LOS ANGELES — Tonight’s VMAs are jam-packed with bold-name stars like Rihanna, Taylor Swift, Pink, One Direction and too many others to list. But it was the VMA debut by one of the hottest rising stars on the planet, Psy, that surprised the audience.
With an infectious dance that has infiltrated almost every corner of American pop culture (and the Internet), the viral phenomenon made his VMA arrival alongside host Kevin Hart, causing a roar of applause from the crowd and a pausing gasp from Katy Perry.
“You got over 100 million [views] on YouTube right now for ‘Gangnam Style.’ How does it feel?,” Hart asked the star, who replied in Korean, leaving the VMA host lost in translation. The quick-on-his-feet comedian hesitantly agreed and joined in on the singer’s signature horse-like dance.
The Korean pop sensation, known as “The Bizarre Singer” in his homeland, has become a web superstar over the past month thanks to the ultra-sticky video for his dance hit, “Gangnam Style,” which has racked up more than 120 million views to date. The clip is vintage YouTube goodness, focusing on the thick, tuxedo-wearing rapper clopping around in horse dance style one minute, ripping it up in a confetti storm another and nonchalantly dropping rhymes as mines explode behind him.
Though new American fans are just now getting turned on to his greatness, Psy is old news to South Korean fans who’ve been plugged into his unique style for more than a decade.
Psy’s viral pop-splosion was so inescapable that Justin Bieber/Carly Rae Jepsen/Wanted manager Scooter Braun — who knows a thing or two about making YouTube singers into mega-stars — signed Psy to his label this week.
The 34-year-old South Korean singer (born Park Jae-Sang), who attended Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music and who’s also known for his excellent mimicry of other star’s dance styles and celebrity impressions, released his debut album in 2001, PSY … From the Psycho World!. That CD opened the door on his oddball dancing antics and lyrics that turned him into a target of censorship in his country due to content that officials thought might negatively influence young listeners.
Undeterred, the portly rapper who doesn’t exactly fit the more svelte, conventionally handsome look of his male pop peers, released his second album, Sa 2 in 2002, followed by 3 Psy that same year, Sa Jib (4) in 2006 and PSY Five in 2010, in keeping with the South Korean tradition of numerical designation in pop album titles. Just weeks after PSY’s Best 6th Part 1 dropped in July, “Gangnam Style” cracked YouTube’s “Most Viewed Videos” chart, turning into that clip that everyone of your friends, and mom, sends to you as soon as they discover it.
The global hit not only landed him in Braun’s Schoolboy Records stable, but also snagged Psy a recording contract with Island Records. “We’ve been hanging out in California for four days,” Braun said in a video announcing the deal. “And we’ve come to an agreement to make some history together and be the first Korean artist to break a big record in the United States.”
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