One video and one strange dance later, and PSY, a South Korean rapper and singer, is out breaking YouTube and making millions. PSY has been making music for Korean audiences for 12 years, but his sudden rise to fame in the international market has come to a complete shock to most Koreans. “People are surprised, bewildered really, at his popularity abroad,” says Susan Kang, chief writer for, the world’s largest English-language site dedicated to Korean pop music in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. “You have people saying, ‘We have all these beautiful guys and girls that have tried to break through to the U.S. market with little success. So why PSY?”

PSY, born, born Park Jae-Sang, lacks the pristine image that many of Korea’s modern pop stars carefully cultivate and that many think would make them more appealing to foreign audiences. His artist moniker is the abbreviation of “psycho”, which in an interview with BBC, he says he chose because what [he] thought was, you know, crazy about music, dancing, performance […] that kind of psycho.” In the past, PSY has been busted with possession of marijuana, and there was a very public uproar when it came out that he attempted to get out of the two-year mandatory military service in Korea. He dropped out of both United States universities he attended, and his first album was fined for its “inappropriate content”. His blunt lyrics, bizarre dance moves, and unconventional style, gained him the nickname “The Bizarre Singer” in his home country.

In his smash hit Gangnam Style, PSY sings a simple tune accompanied by a synthetic, very catchy beat, dancing the now famous “horse dance” in different and bizarre places on the planet, which range from a beach, a party bus, a sauna, a motorboat, and a public toilet. This song comes alongside a moment where all aspects of Korean media are exploding, not only music. According to Billboard, the Korean music industry grossed nearly $3.4 billion in the first half of 2012, the year Gangnam Style came out, which is a 27.8 percent increase from the same period the year before.

An ironical parody, Gangnam Style lampoons the overly materialistic nature of the residents of this area of Seoul and the mentality that it represents. It serves as a social commentary that satirizes the ostentatious wealth and overabundant self-importance that many of the figures around this area of Seoul partake in. PSY has even been received at the United Nations by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who nominated him “ambassador for peace in the world”. Just this past year, PSY’s Gangnam video has broken the record for most-viewed in all of YouTube’s history, passing the 2 billion views, meaning one inhabitant of the world every six has seen his video. The song and video themselves are a satirical parody about the typical type of person that is found Gangnam, but since the greatest attention the song received was from English-speaking audiences, there must have been something about the song beyond the lyrics for it to appealed to so many people.

Gangnam as a district has been often put side by side with Beverly Hills or the Upper West Side, but, as Sukjong Hong on her blog Open City, states, that is actually a weak comparison. “Gangnam has no real equivalent in the United States,” she writes. “The closest approximation would be Silicon Valley, Wall Street, Beverly Hills, Manhattan’s Upper East Side, and Miami Beach all rolled into one.” This undercurrent of social commentary is quite obviously not apparent to most international audiences, so if its value as a self-reflective comedic piece about materialistic values is taken out, what else made Gangnam Style so pervasive to so many people in the world?

Based on the comments seen on YouTube and other similar sites, in fact, most seem to interpret the video as a funny take on a guy trying too hard to act like a suave and sophisticated gigolo but coming off as a dork. This is, in part, a truthful interpretation, but leaving it on that superficial level makes many miss the undercurrent commentary that PSY, being the black sheep of an affluent Gangnam family himself, has to say about the very part of town he grew up in. “My motto is ‘be funny but not stupid,’” said PSY to Korea’s Yonhap News Agency. “I think the humor targeted for social outsiders reflected throughout the song, dance and music video really hit the bull’s eye.” What is particularly special about this song is the artist’s initial intentions. “I didn’t make this for foreign countries,” PSY says. “This was always for local fans.” And that might actually be the answer.

Susan Kang of Soompi also interviewed former K-pop idol Danny Im in 2012, and asked him about PSY’s sudden and surprising success. He had some pretty insightful things to say. “All the K-pop groups trying to enter the U.S. market are singing songs they think Americans will like, which at the end of the day, makes them foreigners trying to sing Western-style songs,” says Kang. “What sets PSY apart is that his song and video are completely catered to the Korean audience, in terms of style and humor. He wasn’t trying to make it in the U.S., so what we saw was something completely novel and unexpected.”

Gingham Style was the perfect mixture of an off-the-wall performance, not stereotypical pretty-boy singer, catchy tune, and marketing genius. Many articles have been published that state that PSY has even waived the copyright to his song. While according to a Forbes article, these authors could not provide an “authoritative source” to the information, this laxness by the part of PSY in regards to the thousands of people who have parodied his song to the point of becoming famous themselves, has only aided in propagating the song all over the world.

While his newest singles like Gentleman and Hangover have not nearly reached the success of Gangnam Style, it still stands as a record-breaker in the history books of pop and rap as the sudden hidden gem that appeared out of nowhere but that got everybody, from Ellen Degeneres to men shipped out in the Navy, dancing “Oppa Gangnam Style.”