Psy at crest of the Korean WaveIt would be a mistake to think that idol groups are the most popular performers at college festivals. The three most coveted musicians are not these K-pop stars. At No. 3 is DJ DOC, who takes the stage with a seemingly endless set list packed with hip-hop hits. The second favorite is Kim Jang-hoon, who is considered the living legend of live concerts. He says he is offered a shocking amount of alcohol for free after performing at college festivals.
But the indisputable and unchallenged champion is Psy. He asks for a reasonable fee for his appearance when performing at schools, and he instantly turns college campuses into wild parties. And Psy is always the last one to perform. The idol groups usually present two or three songs, but Psy typically performs seven or eight. If he is in the mood, he says “Let’s go all the way,” and goes on for hours. He may be the most cost-effective guest at college festivals.
Psy is a controversial figure, having been caught smoking marijuana and driving drunk. He was the center of controversy during his military service and ended up serving twice. But he is also a celebrity the Ministry of National Defense is grateful for. Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said that Psy agrees to entertain soldiers without hesitation, even after serving in the military twice. He would often refuse the fee and would throw a party at his own expense, ordering fried chicken for the soldiers.
Psy’s “Gangnam Style” is a mega-hit worldwide. The addictive rhythm and easy-to-follow invisible horse dance have swept the world. He is probably not the most handsome musician, but fans around the world are obsessed with the comic music video of the likable rapper. Koreans are impressed by the appearances of singer Hyuna and gagman Yoo Jae-seok, but foreigners go crazy over No Hong-chul dancing in the elevator and 7-year-old Hwang Woo-min in the playground.
Psy’s sensational popularity falls right in with the trends of the time. “Gangnam Style” is spreading for free over the Internet and is reproduced through countless covers and parodies. When the paparazzi followed him in the United States, Psy said, “I may be the only musician with no portrait rights. You can take all the photos you want!”
It would not do him justice to say that Psy was just lucky and his success accidental. As he explained during a television interview, his concerts usually go on for about three hours, and after performing for two hours he “gets dehydrated” and has to “get oxygen.” “When my legs get cramps, trainers apply shots of acupuncture. Concerts physically exhaust me,” he said during the interview. His wit and charismatic stage presence are results of his career. When he taught the horse dance to Britney Spears, she asked if she needed to take her high heels off. He responded, “The mindset of this dance is ‘dress classy, dance cheesy.’ ” When asked by the paparazzi about the source of his energy, he simply said, “Alcohol.”
Personally, I like his 2010 single “Right Now” better. It was a flop, as the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family categorized the song as “not appropriate for 18 and under” because of the lyrics. However, the music video was freely distributed on YouTube with Japanese subtitles. Something is not right — perhaps the government ministry’s perspective on culture is skewed. Psy, who was considered non-mainstream in Korea, is sweeping the world, and Kim Ki-duk, who makes low-budget independent films with no government assistance, has won the Golden Lion for Best Film at the prestigious Venice International Film Festival. There is a wide gap between the government’s perspective and the global perspective.
“Gangnam Style” has more than 250 million hits on YouTube. It is not a far-fetched dream for a Korean song to top the Billboard Charts or receive a Grammy. In “Right Now,” Psy repeatedly shouts, “I am going to run now. I am going crazy now.” Yes, let him run, go crazy and go all the way.