Six months ago, if you heard the name Psy, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was some lame new USA Network procedural about a telepathic detective who could predict crimes or something (catch the series premiere after “Rizzoli & Isles!”)
But now, with everyone from your guidance counselor to your granny having gone “Gangnam Style,” it’s hard to remember a world without the 34-year-old South Korean sensation. And how you feel about that statement almost certainly reflects the way you felt about 2012 in general.
Because, sure, Taylor Swift sold w-a-a-y more records, One Direction stirred millions of first-crush flushes and labelmate Justin Bieber put tens of thousands of butts in seats every night of his tour, but in 2012, Psy had what none of them did: a-once-in-a-decade hit that can’t be replicated. (Sorry, “One Pound Fish” guy). “Gangnam Style” befuddled Bill O’Reilly , infiltrated the NFL, inspired more parodies than Clint Eastwood at the RNC and, oh yeah, racked up nearly 1 billion views on YouTube.
In short, it was inescapable. Not only that, but “Gangnam” also managed to boldly go where no Internet hit has gone before: to the upper reaches of the Billboard Hot 100, which not only makes it the rare bit of history you can actually dance to, but has earned Psy the MTV News title of Viral Star of 2012.
One-hit-wonders have come in all shapes and sizes over the years, but Psy is the first one of the YouTube-era to parlay viral magic into piles of cash, world domination and whatever the heck this is. And yes, videos like “Gangnam Style,” with its cheesy mix of child hoofers, scantily clad women, bathroom humor, easy-to-follow goofy dance steps and secret “nonverbal” messages have been passed around among friends and co-workers for years, but rarely in such cluttered times. “Gangnam” caught the collective imagination at a time when just about everyone is plugged in — at home and on the go — and searching for the next big meme to forward to their friend list.
The Boston University dropout, who, yes, grew up in the Gangnam District of Seoul, South Korea, released five little-recognized albums in his home country beginning in 2001, earning a reputation for cheeky lyrics and flashy moves. But it wasn’t until the July release of his sixth album that the world took notice. Within a month, “Gangnam,” the first single, was ranked #1 on YouTube’s Most Viewed Videos chart and a phenomenon was born. By September, he was teaching his moves to morning audiences in America on the “Today” show and popping up in a cameo on “Saturday Night Live.”
Knowing a thing or two about nurturing viral sensations, Justin Bieber’s manager, Scooter Braun, announced that he had signed Psy to his Schoolboy Records imprint on September 3 and appeared on the MTV VMA stage . In October, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon took a meeting with the singer and praised his music for helping to overcome intolerance.
Not long after, the snowball of headline-grabbing appearances reached a furious pace. Flush from his MTV EMA winnings, Psy jetted to New York to work his “Style” with Madonna during her Madison Square Garden concert and by month’s end, “Gangnam” took the crown as the most viewed video in YouTube history, beating out, yes, Justin Bieber’s “Baby.”
The “Gangnam” charm was so strong that even the not-so-friendly neighbors to the North co-opted the clip for propaganda purposes , using it to poke fun at South Korean presidential candidate Park Geun-hye. It might even have set off a gangland shootout between two rivals groups in Bangkok, Thailand.
Psy took things to new heights at the American Music Awards, when he closed the show by teaming up with MC Hammer for a mash-up of “Style” and Hammer’s “2 Legit 2 Quit.”
In fact, in the absence of a sex tape, wardrobe malfunction, awards show rant or nightclub meltdown, just about the only major bump along the way was the recent revelation that Psy took part in an anti-American concert in his native country. He quickly apologized and the hiccup did not stop him from performing at the “Christmas in Washington” charity concert in front of the President and Michelle Obama.
Unscathed (and unstoppable), “Gangnam” has also earned the 34-year-old rapper a slew of endorsement deals in his native country. According to the Associated Press, Psy and his handlers will earn nearly $8 million off “Style” alone.
No pressure, man, but what are you planning for an encore?