Psy Talks “Gangnam Style” Craze, Working With Justin Bieber’s Manager & Billboard Chart Success

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    Psy Talks "Gangnam Style" Craze, Linking with Scooter Braun, and Billboard Charts Ranking
    In two months since the release of his electro-driven, dance mega hit “Gangnam Style”—which is accompanied by an addictive dance known as the “horse dance”—South Korean rapper/singer Psy has quickly become one of the hottest artists on the worldwide web. To date, the hilarious music video for the single has garnered 221 million views on YouTube, and has made Psy a record holder on various charts including iTunes and <em>Billboard</em>. While some may easily dismiss Psy as an overnight sensation who could soon be considered a one-hit wonder, the former Berklee College of Music student (he never graduated) has been an active force in the entertainment business for more than a decade. <br /><br />Even before “Gangnam Style,” he was known in his native South Korea as an antithesis to the country’s bubblegum-heavy pop music industry, for his bizarre antics in music videos and concerts, as well as the unique subject matters he touches on his rap-driven pop anthems. He's a multi-faceted entertainer, who writes and produces his own music, oversees his own dance choreography, and directs his own music videos. The 35-year-old Psy may come off a bit silly, but he has the talent to back up his slightly absurd—yet blatantly funny—approach to his art form. <em>XXL</em> spoke with K-pop’s biggest—and most ironic—star on the impact of “Gangnam Style,” taking his journey to America, and what the musician has in plans for the future. —<em>Jaeki Cho</em> (<a href="">@JaekiCho</a>)
  • The Genesis of “Gangnam Style”
    The Genesis of “Gangnam Style”
    <object width="620" height="400"><param name="movie" value=""></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="620" height="400" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"></embed></object><strong>Psy</strong>: “This is the first single off my sixth album. My debut single from 2001 was a song called ‘Bird.’ Afterwards I’ve done ‘Champion,’ ‘Artists,’ and a variety of songs. Then one day I realized, after I’ve became famous, I lost the mindset that I had when I was doing songs like ‘Bird.’ This type of aggressive and raw attitude. Initially, my concerts were strictly for adults. Now my shows are for all ages. And throughout that process, I realized, ‘I became too nice. Too kind.’ So as I was working on my sixth album, I thought, ‘Okay, let me get back to my initial mindset, and let me do something that’s <em>yang-ah-chi</em> (a Korean term describing scumbags or thugs).’ So for the first time in 12 years, I decided to go that route. That was the genesis of ‘Gangnam Style.’ That was how the horse dance was created. Going international didn’t even cross my mind. Our team obviously uploaded the music video on YouTube, since people in Korea use YouTube as well. At the time, my goal was to become No. 1 in all the online music charts in Korea. But I was able to achieve that in two days and that lasted for about six weeks. The song was No. 1 on about nine different charts."
  • On Why He Decided to Make a Run for it in America
    On Why He Decided to Make a Run for It in America
    <strong>Psy</strong>: “I think it was about 10 days after its release on YouTube, Robbie Williams decided to link it on Twitter. He’s someone I really like as an artist. I was very thrilled. It was really amazing. And then T-Pain tweeted the music video. And I was once again thrilled. And then Josh Groban tweeted it out as well. I realized celebrities started to tweet the music video out. As their followers started to check out my music video, I guess people in Great Britain, and North America started to take notice of my song. And then it was covered on CNN, <em>LA Times</em>, <em>Wall Street Journal</em>, <em>Huffington Post</em>, and of course <em>Billboard</em> they reported [on] me, too. And around that time, I got hit up by Scooter Braun [Justin Bieber’s manager]. He wanted to meet in L.A. He saw my music video, and whether it’s Bieber or Carly Rae Jespen, I knew what he did. Okay, so a hot manager in the U.S. wants to do something with me, why not? So I decided to come out here, Scooter and I hung out in Koreatown in L.A. He has really great tolerance for alcohol, and so do I. We hung out with some girls. He really reminded me of myself before I got married. Work hard, and play hard.<br /><br />"I’m not young. And for me to be here as a rookie artist like I did 12 years ago, I’ve done too much in Korea. And in Korea, I really have nothing else to feel bad about. The song ‘Gangnam Style’ became No. 1 on all the charts. Of course, I speak English, but I have a lot of things to overcome in America. But while hanging out with Scooter, we spoke about what we could possibly do together. And surprisingly Scooter thought we should keep the lyrics in Korean, and just apply his style of promotion. That’s what sold it for me. Scooter wanted to see how far a Korean song in Korean could make an impact in America, and I wanted to see that as well. So we said, ‘Let’s do it.’ We signed a deal; I finished my activities in Korea, and flew out here.<br /><br />“I’m excited. I have nothing to lose here. That’s why I can do anything. I was nobody here, and I’m in the process of making myself into somebody here right now.”
  • On Previous Korean Acts that Attempted to Break into the American Market
    On Previous Korean Acts Who Attempted to Break Into the American Market
    <strong>Psy</strong>: “First, I want to thank every Korean artist that attempted to penetrate the American market before me. After all, they really made the word ‘K-Pop’ a recognized term on YouTube. They all made various attempts, and I’m making various attempts myself. I think all attempts are beautiful and should be respected. It doesn’t matter who it is, if a Korean artist reaches the top, we’re all ready to stand up and applaud for him or her. There’s no right or wrong, in who makes it there first, who’s late, who’s not really making an impact. We’re all just making different attempts.”
  • On His Style of Music
    On His Style of Music
    <strong>Psy</strong>: “Truthfully, I don’t have anything that’s strategically planned. From the very beginning, from the time I released ‘Bird’ in 2001, I’ve always done a very Korean-style of music. I speak English, I went to school in America, but I rarely use English when I rap. I tried to rap in Korean for the most part, and when I do rap in Korean, I tried to enunciate it as clearly as possible. I tried really hard to make this genre known as rap as approachable and accessible as possible in Korea. ‘What’s most homegrown, is what’s most international.’ Even if the cultures are different, a human being usually sees the same thing and feels similar type of joy. I think what’s been tested in Korea, will work here. ‘Gangnam Style’ is doing well, because it did well in Korea."
  • A Student of Rap and Music
    A Student of Rap and Music
    <strong>Psy</strong>: “If you want to take it back, I’ve been listening to N.W.A. I mean, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, I loved them all. Jay-Z, P. Diddy, Notorious B.I.G., I heard it all. I rap, but I listen to everything. You might say it’s a bit different from the style of music I do, but the group I respect the most is Queen. If you saw any footage of my concerts, I try to do my shows like they’re rock concerts. Some day, I’ll be performing in America. And then people will know, ‘This kid isn’t just into electro, dance music.’ But self-promoting that out of my own mouth is a bit embarrassing. You don’t even see me going, ‘Oh, I produce, and compose my own records.’ But sooner or later, they’re going to get it somehow.”
  • On Collaborations with American Artists
    On Collaborations with American Artists
    <strong>Psy</strong>: “Personally, I think a collaboration should happen naturally. I shouldn’t pick a person, and then try to collaborate with that person. I should make the track first, and then pick the right partner who can fit into the song. Even if that artist is a huge star, I don’t believe in collaborating for the sake of collaborating. If he fits, or if she fits. If they’re suitable for the song with me, and then it can be a great collabo."
  • Understanding the Korean-American Struggle
    Understanding the Korean-American Struggle
    <strong>Psy</strong>: “I really want you to cover this one point. There are a lot of Koreans who live in America. And lately, I felt, Korean-Americans are supporting me from the very bottom of their heart. I can feel it. I want to repay that back to them, by any means necessary. Because I was an international student, and I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. International students can’t understand the Korean-American mindset. But this time, I came to America, and I’m actually working here, I realized being in a foreign place, speaking a foreign language, competing a foreign battle is so scary, and difficult. The step-by-step makes you want to go back to Korea so much. Even though everything is going so well for me right now, every time I do an interview, I have to translate the dialogue in my brain. I’m not a native speaker, and since my English is that of a four year old, I have to do so much translation in my head. When I receive a question in English, I can’t reply with an answer immediately like you, I have to listen to the question, translate the question, I insert my answer in Korean, and then translate that into English, and then spit it out. Seeing Korean Americans overcoming all that, and making a living in America, I thought how much level of stress and tears they’ve gone through.”
  • On the Billboard Charts Ranking
    On the Billboard Charts Ranking
    <strong>Psy</strong>: “I debuted at No. 64 in <em>Billboard</em> 100. According to Scooter, because the ranking in iTunes is pretty high, and because of the <em>Today Show</em> and my appearance on the <em>Ellen DeGeneres</em> show, the buzz is getting bigger; the result in the <em>Billboard</em> charts next week will be quite phenomenal. Truthfully, I’m not expecting anything. Because I know the more you expect it, the more you get disappointed. But, I’m a human being, so of course I’m anticipating a good result. So I’m definitely pondering how well I’ll do on the <em>Billboard</em> charts. Right now, it doesn’t matter what ranking I’ll place on the charts, I think it’s a real historic moment. A Korean song by a Korean artist, we call it ga-yo, it’s not K-pop. A ga-yo record placing at No.64 on the <em>Billboard</em> chart is history in the making, but if it ranks a higher spot next week, and it gets into a higher spot the week after, perhaps a higher spot the week after, we’re going to see something.”
  • What could be a Possible Follow-up for “Gangnam Style”?
    What could be a Possible Follow-up for “Gangnam Style”?
    <strong>Psy</strong>: “I know for the Korean fans, ‘Gangnam Style’ has been No. 1 on the charts for a long time, but in America it’s only at No. 64 on the Billboard charts. So got a long way to go. So I’m not thinking about the next project. If you’re asking me what am I going to do after this song, I don’t know because this song might even get bigger. Once I realize that it’s the bottom line for this song, I’ll pull out another song. Why? Because I already have a lot of songs under my belt. Older songs. They’re new songs here. I can put out ‘Right Now,’ or ‘Champion.’ Putting those out is not too difficult. I just want to see how far ‘Gangnam Style’ will take me.”
  • On the Inspiration Behind his Creative Process
    On the Inspiration Behind His Creative Process
    <object width="620" height="400"><param name="movie" value=""></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="620" height="400" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"></embed></object><strong>Psy</strong>: “All the creation is by alcohol. Done.”
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  • Marlina Koh

    This guy is too awesome for words. I wish him all the success out there !