10 years after “Gangnam Style”, South Korean rapper Psy reflects on life

Psy, whose real name is Park Jae-sang, was a superstar in South Korea long before “Gangnam Style”.


Ten years after “Gangnam Style” became a worldwide phenomenon, South Korean rapper Psy is living his best life – proud of his “biggest trophy” and free from the pressure to repeat that unprecedented success.

The song’s crazy music video, which was uploaded to YouTube on July 15, 2012, became a runaway mega-hit, with its trademark equestrian dance causing thousands of imitations, scams and accessories.

It was the first YouTube video to reach one billion views, and with it, Psy achieved what K-pop actions could not do before it: global recognition.

At the height of the song’s popularity, he was everywhere – he shared the stage with Madonna, led a blitz mobile in front of the Eiffel Tower and performed in front of then-US President Barack Obama.

But the success of “Gangnam Style” was a double-edged sword – along with fame came pressure to deliver another big hit. Psy once described it as one of the most difficult periods of his life.

Things “got heavier and harder because … every time I (had to) have that kind of strong song”, Psy said in an interview with AFP last week at his company’s headquarters in Gangnam – the posh Seoul district with who he mocked in the track.

“I had a huge addiction (to) the song … But you know, it’s been 10 years, so at the moment I’m really free.”

“Gangnam Style” has not only transformed Psy’s career, but also the music industry, and shows how an artist who does not perform in a dominant language such as English can reach international audiences through the internet.

It also led to a change in how music charts were compiled, which made Billboard take YouTube views and streams into account.

K-pop actions “are very big on YouTube, they get a lot of views”, Psy said.

“If Billboard had not changed, it (would) not be so easy,” the 44-year-old added.

Psy’s groundbreaking role has been recognized by some of the biggest names in K-pop.

“He’s always someone I’m grateful for,” Suga, a member of the hugely popular group BTS, said in a video last month.

“With ‘Gangnam Style’, he paved the way for K-pop in the United States … We could easily follow in his footsteps.”

A lead singer like Freddie Mercury

Psy, whose real name is Park Jae-sang, was a superstar in South Korea long before “Gangnam Style”.

He cites Queen as his earliest inspiration – while in high school, he watched a video of the British band’s famous 1986 concert at Wembley.

“I thought: I want to be a frontman like him (Freddie Mercury),” Psy told AFP.

“At that moment I was not so good with music, not so good singer … I was just a funny dancer.”

While attending university in the United States in the late 1990s, he was exposed to what many described as one of the golden ages of hip-hop, including the music of rappers Tupac Shakur and The Notorious BIG

“I literally heard hip-hop on the radio every day,” Psy said. “I thought, ‘Oh, if I can not sing so well, I must rap. Then I can be the lead singer.’

With his debut in 2001, he quickly made a name for himself with humorous and explosive stage performances and won several awards.

Unusually controversial for a Korean pop star, several of his earlier songs and music videos received adult ratings because of what state censors considered bad language.

“How happy I am not”

Since the explosive success of “Gangnam Style”, Psy has released three albums.

The latest, “Psy 9th”, was released in April by P NATION – the record company and artist agency he founded in 2019.

Psy maintains he is far from finished, and divides his time between his own music and concerts and works with P NATION performances. And “Gangnam Style” remains a great source of pride.

“This is the biggest and biggest trophy of my life,” Psy told AFP. “When I show (a), it’s my strongest weapon.”

This was demonstrated during a performance at Korea University in Seoul last week, when an overwhelming crowd sang along to every word during a high-energy set that included songs from his first album more than two decades ago, as well as his youngest one.

The fact that the young audience knows all the words of songs that were released before many of them were even born is not lost on Psy.

“These days, (I say to myself): ‘Wow, dude, you’re very popular. They love you!’

“How happy I am as an artist. I’m happier these days than ever.”

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by techlives staff and is being published from a syndicated stream.)

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