global cultural exchanges are increasingly complex. These issues concerning the global success of ‘ Kananga Style’ can also be related to questions about identity on the circuit of culture.
As Keith Nexus has argued, there is often quite a strong connection between music and identity, which can be ‘ created out of and across the processes whereby people are connected together through and with their music’ (Nexus, 1 996: 133). Given my discussion of the global circulation of ‘ Kananga Style’, it is worth reflecting on the relationship here between the song and a sense of national identity. On the one hand, it could be argued, as Keening Lee suggests, that the success of K-pop shows ‘ the power of culture made in Korea’ (Lee, 2008: 180), and thus asserts a prominent sense of Korean national identity.
On the other hand, given the cultural tremulousness of ‘ Kananga Style, which have just discussed, it could be argued that there is nothing uniquely Korean’ about it, but that it should be seen instead as what Honeymoon Shin calls a ‘ regional variant’ of a commodities form of global pop culture (quoted in Lee, 2008: 184). The situation is arguably more complex than either of these arguments supposes, however. As Jamie Lee points out, for a Korean audience, the use of English and Korean alongside each other speaks to the unsettled identities of South Korean youths.
As a result, then, rather than simply reading the use of English in ‘ Kananga Style’ – and elsewhere in K-pop – as an appeal to global markets, in a South Korean neonate it can also be read as a ‘ discourse of resistance’ for local youth audiences (Lee, 2004: 446). In his theoretical discussion of identity, Stuart Hall draws a distinction between the essentialist view that identity is stable and unchanging, and the alternative view – which he supports – that identity ‘ is never completed or finished’ (Hall, 1 990: 229). My discussion of identity here certainly supports this latter view.
As with the issue of production, then, when we raise issues of identity in relation to ‘ Kananga Style’, a complex picture In terms of regulation, Psych had some of his work censored and controlled by he South Korean government in the early stages of his career. His 2001 album was deemed to have ‘ inappropriate content’, while his follow-up album in 2002 was not allowed to be sold to those under the age of eighteen. More recently, the video for his new single, ‘ Gentleman’, the follow-up to ‘ Kananga Style’, has been banned by KBPS TV, a state-run broadcaster.
There are three ways in which governments can intervene in the media: by regulating it, by subsidizing it and by promoting it. Attempts to control access to Sys work in South Korea are an example of the former. In his semiotic theory, Roland Berates distinguishes between a sign’s literal meaning (its denotation) and its implicit meaning (or connotation). In terms of representation, it would be possible to carry out a semiotic analysis of the video for ‘ Kananga Style’ which drew on Berates’ ideas, although this would necessarily be a complex task, as the semiotic method encourages us to analyses texts in a particularly detailed manner.
Nevertheless, I would briefly draw here on Berates’ distinction between denotation and connotation in order to address the structure of the video, and the effects of this. The video as a non-linear narrative, and consists of a series of scenes which denote Psych dancing in a range of often quite incongruous locations, gradually building up a large entourage of fellow dancers along the way. Together with the editing, which is often quite rapid, this works to connote a sense of playful energy.
Richard Dyer has argued that popular culture often offers us a utopian sense of abundance, energy, intensity and community in contrast to the inadequacies of everyday life (Dyer, 1999). In addressing the representational codes of ‘ Kananga Style’, we could certainly argue that the semiotics of the video perhaps bear out Dyer’s idea. The final stage of the circuit of culture I wish to explore is consumption.