Psy’s Gangnam Style dance has galloped across screens around the world.
This NY Times article and interview explore Psy’s musical influences, with some surprising revelations.
His Style Is Gangnam, and Viral Too
By MELENA RYZIK New York Times Published: October 11, 2012
THERE are global cultural phenomena, and then there is “Gangnam Style.” The viral video for that Korean pop song has racked up over 400 million views on YouTube, becoming the most-liked video in the site’s history. Its flashy style and galloping, invisible-horse dance have inspired hundreds of tributes, from West Point cadets to Filipino prisoners.
Ahn Young-Joon/Associated Press
The Korean pop star Psy gets inspiration from plenty of American and British musicians.
The man behind the hit, the 34-year-old South Korean artist known as Psy (short for psycho; he was born Park Jae-sang), has been a star for years in Korea: “Gangnam Style,” named for an expensive neighborhood in Seoul, appears on his sixth album, “Psy’s Best 6th Part 1 ” (YG Entertainment). But even Psy was unprepared for the worldwide response to his latest single.
“I’ve only done this for 12 years, only for Korea, not for overseas at all,” he said by phone from Seoul. “I didn’t expect anything like this. So what can I say? Everything moves way too fast.”
“Gangnam Style” has reached No. 1 on the charts in Britain and No. 2 so far in the United States, and it also topped the download list in China. After posting compliments on Twitter about the song, Justin Bieber’s manager, Scooter Braun, signed Psy, and an English-language track may be their first collaboration. But Psy also aims to represent his country, and his genre, K-pop. “There’s a lot of variety of musicians in Korea,” he said. “I cannot say they are the best in the world, but I can say that Korean artists are really dynamic artists, so I am going to show that from now on. If I have a chance I want to introduce some of my friends.”
After a brief tour of the United States, Psy performed a welcome-home concert in Seoul earlier this month, which drew nearly 80,000 fans and shut down the city center. “It’s like the World Cup right now,” he told Melena Ryzik, when they spoke a few hours before the show. Months into it, “Gangnam” mania shows no signs of slowing down, spawning “Saturday Night Live” sketches and workout routines.
Psy, though, has even bigger rock ’n’ roll ambitions. “To the U.S. and the world, I’m just known as some funny song and some funny music, some funny video guy,” he said. “But in Korea I’m doing one of the biggest concerts; it’s not a dance music concert. I’m playing with the band, so I change my every song to a rock song. I’m going to do some concerts later so you’re going to see that.” These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
Q. When did you get a sense that “Gangnam Style” would hit differently?
A. I released the song on July 15 and I didn’t see anything for 10 days. After 10 days I saw some ripples on YouTube in other languages. A lot of celebrities celebrated my video on Twitter. At that time I realized this was happening.
Q. It’s also become quite a popular wedding dance.
A. [laughs] I don’t think this dance is suitable for weddings. This is not a formal dance, this is a cheesy dance! But still, I appreciate that.
Q. How did you come up with the dance moves?
A. I studied hard to find something new. I spent like a month to find the horse dance. We are just at the studio, me and my choreographers, we are spending like 30 nights and we are thinking, what is my next dance move? Because in Korea there are huge expectations about my dancing. So it was a lot of pressure.
Q. Do you listen to much American music?
A. Every musician in Korea, we learn from your pop — we get inspired. I was at the iHeartRadio festival in Las Vegas and when I walked down the hallway someone stopped me and said, “Are you Psy?” And he said, “I’m Jon Bon Jovi.” I grew up listening to Bon Jovi since “You Give Love a Bad Name,” so this was a really touching moment. We took a picture and he uploaded it on his Facebook. It’s unbelievable.
Q. You studied at Boston University and Berklee College of Music. Did you graduate?
A. Not at all. Freshman for four years — class was too early for me.
Q. But did music school influence your taste?
A. At that time I tried to be a composer, not a singer. I cannot learn creation from other people, I’ve got to do it myself. Now, honestly, I regret not studying — I don’t know about harmonies, or anything, so if I’m composing a song, it’s really hard.
Q. What kind of music did you listen to growing up?
A. My lifetime role model and hero is Freddie Mercury of Queen. His songwriting skills, I cannot even approach, but his showmanship, I learned it from videos. I’m No. 1 in the U.K. right now, so if I have any chance to go there, I want to meet Queen and to tell them how much I got inspired by their music. Queen and Bon Jovi, Aerosmith and Guns N’ Roses — I had a huge rock-band mania. I play a little bit of drums.
Q. How did you transition from that to your sound?
A. I tried to compose a song — I was in the United States and it was all about hip-hop at the time, ’99-2000. I got inspiration from that kind of music: Tupac, Notorious B.I.G., Dr. Dre, Eminem, Snoop Dogg. But my spirit and my agenda is play — it’s a mixture right now, I’m doing rockable dance, or danceable rock.
Q. What do you do when you’re not performing?
A. I’m drinking. It’s my biggest hobby.