Seoul. A chubby, rapping singer with slicked-back hair and a tacky suit is the latest musical sensation to burst upon the world from South Korea, via a YouTube music video that has been seen by over 20 million people in under a month.
In a nation famed for the pretty-boy but often bland bands of K-Pop, nobody was more surprised by the success of the video “Gangnam Style” than its creator, Psy, a musician with a decade-long career in his homeland who never thought to break overseas.
“The YouTube video never targeted foreign countries. It was for local fans,” Psy told Reuters on the sidelines of a concert at the weekend.
“My goal in this music video was to look uncool until the end. I achieved it.”
Decked out in a bow tie and suit jackets varying from pink to baby blue, as well as a towel for one sequence set in a sauna, the 34-year-old Psy busts funky moves based on horse-riding in venues ranging from playgrounds to subways.
The video has been viewed by more than 26 million since mid-July, eclipsing the total for pop star Justin Bieber’s most recent effort, according to YouTube. Parodies have popped up in South Korea and the United States, and the tune was used as part of Stockholm’s Pride Parade earlier this month.
Even a few of South Korea’s normally staid presidential candidates are imitating Psy’s moves in an appeal to voters.
The song, released in mid-July, was meant as a commentary on the rampant materialism and emphasis on appearance of today’s South Korea – particularly in relation to Gangnam, which Psy terms Seoul’s Beverly Hills.
“It is too hot, and the economy is so bad,” said Psy, whose real name is Park Jai-sang. “So I just wanted the song — lyrics, dances and everything — to be full of gusto.”
At one point enrolled in a US business school by his traditional parents, who wanted their son to inherit the family business, Psy confessed to sneaking out and buying musical instruments with his tuition money.
“Since when I was very small, I have been looking for something fun,” he said. “If I did not do music, I would most likely have been a loser. I was very lazy – just drinks, clubs and ladies. That was fun at that time.”
Eventually graduating from the Berklee College of Music in the United States, Psy rose to fame with a 2001 debut album. But he landed in hot water several times – once for smoking marijuana and later for trouble over his mandatory military service.
Known for his brash style, catchy beat and kitschy antics, Psy specializes in high-energy and outrageous performances. At a weekend concert that packed a Seoul stadium, he staged a parody of Lady Gaga – complete with fake breasts that he set on fire.
“He makes people crazy, real crazy,” said Yoon Sun-sik, a 29-year-old fan. “He has the power to blow away all the stress in the world with one punch.”