Despite serious diplomatic tensions in the peninsula, South Koreans’ attention in recent weeks was focused on just one thing: whether Psy’s latest single would be another global hit or a mega flop.
Well, the wait is over and the verdict is out: the irreverent rapper has done it again, with Gentleman receiving more than 197 million views on YouTube to date.
The 35-year-old’s highly anticipated single is, so far, living up to the success of Gangnam Style, the global music and dance sensation that has received more than 1.5 billion hits on YouTube since its release in July 2012.
To describe Gentlemanas his difficult second single would not be quite accurate. Psy has been part of the South Korean music scene for more than a decade – but for many of his overseas fans, Gangnam Style will always be his “first” song.
The single topped music charts around the world, inspired dozens of parodies – from US military cadets to schoolboys – and its deceptively tricky hip-swinging choreography has sparked an international dance craze.
Gentleman has even gained some notoriety, being banned by broadcasting giant KBS for a scene in the video that shows Psy violating road rules by kicking a traffic cone – the least of his misdeeds in the tongue-in-cheek video that also shows him behaving badly towards women.
Nevertheless, Psy must be relieved with his latest success, given he has been “working and reworking it continuously”, as he told South Korean television. At one point, record executives worried that the video would not be finished in time for the release.
There were signs that the pressure to produce a spectacular follow-up to Gangnam Stylehad been getting to the singer.
Late last month he tweeted a photo of himself covering his face at a recording studio – captioning it the “pain of creation”.
The financial stakes for Psy and his agency have soared since his big break. Last year he helped YG Entertainment generate sales of almost 100 billion won (HK$678 million), making him the most bankable of some 20 K-pop acts in its stable.
Personally, Psy hasn’t done too badly out of Gangnamfever, either. He was South Korea’s highest-paid celebrity last year, with an estimated personal income of about US$28 million.
He earned almost US$9 million in the first quarter of this year alone, about half of which came from an appearance in an advert aired during the lucrative half-time slot at the US Super Bowl in February.
Friends and colleagues say he has become more professional since last year, but is otherwise unaffected by his sudden international fame and soaring wealth.
And the South Koreans just love him. “I’m not worried about him flopping,” says soldier Kim Kwong-soo, 23. “He’s the only Korean male singer we all like listening to in the army – the rest are all girl bands.”
Park Tae-kyung, a 22-year-old student, says he loves the rapper’s humour.
And Psy’s appeal isn’t limited to the younger crowd. “Even people my age … can quickly pick up his lyrics and dance steps,” says 41-year-old businessman Jeon Sung-min. “If a regular guy like him can become the face of South Korea, that’s fine by me.” Guardian News & Media