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PSY in '02: 'Kill Yankees!' PSY in '12: Yay, dollars!

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This year's annual B96 (96.3-FM) Jingle Bash concert features a couple of notable losers.

Nominations for the Grammy Awards came in last week, and the list failed to include two of pop music's biggest current stars: Justin Bieber and PSY.

Neither act has anything to cry about, especially PSY. In fact, while the Jingle Bash marketing keeps Bieber front and center, it's PSY everyone's talking about, downloading and watching online. Shortly before the Grammy snub, in fact, the South Korean rap-pop phenomenon drubbed the Cannuck kid in sales and YouTube records. PSY's meme-tastic single, "Gangnam Style," is now the most-watched video on YouTube, surpassing Bieber's "Baby" and logging more than 930 million views (as of Dec. 10). The video no doubt will hit a billion by year's end.

No wonder Bieber's manager, Scooter Braun, signed PSY to his own label.

with Justin Bieber, Pitbull, Carly Rae Jepsen, Calvin Harris, Austin Mahone, Afrojack, Cody Simpson, Ryan Beatty and PSY
• 6 p.m. Dec. 15
• Allstate Arena, 6920 N. Mannheim Rd., Rosemont
• Sold out

Of course, you have to get into figures that large in order to make serious money from online music nowadays. New York magazine broke down the numbers last week:

-- Number of "Gangnam Style" views on YouTube (as of 1 p.m., Nov. 30): 853,942,076
-- Standard rate YouTube pays to video owners for every 1,000 views: $2
-- Estimated total YouTube revenue received by Team PSY: $1,707,884.15
-- PSY's estimated revenues from U.S. digital music sales of "Gangnam Style": $243,720

Bully for PSY. But while his clever send-up and its now-signature horsey dance have enjoyed their 15 minutes of cultural omnipresence -- "Saturday Night Live" cameo, Madonna concert cameo, odd awareness by U.S. politicians (from the bizarro video by Sen. Alan Simpson to President Obama's comment on "Gangnam Style": "I think I can do that move, but I'm not sure that the inauguration ball is the appropriate time to break that out") -- what kind of long-term career is really ahead for him, at least in America?

Sure, "Gangnam Style" is a fun hokey-pokey in a foreign language -- but so was the "Macarena," and I'd bet a thousand Korean won most readers today (without a search-engine assist) can't name the artist who recorded that.

"Gangnam Style" caught on and caught fire for a variety of reasons. The single's dance-pop is strong, confident and fun. The video is fantastic -- garish and hilarious and eminently forwardable and share-worthy. (It doesn't hurt that the song and especially its video are something of a parody of wealth and style in the Gangnam district of Seoul, where PSY was raised, and that Americans were still discussing matters of class within a 99-vs.-1-percentage model when the video first arrived in July.)

PSY's other music, however, isn't necessarily worth the momentary humiliation of a goofy dance. Yes, there is other PSY music -- a lot. He's been releasing albums for 11 years; the EP containing "Gangnam Style," "PSY 6 (Six Rules)," is PSY's sixth title. His other songs are only occasionally hooky, minimally tuneful and mostly derivative, from the weak rock tea of "Blue Frog" back to, say, the bizarre multicultural, "Grease"-nostalgic explosion that is "Shake It."

What PSY -- 34, born Park Jae-sang, father of 4-year-old twins -- has going for him mainly is that he doesn't gibe with most of the wax dolls in the overly marketed K-pop genre. All year we've been hearing about the coming domination of Korean pop. In March, I attended a panel at the South by Southwest music conference titled "Do Music Moguls Know a Secret About K-Pop?" in which promoters and journalists discussed the inevitability of a breakthrough that hadn't yet occurred. But despite determined efforts and new heights of "cultural technology," K-pop remains huge only in Asia and a mere curiosity here."There's a lot of variety of musicians in Korea," PSY told The New York Times. "I cannot say they are the best in the world."

K-pop groups largely are comprised of svelte, blemishless young models, which PSY (to his credit) is not. PSY is actually something of a rebel back home. His first two albums, "PSY From the Psycho World!" in 2001 and "Sa 2" in 2002, were censored, banned for sale to anyone under the age of 19 because of overtly sexual lyrics and suggestive dances.

"Korea is conservative about that sort of thing; very big moral expectations," PSY told The Daily Beast.

He was busted for marijuana possession, bucked Korea's military draft and had to be re-conscripted, and when he came to the United States as a student, he dropped out of both Boston University and the Berklee College of Music.

"To the U.S. and the world, I'm just known as some funny song and some funny music, some funny video guy," PSY said. "But in Korea I'm doing one of the biggest concerts."

The vast majority of those downloads and YouTube clicks, however, are coming from the United States. But while PSY might be loving his American fans now, he hasn't always.

Last week, The Hollywood Reporter noted that at a 2002 concert staged in opposition to 37,000 U.S. troops stationed on the Korean Peninsula, PSY smashed a model of a U.S. tank to pieces. Two years later, after a South Korean missionary had been executed in Iraq, PSY sang another band's song, "Dear America," which goes like this: "Kill those f---ing Yankees who have been torturing Iraqi captives / Kill those f---ing Yankees who ordered them to torture / Kill their daughters, mothers, daughters-in-law and fathers / Kill them all slowly and painfully."

That didn't stop PSY from performing last Sunday at the White House's "Christmas in Washington" gala, after he issued an apology.

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Thomas Conner

Thomas Conner covers pop music for the Chicago Sun-Times. Contact him via e-mail.


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This page contains a single entry by Thomas Conner published on December 11, 2012 3:00 PM.

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