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.
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 — here’s how you can apply Gangnam Style success to your own writing career to become the “it” writer in your own niche:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.