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The massive worldwide phenomenon that is PSY‘s “Gangnam Style” video has reached the unprecedented 1 billion views mark on YouTube, some six months after first posting on July 15, 2012.
In November, the South Korean pop star’s hit surpassed Justin Bieber‘s “Baby” for the most watched YouTube clip of all time with 815 million views. For anyone familiar with the song’s addictive hook and easily mimicked dance, that it grew to reach such a monumental benchmark came as no surprise.
Still, it’s a huge accomplishment, and one that will undoubtedly be studied for the digital ages. Even as it notches the last million clicks, people continue to wonder: what is it about “Gangnam Style” that sucks people in? Is it the dance, the video or the song?
“It’s something I think about, too — so that I can repeat it for the next single,” PSY recently cracked to The Hollywood Reporter. “I’m analyzing that right now and it’s really hard to tell. You could say it was all about the video, right? But I’m thinking people are already done with the video — they already saw it. But seeing the way people are acting, I think it’s the dance move.” Getting even more Zen about its success, PSY added: “a dance move, it’s not mine — it’s their own.”
“The video is a central part: it’s not just about the song,” says YouTube Trends Manager Kevin Allocca. “This is very emblematic of where we are in terms of entertainment in the social media world: The dance, it really catches your attention. The first time, you think, ‘What the heck is going on? Who is this guy?’ It’s so flashy and eye-catching and you can’t take your eyes off of it. And when you talk about these popular videos, you become a part of something larger.”
As far as watching the numbers balloon, Allocca describes the experience as “like theater,” adding, “It’s unlike anything we’ve seen before on the platform. … Of course, over time people get used to sharing videos and things are able to spread quicker but there’s nothing that’s been even close to what happened here the last few months with this one particular video. And it’s happened at a global scale.”
Indeed, if you put aside the attention it received in America, facilitated in large part by Bieber manager Scooter Braun, who signed PSY to his Schoolboy Records, PSY was an unlikely success story who’d started his career more than a decade ago borrowing from ‘90s hip-hop more than dance or pop music.
But with “Gangnam Style,” he became a worldwide celebrity, as the song quickly spread from Seoul and the Pacific and headed west. In nearly 75 countries, it’s been viewed more than 1 million times, and everyone from the United Nations Secretary General to South Korean national Ban Ki-moon to President Obama have grooved to the song’s galloping dance routine.
There have been “Gangnam Style” flash mobs in Jakarta, parodies by a faux Mitt Romney along with “covers” by everyone from Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei to Saturday Night Live to lifeguards in El Monte, Calif. who were subsequently fired for their homage. In fact, tributes to “Gangnam Style” are now being viewed 20 million times every single day.
“You look at years past and see these top parodies, but this year it has hit another level where it’s become a mutual thing,” says Allocca. “They drive each other and part of the experience is being a part of pop culture, not just talking about it or listening to. We used to watch a music video on MTV and now it’s so participatory that the level of creativity coming out of some of these covers and parodies is just amazing. It’s such a fun creative outlet for anyone around the world to kind of take a meme of the time and recreate it, and put their own spin on it.”
“Gangnam Style” was YouTube’s top rising search of 2012 and on Oct. 6 YouTube received more than five million searches for “gangnam style” in a single day, notes Allocca. According to estimates, PSY’s team had earned $1,707,884.15 off the music video’s YouTube plays alone by Nov. 30. (Using that same calculation, that number should be up to $2 million at the 1 billion views mark.) Elsewhere, it was assessed that PSY would rake in at least $8.1 million this year in advertising deals, and nearly 3 million song downloads since July. Since late last month, “Gangnam Style” was purchased more than 600,000 times on iTunes, making PSY the first Korean artist to ever top the U.S. iTunes chart and putting him at No. 1 in more than 30 other countries.
Says Allocca: “These views are from all over the world and they’re happening in quantities — sustained numbers that aren’t like any other musical or pop culture phenomenon.”
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