Youtube sensation Psy Oppa waves to fans ahead of a performance at Tao nightclub on Saturday in Las Vegas. / AP-Yonhap
As far as I can ...
As much as Koreans are wondering who will become the next president in December, they are also guessing just how far musical sensational Psy will go with his song “Gangnam Style.”
Psy, whose real name is Park Jae-sang, had no idea his music video would go so viral within a couple of months of its release. But relatively fluent in English and full of chutzpah, he is having no problems touring through different countries and appearing on leading American television shows.
He is also setting some unprecedented records, both pleasantly surprising and alarming the K-pop industry.
The song recently broke a Guinness World Record to become the most “liked” video on YouTube and has accumulated over 260 million views. It has also topped the iTunes Chart in 30 countries and climbed to 11 on the United States’ Billboard Chart and became the United Kingdom’s the Official Charts Company’s No. 3. It is a first for a Korean song to ever make it that high on American and British charts.
“It’s huge here. I really like it,” Harry McKinley, art director at PositiveLuxury said Monday in an email interview with The Korea Times. “It’s super catchy but also has quite a cool electro sound that makes it really good for clubs. The video is great, it’s quite funny but tongue in cheek so not too cheesy, it straddles both fun and quirky. My friend is amazing at doing the dance, he has every move perfectly honed!”
Music critic Lim Jin-mo said Monday that “Gangnam Style” is the biggest achievement in Korean music history.
“He is currently 11th on the Billboard Chart and 3rd on a U.K. music chart. Topping both the U.S. and U.K. music charts at the same time is really something — ABBA only took first place in the U.S. single chart once with Dancing Queen,” said Lim.
Making his debut in 2001 with studio album “Psy from the Psycho World,” its title track “Bird” instantly became a massive hit but his music including the first album and others like “Sa 2” and “Sa Jib (House)” have had some critique about the state of the world. “Champion,” the title song of his third album “3 PSY,” nevertheless saw great success thanks to the hype from the World Cup games held in Korea.
Despite relatively successful records, the 34-year-old artist has received a lot of flak from the Korean media for problems with his military service, marijuana possession and DUIs. He has suffered a lot of obstacles in his career and even had to go to the Army twice after evidence revealed that he didn’t serve his full term initially.
Gangnam, the southern part of Seoul, represents wealth, glamour and parties. The fact that this chubby, average looking guy dances in the middle of all that makes the humor effective, regardless of language and culture. The singer actually comes from a well-off background. He went to Boston University and Berklee College of Music in the U.S. but did not complete his studies. His father is the president of semiconductor testing company DI and his sister is a well-known food stylist in Korea. His mother is also a businesswoman who runs a number of luxurious restaurants in Gangnam.
Popular culture critic Kang Tae-gyu sees Psy’s success factor as the differentiation from pop stars.
“K-pop groups belonged to big entertainment moguls who made their way to the United States by trying to imitate existing pop singers. However, Psy created unique content with clear Korean characteristics as well as universal elements such as horse-riding dance movements,” Kang said Monday.
If anyone is guessing how long his international stardom will last, both local and international media are already talking about whether the singer will reach the heights of the “Macarena.” It is a Spanish dance song by Los del Rio that continues to have a cult following. The song is a ‘90s epic that became one of the longest running No. 1s and the best-selling debut single in American music history.
Forbes magazine dissected the reasons for Psy’s global popularity on Sept. 22. It said, “Like the Macarena, which it resembles, this low barrier of entry makes it easy to get started with, but hard to let go of.”
Lim was optimistic about Psy’s chances of topping the Billboard chart since he fulfilled a longtime dream of Korean music industry of ranking high on a Western music chart and proved the possibility of the success of Korean pop music to the world.
“Psy is rising fast in the chart, from 101th to 64th and now to 11th. He will make the top 10 next week for sure and topping the chart is just a question of time,” he said. “Psy’s next single is important to his international career. But for now, he is sweeping the world with Gangnam Style and there is only one thing for him to do — just run as he did before.”