Born as Park Jae-sang on December 31, 1977, the multi-talented South Korean artist known as Psy took the world by storm with his unconventional approach to music. He, along with his music, has also brought forth legendary music videos that are known for humorous content. Fans who have been fortunate to attend his stage performances have not gone home disappointed as it seems virtually impossible not to be entertained by an artist who seems to be the Asian male answer to Lady Gaga.
However, long before earning international fame, Park Jae-sang grew up in the Gangnam District of Seoul, South Korea. His father was an executive chairman of DI Corporation and his mother owned several restaurants in Gangnam. Despite the disciplined nature of his parents, the artist known as Psy had a strong dislike for school and was often considered the class clown. When he was fifteen years old, he watched a Korean television program that introduced what was foreign pop music to him at the time.
What got his attention was watching Queen perform a concert at Wembley Stadium and was awestruck at their mega-hit single, Bohemian Rhapsody. When interviewed, Psy admits this served as the trigger point that caused him to fall in love with pop music.
From School to Stage
Before considering getting into the music business, Park Jae-sang was sent to study business administration at Boston University in 1996. The idea was he’d take over his father’s company, but that changed as soon as Park entered the United States. The desire to get into the music industry for himself saw him forfeit his tuition money in favor of musical instruments and equipment to get himself started. He also made a point to study English during a summer course before dropping out of Boston University in favor of Berklee College of Music. However, he dropped out of that and returned to South Korea to pursue his career as a singer. He was brought in by South Korean rapper, zoPD that saw him first release his own music in 1999. As Psy, he made his first appearance on Korean national television in 2000 as it was his dancing ability that initially gained him the most attention.
Psy debuted his first studio album in January 2001 titled Psy from the Psych World! and was fined by the South Korean government due to what it felt was inappropriate content. At the time, Psy was a rookie hip-hop singer that revved up the Korean pop music scene with blunt lyrics and unorthodox dance moves, as well as unconventional appearances that would probably make the likes of Freddy Mercury and Madonna proud. When he released his second studio album in 2002, titled Sa 2, it was banned from the underage set of nineteen years old by his own government.
Later that same year, he released 3 Psy as his third album. His single, “Champion,” became a huge success in the nation due to the hype from the World Cup games that were held in Seoul at that time. For Psy, even his controversial music wasn’t enough to stop him from being awarded songwriting accolades from the Seoul Music Awards that are held annually. This served as his big breakthrough in the South Korean music industry where the government would become powerless to hold him back any longer.
From Military to Mainstream
As part of the mandatory military service the South Korean government imposes on its male citizens aged between eighteen to thirty-five, Psy was conscripted in 2003, then excused due to a loophole where men of technical expertise that serves the nation’s interests are exempt. It was expected Psy would be released from military duties in 2005, so in 2006 he released his fourth studio album, Ssajib. It won honors at the 2006 SBS Music Awards and Hong Kong’s Mnet Asian Music Awards.
It was also within this timeframe he married his girlfriend of three years, Yoo Hye-yeon. However, in 2007, South Korean state prosecutors accused Psy of neglecting his work due to his concert and television periods. This resulted in Psy being redrafted straight back into the military in 2007, which saw him receive the rank of Private First Class before being released from his military duties in July 2009.
This setback put Psy into financial turmoil where he could no longer release his own music. Through his wife’s encouragement, he signed with YG Entertainment, a South Korean music label whose founder was already a close friend of Psy, to begin with. So, in 2010, Psy joined YG Entertainment and soon released his fifth studio album, PsyFive.
It would be at this time once again the South Korean government banned his music as its lead single, “Right Now” was deemed inappropriate for exposure to an audience under the age of nineteen years old. However, the ban was not enough to stop Psy from earning a series of music awards, as well as chart-topping hits throughout the various Asian nations, including his own. He, along with a number of other artists that were heavily influencing Asian pop-music culture, developed a fan following that was quickly extending beyond their borders.
From Gangnam Style to P Nation
On October 23, 2013, Psy met with the United Nations at its headquarters when the Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon expressed an interest to work with the singer due to his unlimited global reach as an artist. On December 21, 2012, Psy had a music video that was the first to break the one billion view plateau on the video streaming platform, YouTube. Psy is also recognized as the King of YouTube. So far, his mega-hit, “Gangnam Style” has become one of the most-liked videos on YouTube of all time. The phrase, “Gangnam Style” has also been entered into The Yale Book of Quotations as one of the most famous quotes of 2012.
Because of Psy’s influence in the music industry at a global level, the emergence of the K-Pop genre has continued to serve as a major impact on the music industry at a global level. Psy’s discography record boasts eight studio albums to his credit, along with a live album, a remix album, twenty-five music videos, and twenty-three singles. In 2018, Psy left YG Entertainment and formed his own company, P Nation in 2019. Since then, he has signed on a number of artists and has been doing for them what he managed to do for himself.
Top 10 Psy Songs
#10 – Korea
Released as a non-album single, “Korea” was produced as a Psy-style anthem of his home nation, South Korea, and all it has to offer. Heavy-hitting, yet to the point, Psy’s pride in his homeland, even when he found himself on the wrong side of the government’s point of view, he still loves his country. The song was released in 2012 with the music video showed off the South Korean culture, along with its accomplishments. On the nation’s music chart, it appeared at number seventy-five. As for the number of views it received on Psy’s official YouTube channel, nearly sixty million.
#9 – It’s Art
The music video, “It’s Art” portrayed the accomplishments of Psy as an entertainer that took the world by storm, nation for the nation, from what started out as humble beginnings of a young man who already seemed destined to follow a road that was all his own. The once upon a time class clown that seemed least likely to succeed became one of the most beloved musical artists of all time, and he is far from done.
The song, “It’s Art,” came from Psy’s fifth studio album, PsyFive, which was released in 2010. Although this song came out before he’d release hit music that reached every nation, “It’s Art” seemed to serve as a prelude of what was to come and how it has always been the genius behind artistry that has shaped the best features of the world has to offer. In Psy’s own words, without art, there is no freedom of expression, nor the freedom to be the best possible version of ourselves that is a work of art in its own right. In 2011, “It’s Art” peaked at number fifty-one on the South Korean music chart, but has since reached over twelve million views on Psy’s official YouTube channel.
#8 – Oppa Is Just My Style (featuring Hyuna)
Aside from the popularity of the original release of Gangnam Style, Psy’s collaboration with fellow Korean, Hyuna, produced “Oppa Is Just My Style” as a woman’s point of view with Psy’s mega-hit single. Technically, this is a cover version of Psy’s Gangnam Style, but still serves mention for its own merit. Hyuna and Psy have performed music and videos together before, and she is one of many artists he’s taken under his wing through his own label, P Nation.
What’s seen and heard with “Oppa Is Just My Style” saw more sass added to an already iconic song that is still heavily favored even after a decade of its first release. Some fans seem to prefer the contrast of vocal talent between Hyuna’s high-pitch delivery and Psy’s gangster style in this version of the original song. While “Oppa Is Just My Style” may not share the same amount of views on YouTube as Psy’s original, it still has an impressive number of over eight hundred million since its 2012 release date.
#7 – New Face
“New Face” was a single released in 2015 from Psy’s eighth studio album, 4X2=8, and peaked as high as number three on South Korea’s singles chart and as high as number five on the US Billboard World Digital Songs chart. In classic Psy-fashion, “New Face” featured an outlandish music video where Psy’s theatrics held nothing back as a means to get the musical story across. The lyrical tale focused on a new face he’s discovered that won over his attention and affection. This hard-hitting K-pop classic served up yet another YouTube favorite with over two hundred and sixty million views, just on Psy’s official channel alone.
#6 – Napal Baji
In English translation, “Napal Baji” refers to bell-bottoms. This single was released on November 30, 2015, on his official YouTube channel as the second hit from his seventh studio album, Chiljip PSY-Da. Since its release, it has joined the ranks as one of the most-watched videos on YouTube with over seventy million views and growing. The poppy, disco-style Psy put into this single was not only made retro obvious in the music style but in the music video that showed off the once upon a time fashionable bell-bottoms that dictated much of the 1970s style that was worn by Americans. On the Korean singles chart, “Napal Baji” peaked at number twelve and was a number twelve hit on the US Billboard World Digital Songs chart.
#5 – I Luv It
In 2017, “I Luv It” was the lead single released from Psy’s eighth studio album, 4X2=8. On the South Korean music chart, it peaked at number one while on the US Billboard Hot Dance/Electronic Songs chart at number twenty-nine. It was also a number-four hit on the US Billboard World Digital Songs chart. Psy’s combination of his native language with a bit of English once again worked as the perfect bridge between different music worlds to act as one. With over 120 million views on YouTube, the hip-hop meets dance-pop “I Luv It” seems to be loved by the fans too.
#4 – Right Now
“Right Now” was the first single released from Psy that reached music charts beyond his home nation of South Korea. It came from his fifth studio album, PsyFive and the hit song charted as high as number six on the US Billboard World Digital Songs chart. The government of his own nation felt “Right Now” was too suggestive for the younger audience and restricted its airplay. However, doing so only seemed to add to its popularity, as well as catapult Psy’s recording career to new heights he hadn’t received before.
There are two different music videos that were made for this single where Psy’s version took place in the heart of South Korean traffic while the other featured one of the nation’s favorite actresses, Seo Woo. “Right Now” featured a performance that’s a Psy trademark that mixed his native language of Korean with English. It served as a sign of things to come from the superstar as it was the perfect formula to win over an audience he hadn’t tapped into before. “Right Now” also became a key inspiration for Asian-based artists that were already looking up to Psy as the king of K-pop, as well as catapulting its brand of pop culture to new heights that showed no sign of slowing down, no matter how hard the government has attempted to stop it.
#3 – Daddy (feat. CL of 2NE1)
Elaborate theatrics isn’t anything new to Psy. “Daddy,” as a single and a video, is as theatrical as it gets. The lyrics boast all the physical attributes Psy possesses came from his father, which he answered to CL of 2NE1’s question. In the music video, the comedic portrayal of a three-generation lineup of men, all portrayed by different versions of Psy, is illustrated. The album, Chiljip PSY-da, served as a parody to a Korean soft drink while this single served as a parody that mimicked the styles of the 1970s and 1980s. Much of the inspiration behind the music revolved around the influence of the music he was first exposed to that reeled him into the entertainment industry, to begin with. “Daddy” also served as a tribute to one of South Korea’s legendary singers, Shin Hae-chul, whom Psy was close to.
The profits from the song were donated to the singer’s bereaved family at the time it was released in 2015. In South Korea, “Daddy” was a number one hit, as well as on the US Billboard World Digital Songs chart. Both the song and the video were deliberately designed to be cheesy, but also illustrated the trends that usually pass from father to son, generation after generation.
#2 – Gentleman
Currently, Psy’s “Gentleman” holds the record for having the most amount of views in just twenty-four hours as a video on YouTube. It came in as a follow-up single behind the mega-hit, “Gangnam Style.” Originally, this single was titled Assarabia, but there was concern it could cause a controversial backlash, despite the fact it is a slang word used by Korean’s as a means of celebration. Psy already experienced during the first half of his recording career a series of controversial issues that often threatened his career as an entertainer, so the switch to “Gentleman” became the result.
The comedic video of a rather ungentlemanly like Psy earned over one billion views on YouTube within twenty-four hours. Overall, it was his nineteenth single release and the second to chart worldwide. It was a number one hit within his own nation, as well as on the US Billboard Hot Dance/Electronic Songs chart. For the most part, “Gentleman” cracked into the top ten among most of the music charts worldwide, including a peak position of number five on the US Billboard Hot 100. In Sweden, it became a certified platinum hit. Among the nations of Australia, Denmark, Germany, and Italy, it was certified gold. The British Phonographic Industry (BPI) certified “Gentleman” at silver. The single was not associated with an album when it was released in 2013.
#1 – Gangnam Style
According to Psy, “Gangnam Style” was, and still is, his greatest achievement. This is an understatement. On virtually every music chart there is, “Gangnam Style” peaked at number one and had become an iconic song. When it was released as a single in 2012, it became a global sensation that broke several music industry records. It also served as the major catalyst that would explode K-pop at a level not previously realized before. Many fans and critics also cite “Gangnam Style” serving as the official to an entirely new dance craze that swept from nation to nation and continues to influence pop culture music today.
Although by 2012 Psy was already a popular figure among the Asian entertainment industry, the North American audience barely heard of him. “Gangnam Style” served as his big breakthrough hit on American and Canadian soil and has significantly become Psy’s true signature song. “Gangnam Style” came from Psy’s sixth studio album, PSY 6 (Six Rules), Part 1, and earned for itself a ten-time platinum certification from Australia, five-time platinum from RIAA, and four-time platinum from Music Canada and Recorded Music New Zealand.
“Gangnam Style” also earned triple-platinum from Switzerland’s IFPI, double-platinum from BPI, and five-time gold certification from Germany’s BVMI. “Gangnam Style” also inspired a long list of cover versions, as well as remixes. As for awards, “Gangnam Style” has Best Video awards with MTV Europe Music Awards and Mnet Asian Music Awards. Also with Mnet, it won Song of the Year. In the US, the US Billboard Music Awards, “Gangnam Style” won Top Streaming Song/Video. This single holds the world record for the most amount of views on YouTube with over four billion views.
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