South Korean pop sensation Psy has plenty of things to celebrate this holiday season, but the biggest one is a gift that came wrapped in the gaudiest of bows on Friday (December 21): his one billionth YouTube view.
Yes, just five months after the oddball "Gangnam Style" clip began to buzz around the Internet, Psy can lay claim to creating the first, and only, video in YouTube history to pass that previously incomprehensible plateau.
"I'd be hard-pressed to declare this normal," said Kevin Allocca, YouTube Trends Manager. "We're seeing the scale of these things increase over time, but I don't know that it can go much bigger than this ... [it's] a very special thing and it's very difficult to create or recreate." Allocca said the conditions were just right, and the combination of the novelty and catchiness of the song, the rapid sharing factor and the intense connection people all around the world had with the video helping to create the perfect storm.
At this point, only one other video is even close to "Style" numbers, and it happens to be by his label mate, Justin Bieber. The singer's breakthrough hit, "Baby," is closing in on 815, but, like the rest of the top 5 (Jennifer Lopez, Eminem, LMFAO, Shakira), he represents a major label artist with global appeal whose success is not as shocking as the formerly little-known South Korean singer whose lyrics are, for the most part, indecipherable to much of the world.
"When I'm reflecting on the year, it was the biggest year ever, not only for my career, but my life and my family's life," Psy told MTV News earlier this week about the outrageous ride his hit single has taken him on this year. "When I perform 'Gangnam Style' all around the world, I feel happy and sorry at the same time because people have no idea what I'm talking about! They're just waiting for the sexy ladies to come out! But I came to the conclusion that maybe people have their own lyrics for the song, which probably only made it more popular."
Allocca said he expected the video might cross the billion mark before year's end, but its steep rise and record-breaking push kept surprising him. "As people are looking back [on the year], it probably accelerated," he said of the hefty December numbers.
While the explosive viewership of "Style" signifies one way entertainment is going and the web is changing, Allocca said the numbers are outrageous and still a bit hard to grasp. "Things like 'Charlie Bit My Finger' and Bieber are classic, really mainstream parts of the web," he said. "This is in a whole other place."
There are a number of things that he believes make Psy's video different from those more mainstream ones: it's not from an artist most people have ever heard of, it's completely different from everything else out there that the immediate reaction is to forward it to friends and it is one of the first globally shared cultural experiences made possible by a massive platform like YouTube. Add in the desire of fans to post lipdubs, spoofs and commentaries (which are seen an estimated 20 million times a day) and "Style" turns into a shared cultural touchpoint that just about everyone can relate to or enjoy.
Someone who knows a lot about the stickiness of global memes, Webby Awards president David-Michel Davies, told MTV News that "Gangnam" is typical in one way. "The stuff that becomes important and has a big impact is [often] different and quirky," which exactly sums up Psy's video. "The way to get to one billion views is by being something that appeals to people in many countries and cultures."
Early YouTube hits, like the "Saturday Night Live" digital short "Lazy Sunday," scored tens of millions of views and were considered massive, but had virtually no resonance in say, Korea, where audiences would be hard-pressed to get the quick, inside English-language jokes. "This is so unique because it doesn't really rely much on language," he said. "It relies on visuals and music and can cross boundaries and be appreciated by people all over the place. You don't have to share common cultural norms."
The video posted in late July and started taking off in August and by September, at which point it was being seen 7-10 million times a day, and up to 12 million on Saturdays. By then, it had already reached across the world and Allocca said he can't think of a wired country where it hasn't been seen at this point.
Psy's explanation for his record-setting success is much simpler. "If you look at K-Pop, it's kind of popular around the world, but it's known for some skinny boys or pretty girls," he said. "So I'm proud to be here without that skinny body! If I can do it, anybody can!"