Psy on New Single ‘Gentleman,’ Kim Jong-un, Justin Bieber & More
The 35-year-old’s magniloquent new music video, “Gentleman,” has already broken the YouTube record for most views in a single day, notching 38 million—eclipsing that “Kony 2012” video, which was the previous record-holder with 31 million views. And with 244 million views since launching on April 13, as well as a top 10 berth on the Billboard Hot 100, it’s fairly safe to say that Psy has rid himself of the “one-hit wonder” label.
Newsweek and The Daily Beast sat down with Psy, who is in town to pick up a Disruptive Innovation award at the Tribeca Film Festival, to discuss his new song, his crazy year, Kim Jong-un and the North Korean threat, a possible collaboration with Justin Bieber, and much more.
The last time we talked was in late October, and you were on your way to meet U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. You’ve since been appointed a goodwill ambassador to UNICEF, right?
Yeah. How did you know that? They didn’t announce it yet! I just heard they want me to be a goodwill ambassador to the U.N. Do you know what that is? Anyway, wow. It’s a huge honor.
There’s a pretty dicey situation going on right now with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who keeps threatening to destroy not just South Korea but America as well. As a South Korean, what’s your take on the situation?
Well, as an entertainer I don’t want to talk about politics. As a Korean citizen, I want peace. That’s all I can say. I want permanent peace. I want the North and South to be good, to be safe. In the near future we are expecting all these tragedies, and I just hope everything gets figured out very calm, and safe, and nice, and easily.
You’ve achieved so much this past calendar year. What’s been the most surreal moment for you?
I can’t choose one. There were so many! But the first time I made a surprise appearance on the Ellen show to teach Britney Spears how to do the “Gangnam Style” dance, and that was my first appearance on U.S. national TV. No one knew I was there so I was hiding.
When we last spoke, you were already torturing yourself over your follow-up single to “Gangnam Style.” I read that your follow-up was going to be a song called “Assarabia,” which is Korean slang for “Oh, Yeah!” But you decided to change course.
There were a lot of nominees and names and hooks. One of them was “Licked,” which was one of the nominees. Now I’m pretty much ready for my album because I was writing so many songs for my follow-up single, about 20 tracks, and I think I chose the best one, and the right one. I produced them all myself.
What are your album plans?
I’m working on it right now. Hopefully I can release it during the summer season, but I’m already booked till July with “Gentleman.” As I experienced with “Gangnam Style,” the schedule is so crazy. What I’m worrying is I should have some time to make an album, but if this song gets bigger, my schedule increases, so I don’t know.
How long did it take to record “Gentleman”?
Physically, the amount of time that I spent on “Gentleman” was not that long. But I did a lot of stuff before “Gentleman,” so this song is sort of a mash-up of my previous 10 tracks and 10 hooks. I made a surgery with those 10 songs. [Laughs]
How did you develop the concept for the song’s music video?
That was the craziest schedule ever. I had a “Gentleman” premiere-release concert in Korea on April 13, a Saturday. On that same day, I had to release the single, the video, and do the concert for 50,000 people, and YouTube broadcasted it online. That week was the biggest hell of my life—the most horrible, terrible, awkward time. Worst ever. That same week, we shot the video on Monday and Tuesday, and edited it from Wednesday to Friday, as well as rehearsals and memorizing the choreography. In that week, I got five years older. After “Gentleman,” I’m not going to do a single-release and single-release concert at the same time. I’m not going to do that shit.
Now, the concept of the video is that this guy’s basically a prick.
He’s an asshole, yeah [laughs]. That was pretty much my director and me that came up with the idea. Basically, when I’m writing a song and I’m making a video, I like to think of a twist. The music video keeps saying “I’m a gentleman,” but he’s behaving very ungentlemanly.
Is there a little bit of you in that video? The hell-raiser?
It’s not me right now, but when I was really young—a little bit, yes. [Laughs]
How much did the video cost to produce?
This one cost a little more than “Gangnam Style” because I changed and delayed the schedule, that’s why it cost more. It was like $150,000 to make.
It did break all these YouTube records. You must feel somewhat vindicated because when a song like “Gangnam Style” comes out, it’s so strange and unique that people immediately slap you with the one-hit wonder label.
I cannot say this song is a hit yet, but at least I can say I’m not a one-hit wonder. That was the only goal with this song. Timing-wise, we figured you can’t have two offensive songs in a row, so this song was going to be defensive and not offensive. But, as a YouTube number, it’s offensive, so it worked out better than I thought.
When we last spoke you said you were coming up with a variety of different dances, including a snake dance, for your follow-up single. How did you land on the new dance? It’s sort of “Thriller”-ish.
I get that a lot these days, but I really feel sorry for Michael Jackson ’cause it looks nothing like “Thriller”! It really looks like crap, going from left to right. [Laughs] And the other dance [shakes his hips] I’m calling the “arrogant dance,” because it doesn’t look like dancing, it looks arrogant—like attitude and behaving. So I added those two moves.
After “Gangnam Style” blew up, Tom Cruise jokingly tweeted about you two starring in a movie together. Do you have any movie plans?
Why not! I have a specific plan. After releasing the album, I want to promo two songs on the album because my final goal is to promo three songs this year, so after finishing this year, in 2014, I might have four songs that people know so I can do concerts. The basic point of my concert in Korea is communicating with each other, and to communicate between me and the crowd, we need more than one song. But you’re going to hear “Gangnam Style” in a big American movie, and it’s my kind of movie. It’s Something 3.
I know your manager, Scooter Braun, also represents Justin Bieber. Would we ever see a collaboration between you two for a single?
That was the exact thing that we were talking about trying with this single. What we decided is that we needed to prove it another time by myself. I cannot say whether or not I improved on it, but I can say I proved that I’m not a one-hit wonder. After this one, I’m kind of stress-free, so I can do anything. It’s not only Bieber, too, but I would like to do other collaborations if they’re suitable.
Do your twin daughters think you’re cool?
They are 5 years old, and two weeks ago I had a concert. Before that concert I’d never been loved by them. [Laughs] But in that concert, with 50,000 people at the stadium, I did a fly-over in the sky with wires, and they saw that daddy was flying. Right after that, I won them over so I’m really popular in the house right now.
Do you have any other goals to reach besides the album and tour?
I was an artist in Korea for 12 years before “Gangnam Style,” and my only goal was making a good concert and composing a good song. Those two dreams remain, whether I’m in Korea or overseas. Otherwise, what can I dream more? I’ve already had two songs in a row that hit the Billboard Hot 100. I’m already living my dream right now.