Psy on Pressure, the Universal Language of Michael Jackson and Ushering in 2013 'Gangnam Style' (Q&A)

The Phenom
Miller Mobley

Since July, when the 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. “The applause gets louder on every stage,” says Psy, who was signed to Justin Bieber manager Scooter Braun’s Schoolboy Records. “Before, they just sang, ‘Oppan Gangnam Style.’ They’re now starting to catch some Korean words.”

The K-Pop phenom, who is scheduled to perform on "New Year's Rockin' Eve" in Times Square, will not only celebrate a tremendous 2012, but also his 35th birthday.

How will South Korean sensation Psy usher in 2013? By partying with the huddled masses in New York’s Times Square, where he’ll appear as a featured act on Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.

And there’s certainly lots to celebrate: a billion YouTube views for his hit “Gangnam Style,” a world record he set just over a week earlier, a recording contract with Scooter Braun’s Schoolboy Records, his 35th birthday on Jan. 1 and a brief breather from nonstop action as he crisscrossed the country -- and the globe -- bringing K-Pop to radio stations, concert stages and living rooms via appearances on Ellen DeGeneres, Today, SNL and The Tonight Show, among others. Finally, Psy, who’s married and a father to twins, tells The Hollywood Reporter, “I really can celebrate myself and my last four or five months.”

And no doubt he’ll do it in style. Read on for more insight into the international pop phenom who THR named one of its 2012 rule-breakers.

The Hollywood Reporter: With all of the appearances that you make, are you on a plane every single day?

Psy: I think so. At least for the last couple months. I'm away from my home a very long time. And it seems I cannot go back there until next March or April. … But the thing is, I'm a singer and entertainer. On the stage, I get filled up with the applause.

THR: We’ve given this a lot of thought: what is it about “Gangnam Style” that people most gravitate to -- is it the song, the video or the dance?

Psy: I've thought about it, too, so that I can repeat it on the next single. [Laughs] In analyzing that, it's really hard to tell. You can say it was all about the video, right? But I'm thinking, people are already done with the video. They’ve already seen it, and even if they repeat watching my video, they can do it at most, like, twenty times. Then you get tired of it, right? So it has to be the dance. … [Because] they make it their own. They can improvise in different circumstances.

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THR: When “Gangnam Style” reached No. 1 on the Hot 100, what was it like to see your name at the top of a Billboard chart?

Psy: So me and Scooter [Braun], our job the last couple months was to get people to know the name Psy. Because when I first came to the United States market, they described me as “the You Tube guy,” then they would say, “the horse dance guy,” then the “Gangnam Style” guy and now, just Psy.

THR: Even with that recognition, though, these days, fame no longer lasts fifteen minutes now, it's fifteen seconds…

Psy: And this is like the heaviest pressure I’ve ever had in the last twelve years of my career. But what's great is, I'm not a rookie at all. I've had some huge success in Korea so it felt kind of similar to me.

THR: When you reach such extraordinary highs -- like logging a billion views on YouTube -- inevitably, you hit some lows, like the controversy concerning anti-war statements you made a decade ago. Because you're so connected to the news cycle, are you on a constant emotional rollercoaster?

Psy: Yes. When good things are happening, I think maybe some bad thing is gonna come and I should prepare. But I thank my parents because they've borne a kid who is, like, too positive. I'm that kind of person -- I basically think, there's two kinds of concerns in the world: one is if I worry, and then it changes, and the other where it doesn't matter if I worry or not [because] there’s nothing I can do to change it. For example, if I worried about tomorrow's weather, would it matter? So after 12 years, I can classify the concerns.

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THR: You attended Christmas at the White House, what was it like to meet President Obama?

Psy:  He was like a really cool brother. Really. I was so impressed. I was really nervous and stunned before meeting him, but he has such a great talent to make people feel taken care of.

THR:  What do you think is America's greatest export?

Psy: First of all, the English language. And also pop music. A song like Michael Jackson “Billie Jean,” it's like the world's biggest, most universal language.

THR:  Are you getting asked to do a lot of cameos and appear on other peoples’ songs?

Psy: I'm asked a lot and I'm also asking a lot. Me and Scooter are working really aggressively these days for my new album.

THR: You signed with Scooter Braun not long after your first meeting. What was it about him that impressed you?

Psy: When he told me about his adopted brothers [from Africa] and how being Jewish he’s like all the immigrants, all the underdogs. That's the reason why he didn’t want the lyrics to “Gangnam Style” to be translated [to English]. That was the first comment that he made to me. And I was really touched. I was, like, “Where the hell did this guy come from?” He’s made such a huge difference for my vision. … And he has the highest alcohol tolerance of any American. We had a drinking contest and he literally beat the shit out of me. And I have a very high tolerance [Laughs]

THR: If you had to describe 2012 in five words, what would they be?

Psy: "Becoming a rookie once again."

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