Psy on Why President Obama Stopped Doing 'Gangnam Style'
This story first appeared in the Jan. 10, 2013, issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
How does it feel to become an international pop star with a No. 1 hit practically overnight? To launch a dance craze embraced by toddlers and grandparents, presidents and talk-show hosts alike? To near 1 billion YouTube views, making it the most-watched video ever?
For “Gangnam Style” star Psy (real name: Jaesang Park), he can sum up 2012 in two words: “Totally exhausted.”
Since July, when the 34-year-old South Korean sensation debuted his zeitgeisty video mocking the trendy Seoul neighborhood and featuring an infectious galloping dance (he declined to perform it at THR’s shoot) with only one line in English (you know it: “Hey, sexy lady!”), Psy has been making daily appearances in cities around the world -- be it a performance at the Asian Music Awards in Hong Kong, an appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres show in Los Angeles, or the White House’s annual Christmas in Washington benefit.
“The applause gets louder on every stage,” says Psy, who was signed to Justin Bieber manager Scooter Braun’s Schoolboy Records label. “Before, they just sang, ‘Oppan Gangnam Style.’ They’re now starting to catch some Korean words. Seeing that change, it feeds me.”
But with every career high -- and he’s had plenty during the 12 years before “Gangnam” mania -- comes controversies, including a recent British tabloid report of a man who died doing the “Gangnam Style” dance and political outlets that in December disseminated concert footage from 2002 and 2004 of Psy (who briefly studied at Boston University) seemingly denouncing U.S. military practices in Iraq.
The singer issued an apology “for any pain caused” and two days later was shaking hands with President Obama. The topic of conversation? Nothing of a diplomatic nature. Says Psy, “He told me he’s good at ‘Gangnam Style’ but that the ladies at his house are embarrassed when he’s dancing so he’s not doing it.”
And with that comes Psy’s most surreal moment of 2012 adding to a daily life that he calls “really unrealistic.” But he’s also able to look outside himself at the bigger, global picture and ahead to 2013. “A phenomenon is made by people, not made by Psy,” he says. “A dance move; it's not mine, it's their own. So what I have to do next is do me.”
Now, the married father of twins is focusing on a full-length album. Says Psy, “I want everybody’s attention.”
See an info-graphic of Psy's YouTube ascent below: