Ten years after becoming a global phenomenon with the hit “Gangnam Style”, South Korean rapper Psy says he is in the best moment of his life, proud of his “biggest trophy” but free from the pressure of repeating such success.
Published to YouTube on July 15, 2012, the flamboyant music video became a smashing hit, with the ‘horse dance’ that sparked thousands of imitations and parodies.
It was the first YouTube video to surpass one billion views and allowed Psy to achieve something K-pop artists before him couldn’t: global recognition.
At the height of his popularity, the rapper was everywhere: sharing the stage with Madonna, leading a ‘flash mob’ to a crowd in front of the Eiffel Tower or performing for US President Barack Obama.
But the success of “Gangnam Style” was a double-edged sword: Fame brought the pressure to get another big hit. Psy describes the moment as one of the most difficult periods in her life.
Things got “heavier and harder because… every time I had to have this kind of music,” Psy told AFP in an interview last week at his company’s headquarters in Gangnam, the upscale Seoul district he mocked. in the song.
“I had a huge dependence on the song (…) But you, it happened 10 years ago, so now I’m really free”, explains the 44-year-old artist.
The song not only transformed Psy’s career, it also changed the industry by demonstrating that an artist who doesn’t use a dominant language like English can reach international audiences via the internet.
It also changed the way the charts were compiled and led Billboard to take into account the number of views on YouTube and the number of plays on streaming platforms.
Psy’s groundbreaking role has been recognized by some of K-pop’s biggest names, who are now amassing international fame.
“He’s someone I’m always grateful to,” BTS member Suga declared in a video last month. “With ‘Gangnam Style,’ he paved the way for K-pop in America.”
Psy, whose real name is Park Jae-sang, was already a star in South Korea long before “Gangnam Style”.
He cites as one of his references the group Queen, which he discovered when watching a video of the British band’s famous concert at Wembley in 1986.
“I thought: I want to be a singer like him [Freddie Mercury]”, Psy told AFP. “At the time, I was not good at music, not a very good singer… I was just a fun dancer.”
While attending university in the United States in the late 1990s, he listened to what many regard as the ‘golden age’ of hip-hop, with rappers like Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G.
“I literally listened to hip-hop every day on the radio. And I thought, if I can’t sing so well, I have to rap. So I can be a frontman,” he explained.
After debuting in 2001, he quickly rose to fame with funny and explosive performances. And won several local awards.
Somewhat controversial for a Korean star, several songs and music videos were given an adult-only rating for their language.
After “Gangnam Style”, Psy released three albums.
The most recent, “Psy 9th”, was released in April by P NATION, the label and artist agency he founded in 2019.
Although further away from the spotlight, the rapper does not consider himself finished and divides his time between music and his company.
And he remembers with affection and pride the great worldwide success.
“It’s the biggest trophy of my life. When I perform, this is my most powerful weapon,” he told AFP.
And this was demonstrated during a performance at a university in Seoul last week, when a crowd sang all the songs during the concert, which also included songs from his debut album, released more than two decades ago.
The fact that young audiences know all the lyrics is something special for Psy.
“Nowadays [eu digo a mim mesmo]: ‘Wow, man, you’re really popular. They love you'”.
“How lucky I am as an artist. I’m happier than ever.”
Singer Psy performs the hit ‘Gangnam Style’ during a performance at Korea University in Seoul – Photo: ANTHONY WALLACE / AFP