The Gangnam Style Guide to Becoming a Freelance Writing Rockstar

Carol Tice

Korean rapper Psy performing his mega-hit Gangnam Style and doing his signature pony dance…with some actual ponies. Because he’s subtle. Not.

What’s the difference between a freelance writer and a hugely successful freelance writer?

It’s the difference between the teeming hordes of video posters on YouTube and Gangnam Style.

If you have somehow managed to miss the emergence of the latest global music superstar, Psy (real name: Park Jae-sang) is a Korean rapper.

The video for his song Gangnam Style has become the most popular YouTube video ever, with 340 million views as I write this and nearly 3.5 million likes.

It also has more than 160,000 dislikes. More about that later.

The important thing to know is this music video has skyrocketed Psy from minor Korean rap artist to massive international mega-star.

Anatomy of a massive success

What is this song about? Quick translation of the key points: Gangnam is a swank neighborhood in Seoul where the young and rich dress up to go nightclubbing, and Psy is telling his dream girl that her boyfriend is a smart dresser — he’s got Gangnam style. And that formalwear-clad Psy is also pretty suave himself, so she should do the nasty with him.

In other words, a typical, “Hey baby, I want to have sex with you” type song. Except the execution of this one has captured the attention of the world.

If you haven’t seen it yet, you can check it out below. Then we can discuss in more detail how you can apply Psy’s success formula to your own writing career.



Crazy, huh?

Whether you are now Psy’s newest fan or have laughed yourself sick, the thing to stay focused on is: this video changed Psy’s life.

He was signed up by Justin Bieber’s agent, and just got done making the rounds of all the U.S. talk shows.

In other words, he is a known name. He can call his own shots now. Want to write a book? You know publishers are falling over themselves to sign him up. A TV show? A world tour? Whatever he wants to do next, he can do it and be well-paid for it.

Isn’t that the position we’d all like to be in as writers?

If you’re ready — and have stopped pony-dancing —Β  here’s how you can apply Gangnam Style success to your own writing career to become the “it” writer in your own niche:

  1. Learn the ropes. It’s no coincidence that some of the Gangnam lyrics are in English. Psy is actually fluent in our language, having studied at both Boston University and Berklee College of Music. He has real music chops, and they show in the catchiness of this tune (just try to get it out of your head). The English also helps cannily position this track for a global market rather than appealing only to Koreans.
  2. Create a persona. Who knows what Psy is like in his off hours, but as a performer he has created a distinct persona: He dresses like James Bond visting a casino, and he dances like the biggest junior-high loser ever. Whether you think he is silly or a genius, he is instantly recognizable and unique. Adopt an outrageous writing persona, and not everyone may dig it, but nobody will forget it. And the people who find your wild persona appealing tend to rabidly adore you and send you tons of lucrative gigs.
  3. Have a signature move. Sure, we don’t have a chance to create a dance craze. But writers who create a strong identity for themselves — specializing in proofreading, or in writing case studies, or corporate branding — stand out and are easy to remember.
  4. Be outrageous. A lot of writers are shy flowers. Decide to be different — be the big mouth, the party animal, the one who wears a big purple hat everywhere, or maybe a woman posing as a man. Bust a move. Do something edgy and wild. And you will make a name for yourself.
  5. Embrace your dorkiness. Part of what makes Psy so compellingly watchable is that he isn’t Michael Jackson, though he’d clearly like to be. His dance style rivals that of Napoleon Dynamite’s for all-time, cringe-inducing, awkward choreography. But clearly, he’s proud of how he dances. He owns it. He’s riding that pony because that’s what he likes to do. And that joy of so clearly doing what he thinks is stylin’ is infectious.
  6. Be unashamed. An ordinary mortal might want to crawl into a hole and cry softly and never perform again upon learning they are actively hated by tens of thousands of people. But in Psy’s case, it only seems to propel him onward. Takeaway: Be who you are. Not everyone will like it. So what. Don’t let fear of being laughed at stop you from getting out there.
  7. Build your network. This video might have languished in obscurity, except that Psy had been quietly building his rolodex of influential musicians. After U.S. rapper T-Pain tweeted the video link to his nearly 1 million followers, Gangnam started its climb to insanely viral success.
  8. Share the spotlight. U.S. audiences may mostly miss this, but the Gangnam video is like a who’s who of Korean dancers, rappers, and TV personalities. Check that final scene — there are probably close to 100 people involved in the video. And you know every one of them was out promoting it, telling the world they were in it. By getting a ton of folks involved, Psy created a built-in marketing team to get out the word about the video.
  9. Love your haters. The fact is, if Gangnam Style had only been a solid hit, it probably never would have gotten to this crazy level of zeitgeist awareness. The fact that a distinct proportion of people violently disagreed that it was a good video is what gave the whole thing its spice. People had to ask their friends: “Watch this video! Do you love it or hate it?” The controversy over whether it is embarrassingly bad or wild fun fueled the success. Psy should probably write those haters thank-you notes for their important role in spiking this video up the rankings.
  10. Don’t give up before it pays off. One little-discussed fact: Psy has been recording and rapping since 2001. He’s been working on this a while and perfecting his craft, so that when his moment came and the big spotlight swung his way, he was ready. Writers have to write for the love it, write all the time, keep improving, and be willing to toil in relative obscurity, for however long it takes. Quitters don’t win in the world of creative expression.

What’s your writing persona? Leave a comment below and sum it up in six words or less.


  1. Vee Berg

    My writing style is: Powered by Hookah, Tequila, and Vodka.

    • Vinil Ramdev

      nice one πŸ™‚

  2. Terr

    Okay, am I the only one who wants to book a trip to Korea RIGHT NOW?

    Thanks for the mention Carol. Talk about the power of communication: I saw this last month when Jonah Hill posted the YouTube link on his Twitter feed. BTW, I subscribed to Jonah Hill’s Twitter feed because I was subscribed to another celebrity’s Twitter account and this celebrity subscribes to Jonah’s feed. This is the power of social networking at work!

    This is a lesson in being “crazy like a fox”. This is actually the direction I’m moving towards as a writer. I decided to stop being Ms. “Nicey Nice, I never offend anyone” (Although I am a sweet person). Ms. Nicey Nicey/Inspirational/Love And Beads has her place, but trying not to offend anyone or make strong statements was offensive and oppressive to ME. I totally agree with the need to make a statement.

    I’ve decided to take strong stances on my Twitter feed and in my writing because my deepest desires are to write books and articles based upon the issues are part of my life. I’ve decided to build an authentic career based upon who I am authentically. This video shows us that sometimes you’ve got to put yourself out there and let the chips fall where they may.

    Some people will get your work and some won’t. Some will love your work and some will despise everything you write or represent. I’m human and I want to be loved by everyone but everyone WON’T love my work or what I’m about. If I can inspire or reach those who love my work, then I’ve served my purpose in life.

    P.S. If anyone has HBO On Demand or HBO To Go, DO YOURSELF A FAVOR and watch Gloria In Her Own Words, by Gloria Steinem. I had no idea she started out as a freelance writer. She was a very sexy yet very intelligent FREELANCE WRITER who took a stand in her work and became the “face” and the “voice” of the Women’s Liberation Movement (That I’m very proud to have been born into, as a 70’s baby!)

    P.P.S My favorite fellow over-35 single girl Carrie Bradshaw wrote about her lifestyle in Sex & The City, which eventually led to book deals and a host of other opportunities. She also got paid $4.50 A WORD from Vogue (Fictionally, but STILL!)

    • Carol Tice

      Yeah…unfortunately I don’t think Vogue pays that in the real world. But of course the author of the original book, Candace Bushnell, made a mint on the TV series.

      • Terr

        Yeah, exactly! Sex And The City was a real column that Candace wrote and she had her own “Mr. Big”. She’s like Carrie times ten, you know? And she had another show, I think it was Lipstick Jungle that did well for a season on NBC.

        She stays in her “single girl in the big bad city” lane and it’s paid off handsomely for her. That’s what I want to do and who I want to be.

        One last thing: There are lots of people who loathe Sex And The City but for many like me, it was and still is a cultural game-changer. That show validated a generation of over 30, then over-35 singles, all because the author had the courage to put her spin on love and life out there!

  3. Terri H

    The steps in this post are so true. I especially love “be outrageous.” It’s been hard to master, but it’s something I’ve tried to adhere to everyday. After reading the quote, “If you are not willing to look stupid nothing great will ever happen to you,” I’ve been dedicated to looking stupid whenever necessary. The quote hold true in so many situations.

    • Carol Tice

      The big thing I’ve learned doing this blog is as soon as you start putting it out there and get even a teeny level of success…someone will tell you you suck. Not everyone will like you, even if you are a hermit.

      So just get out there! People are so afraid of not being liked, or of being laughed at…instead of being afraid of not fulfilling their potential.

    • Carol Tice

      I’m not trying to look stupid, but I gather I have a natural aptitude for it, as I just keep failing at stuff… πŸ˜‰

      I always think I’m not outrageous enough. Working on that.

  4. marilyn

    I don’t care about the difference between a freelance writer and a hugely successful freelance writer.
    What I care about is the thought of each writers’ article.

    • Sean

      That’s what you got?

      • Carol Tice

        Well yeah — OK, I didn’t do a dance — but share the link to yours, Sean!

  5. Lisa

    Wow. Have you been reading my mind lately? I don’t think I have a strong writing persona right now, which is why I’ve been considering re-branding. I just posted a question in the a-list blogger’s club, and then I saw this post in my inbox. You just answered my question. Thank you.

    • Carol Tice

      When I was a secretary I used to joke that mind-reading would be an extra fee…but now that I’m a blogger I perform this service free of charge! πŸ˜‰

      Glad you found this post useful.

  6. Sophie Lizard

    Oh gods, I’ll be bopping in my seat all day…

    I love the lessons you’ve drawn from this for us freelance writers. I may not be pony-dancing my way to success, but I intend to be my weirdo self all the way and never stop learning. Thanks, Carol!

    • Belinda Pollard /

      Ha ha Sophie, I’m still giggling too, and I love your dedication to being your “weirdo self”.

      Love the article, Carol. Vanilla is boring. We should be ourselves, whoever that is. πŸ˜‰

  7. Ali

    So that means normal writing won’t help you stand out of the crowd, you’ve to do something different, something outrageous, something crazy, right? I’m already planning a few things πŸ™‚

    • Terr

      I don’t think it’s about being crazy for the sake of being crazy. I think the message is to create a brand for yourself that makes you stand out from the crowd and captivates.

  8. Amandah

    This guy’s been on Ellen and Saturday Night Live. He was invited to the MTV Music Awards and iHeart Radio’s Music Festival. I don’t understand why people are enamored with him, but he’ll have a nice pay day.

    I agree that it’s time for writers to embrace who they are. I myself am a fiery Leo but have been holding back. But not anymore. I’m glad I reserved a couple of domain names where I can start a blog and show-off my fiery personality. I’m confident enough to accept that I’ll touch a few nerves. You can’t please everyone. πŸ™‚

    • Terr

      Hey Amandah,

      I’m a fiery Aries myself, so I totally feel you. Let’s start keeping it real together. What’s your Twitter feed? I’ll follow you and stay in touch. Actually, I had you on my Gmail chat list, so we must have chatted or emailed some time ago. Don’t ask me about what, I don’t remember. But let’s get acquainted again!

    • Carol Tice

      I know, I was expecting my teen to say he was a hater…people love where this guy is coming from. I think the secret is the tuxedos. Nobody dresses up anymore! By being suavely dressed he grabbed attention right away.

  9. Lisa Loewen

    I think you are right Carol. I write a blog about dreams (dream symbols and dream interpretation) that is obviously a very niche market. But I have been amazed at how well some of my more “out there” posts do. For example, “Dreaming of Vomit”, a topic one would not think would be that popular, consistantly has hundreds of page views. Who knew? So what I’ve learned is that I need to just go with whatever moves me, no matter how weird it may seem at the time because chances are it will appeal to someone else too.

  10. Lisa Loewen

    I think you are right Carol. I write a blog about dreams (dream symbols and dream interpretation) that is obviously a very niche market. But I have been amazed at how well some of my more “out there” posts do. For example, “Dreaming of Vomit”, a topic one would not think would be that popular, consistantly has hundreds of page views. Who knew? So what I’ve learned is that I need to just go with whatever moves me, no matter how weird it may seem at the time because chances are it will appeal to someone else too.

    • Terr

      Hi Lisa,

      Okay, the title to your post was gross, but EYE CATCHING. It’s inspiring to me that you’ve been able to get an audience. I have an inspirational affiliate blog that I’ve placed on hold. I thought about giving up on it because no one is following it. I’ve decided that I’m going to post on it once a month for now, and maybe spruce up the titles.

      I think inspirational/spiritual niches are hard anyway, because no one knows how to take you at first. Some might think you’re an airy-fairy weirdo and some might be intimidated by a person who spouts off inspirational thoughts and advice. Anyway, I’ve done a lot of posting on this topic, I’m obviously fired up about this and I’ll have to check out your blog.

      • Terr

        BTW Lisa,

        I went to your blog to try to subscribe to it. How can I reach you or subscribe to your posts?

        • Lisa Loewen

          Thanks for your feedback Terr. Very helpful because I guess I was just assuming that people could subscribe by becoming a follower (on Google or whatever). So now I’ve added another gadget that I think will help. Let me know!

  11. Debbie

    Feel the fear and do it anyway.

    How appropriate to read this post as I’m torturing myself to get my writer website/blog live.

    BTW, I often dance like a crazy person to music my kids hate so kudos to Psy for being so out there.

  12. Debbie

    Feel the fear and do it anyway.

    How appropriate to read this post as I’m torturing myself to get my writer website/blog live.

    BTW, I often dance like a crazy person to music my kids hate so kudos to Psy for being so out there.

  13. Megan Harris -

    Cool post, Carol! I wrote a similar one last month on Gangnam Style and freelancing. Great minds think alike!

    • Carol Tice

      Cool! I’m sure I’m like the 1,043rd person to use it for an analogy…but I couldn’t resist.

  14. Sarah L. Webb

    If your persona isn’t aligned with who you really are, you might have a nervous breakdown trying to keep up appearances. We also have evidence of very famous people who cracked under the pressure of having to keep up a false persona. I do think that the most interesting and SUSTAINABLE “persona” is the most AUTHENTIC one.

    I think it’s important to follow these steps even if you never reach the level of success that Psy has, because that’s what makes life worth living.

    I think this is great advice for life, not just career.

    This is about living life to the fullest and living YOUR life, not someone elses, and not trying to be liked by everyone (because that will never happen).

    Thanks for such a fun post.

  15. Kate

    μ•ˆλ…•ν•˜μ„Έμš” ! Finally! Carol does Gangnam Style! λ†€λΌμš΄!

    Inserting English phrases into K-pop, Chinese pop and J-pop are quite trendy even though the artists themselves don’t how how to speak English. Just like what I did with Google Translate above πŸ˜‰

    Foreign songs that become international hits are usually one hit wonders. Does anyone know what happened to the artists of the songs “Asereje” or the “Macarena”? How can we writers prevent ourselves from becoming one post wonder and become memorable in a lasting way?

    Also not to wax on pop culture here but Psy’s Gangnam Style became a hit because it was out of the norm, uncool, over the top outrageous, a satire, unconventional — the Seth Godin Purple Cow. Of course, we can’t exactly do the pony dance on our fingertips but we want to stand out. But how can we balance standing out and taking risks and still look professional to our clients –sans the Horse Dance and the Ray Bans, of course. πŸ™‚

    • Carol Tice

      That IS the challenge, eh, Kate?

      And thanks for telling me how you got the Korean on that – I was going to ask!

  16. Pinar Tarhan

    I was pretty much thinking two things while watching the video :

    1) I totally hate it.
    2) Carol will definitely mention the consistency of his attitude and moves.The word branding kept flashing in my brain.

    While I’m not exactly outrageous, I have to agree that haters increase popularity. I once posted a negative review of the movie Pulp Fiction (which I sincerely don’t like) on my entertainment blog, and all the Tarantino fans left hate comments. But I also got a lot of supporting comments, from movie fans who had been waiting for a negative review from someone who just went out there and said it. It’s not for everyone and not everyone considers it something to worship. I eventually had to remove the post, as In got tired of editing the bad language of all commenters (they started attacking each other and me), I got the proof for “not everyone will like you, but even the haters will help increase the popularity”.

    Fingers crossed for all of us who want to enjoy a similar success to Gangnam, or in my case more like Candace Bushnell as Terr pointed out:)

    • Carol Tice

      Controversy definitely sells…something for us all to consider. Have a point of view and you’re more popular — even if your opinion isn’t popular. Sort of ironic, hm?

  17. GOAStudio residential architect

    Still developing, but it’ll be big!


    I liked what you did with this article, you broke down the success of this and translated it into how it could apply to writers and their style. And you did it in 10 neat points too. If this is not the signature of a great writer (and observer!) then I don’t know what is.

    Appreciated, thank you.


  18. Flora Morris Brown, Ph.D.

    I love analogies that draw apt parallels as you’ve done here.

    Although I was underwhelmed when my 30-year-old kids insisted that I watch Gangnam, I did admire his gusto and subsequent success. It shows the benefit of embracing your style regardless of whether it’s cool or dorky. (By the way, that seemed to be a costly production.)

    The one thing I’ve observed about YouTube viral videos is that no one seems able to predict what’s going to go viral. The creators typically spend many years crafting their art and keep putting together many combinations until the stars align to ignite that elusive something that regardless of whether it makes us laugh or puke, moves us to spread their work.

    The most important lessons here for writers are to be authentic, find our voices, expect to have haters (they are fans of a sort too,) be willing to look uncool, risk failure, but by all means keep putting our work out there.

    Thank you for the continuous encouragement.

  19. Amandah

    @Terr… That is interesting! I don’t remember either. My Twitter feed is @savvy_writer.

    @Carol… My 16-year-old nephew mentioned the other day that he wishes we’d go back to the time when men wore suits and women dressed in dresses and or skirts. I almost fell over when he said he’d wear a suit every day.

    To kick-off my writing persona, I sent an op-ed piece to The Christian Science Monitor today. I can’t wait until I hear back from them. πŸ™‚

  20. Anthony Dejolde

    I reside in Manila, and Gangnam Style is still creating havoc here.(” ,)
    Great insights Carol. I’m trying to create a wild persona now.

  21. Mike Shurtleff

    Yo. Carol Tice. Thanks for the BIG idea. I’m not real popular ’cause of my big fat mouth. This gives me hope. I love your work.

  22. Karen

    Love this! My writing persona…in six words or less? Hmmm…Quirky, humorous, snarky, sarcastic and interactive. πŸ™‚ I fall into the “I’m a shy writer” category. This post is a good reminder going forward to quit having attacks of “OMG! I suck and everyone hates my writing.” I just need to keep doing what I love best and the the lovers and haters sort it out. lol

  23. anne grant

    Being true to yourself can be SO hard to do when doubt creeps in or when you are reinventing yourself.
    Reading Anne Lamott tonight (Bird By Bird)- she says, ” You may have gotten into the habit of doubting the voice that was telling you quite clearly what was going on. It is essential that you get it back.”
    Even though I know this intellectually, I see so many personas that I want to emulate, I can miss out on finding my own style. Now I want Gangnam style…

  24. Anne

    This is a wonderful post about writing. It’s not the type of writing article I read every day, but it really does bring its message home. It’s also quite entertaining.

    • Carol Tice

      Thanks Anne! That entertainment factor is obviously a big part of why this video became a phenomenon. Whatever you think of it is, it certainly is entertaining, and you can hardly look away. Or stop humming that song…

  25. anne grant


    I woke up this morning thinking about my writing persona. Oh, how I wish I could carry off Gangnam style (outside of the privacy of my home) but instead I play it safe with this rather bland description.
    None of these things on my list are bad and I do like to be around people with those traits, but it needs something that pulls it together, to make it a bit more dynamic.
    Thanks for getting me back on track on developing & putting the shine on my identity as a writer.

    • Carol Tice

      Well, it could be the funny, Anne. I personally love blogs where they can make me laugh. I don’t feel like I write funny all that well so maybe that makes me appreciate it more. πŸ˜‰

  26. Amanda

    I could not dance the Gangnam Style! This song has been a fever around the world. I don’t know why. The singer looks very hyperactive. Do you know how the copy the moves when you dance?


  27. Stefanie

    This is such an “I wish I thought of that!” post. πŸ™‚ It’s signature-Carolβ€”detailed points with important takeaways mixed into an entertaining read. Thanks so much for the mention, as well!

    • Carol Tice

      Thanks Stefanie! Still wish I had me some cooler branding. At least I’m a cartoon now. Baby steps.

      And you know I’m all about the takeaways! We gotta learn from it all.

  28. Techboy Rocky

    I must say that I get lot of inspiration by reading this post..I am thinking of writing in a very unique way and developing my own unique writing style… I am a great fan of you Carol…I have been trying to get response from you regarding how I can work as a writer for you in future…

  29. Theresa Cahill

    In six words:

    Keep what works. Reinvent the rest.

  30. Michael Cairns

    Hi Carol
    Entertain, engage, fun, transport my readers.
    I thought this was a great blog. I think there are many parallels to be drawn between the music industry and writing which you make really well.
    Another is the rise in both of self-publishing/releasing and of course, the power of self-controlled media which Psy has used so well.
    So thanks very much, although I do hold you personally responsible for getting that song stuck in my head again!

    • Carol Tice

      …Hey, sexy lady…oppa Gangnam style! I know. It’s REALLY catchy.

      Makes you think about literary writers whose lines stick in your head too. Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again. It was the best of times…

      How can we create something like that, that will echo down through the ages?

      • Michael Cairns

        ‘Now is the winter of our discontent’…
        I know, it’s figuring out what it is about them that makes them resonate. Having said that, I’m not sure they’d be so powerful if the rest of the book/play/whatever was rubbish!
        So I guess it’s about the whole story. As to how…
        I’m sure it’ll come to me soon!


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