Ever since the late ‘90s, South Korea’s pop packaging industry has slowly and steadily been conquering much of Asia and, to some degrees, the West. K-pop, as the genre has come to be called, has seen an assembly line of young boy and girl bands churned out with amazing consistency — all marked out for their young, bubblegum, fresh videos and funky fashion and dance moves.
However, it has taken a self-deprecating, slightly chubby 34-year-old singer with a one-syllable name to truly take K-pop global. And what a sensation Psy and his Gangnam Style have been!
In fact, so universally accepted has the video for Psy’s cheesy satire on his old neighbourhood been, it has averaged 200 million views a month since it was uploaded on YouTube in July. In September, it became the most liked video on the Google-owned streaming site, quickly surpassing pop phenomenon Justin Bieber’s Baby as the most-viewed video on November 24. Then, on December 21, Psy reached a new milestone on YouTube, becoming the first video ever to reach one billion views.
No mean feat, considering the rap song about “posers and wannabes” is entirely in Korean.
Interestingly, it’s Psy himself who seems most surprised by Gangnam Style’s phenomenal success, telling MTV: “If you think about one billion views, that means people watched it many, many times. I can’t believe they didn’t get sick of it!”
The singer’s modesty is not entirely misplaced.
Psy, real name Park Jae-sang, has been making music since 2000, ever since he graduated from Berklee College of Music in Boston. Gangnam Style, inspired by South Korea’s affluent Gangnam District where he grew up, comes off his sixth studio album Psy 6 (Six Rules), Part 1. In fact, his label, YG Entertainment, has girl band 2NE1 and boy band Big Bang in its stable, who have their own steady international following. Big Bang even piped Britney Spears to win the Best Worldwide Act at the 2011 fan-voted MTV European Music Awards.
But thanks mostly to the internet and to Psy’s horse-inspired dance moves, Gangnam Style and its addictive beats have taken it to places no other K-pop artist or song has been before. According to the New York magazine, the singer would have already pocketed a cool $2 million (Dh7.35 million) from YouTube views alone. The website, it says, pays an average of $2 per thousand views. Still, Gangnam Style’s success is not just on the internet. The song has been downloaded more than three million times in the US alone, arguably the biggest music market. It has also topped charts in more than 40 countries spawning parodies and covers around the world. Celebrities, who have been partly responsible for the song’s viral push, have also been quick to participate with everyone from Madonna to Nelly Furtado and Katy Perry getting on the Gangnam craze. Perhaps a major highlight for Psy was when the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, admitted he was jealous of him for having stolen his crown as the world’s most famous South Korean. The two met in October where the pop star promptly taught the UN chief his famous dance moves. Psy has since signed up as an ambassador for the United Nations Children’s Fund.
Last month, tickets to listen to Psy speak about the success behind his song at the Oxford Union in the UK were so in the demand that they had to be assigned by ballot. A method, the society says, not required with previous guests, including Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama and Michael Jackson.
At the event, Psy, who is married with twin daughters, said Gangnam Style has become both a dream and a nightmare. A dream because he never ever imagined the song would take him this far — and a nightmare because he does not know how he is ever going to top it.