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Interview with Singer/Songwriter Psy.

Aired November 23, 2012 - 05:30:00   ET



PSY, SINGER, SONGWRITER (singing): Oppan Gangnam Style.

ALINA CHO, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN (voiceover): It's called Gangnam Style. A song that's become a Korean pop phenomenon like none before it. Beginning with this music video, it's now been watched by nearly a billion people around the world.

PSY (singing): Hey, sexy lady.

CHO (voiceover): The catchy tune and matching moves have been snapped up by flash mobs in the U.S., performed by prison inmates in the Philippines, even U.S. pop queen, Britney Spears, who was taught the moves on the Ellen DeGeneres show by the creator, himself.

His name is Park Jae-sang, but to most, he's just "Psy".

PSY: I didn't expect this kind of thing. I made this song - I made this music video and dance moves just for Korea, not worldwide. I didn't expect anything like talking on CNN, on the VMA. Crazy.

CHO (voiceover): A star in h is own right in his native South Korea, he spent more than 10 weeks on the U.S. Billboard 100. And snatched the Guinness Book of World Records title for the most liked You Tube video ever, with Gangnam Style.

This week, Psy joins us in New York and reveals why he never graduated from the Berkley College of Music. And whether he thinks he could ever top his viral video sensation. Coming up on "Talk Asia".

PSY (singing): Oppan Gangnam Style.


CHO: Psy, welcome to "Talk Asia".

PSY: Thank you.

CHO: So great to have you here. We want to cover a lot of things, obviously. And I guess we want to start at the beginning.


CHO: Gangnam.

PSY: Yes.

CHO: The Beverly Hills of Seoul.

PSY: Yes, so I, you know, described the district. You know, as - that's my point of view. And I described the district as like normal and calm at the daytimes and going insane at the nighttime. So I compare all the sexy ladies to the district. You know, to be calm at the daytime and going insane at nighttime. Especially for me. That's what the lyrics is about.

CHO: I think what's interesting is that this is a district you know very well. You grew up there?

PSY: Yes.

CHO: What was that like?

PSY: Well, it was like good.


PSY: Honestly. And, you know, so the people there in Korea - when people - you know, like, there's like a specific sterile-type look of Gangnam Style. And, unfortunately, which is not me. So doesn't look like Gangnam Style guy keep saying, "I'm Gangnam Style".

CHO: Tell me a little bit about your love for music. And when did that start? Did that start early on in your life?

PSY: Basically, when I was a kid, one of my dream was like comedian. Like standing comedian. Like talk.

CHO: Wow.

PSY: Yes. Talk show host or something like that. And when I was like 14, 15 years old, in Korea, there was some program that introduce like pop songs, pop videos. And in that program, when I was 15 years old, I saw - I happened to saw Queen. Yes, Queen's concert in Wembley Stadium. And they are singing "Bohemian Rhapsody". When I saw the footage, I was like literally, you know, gone.

CHO: What was it about that that you loved? Did you love the way the crowd reacted to them? What was it that moved you?

PSY: Yes, it was about everything. But you know, when I went to the baseball stadium and there's like lot of crowds, I feel like my blood is, you know, boiling, you know. When I saw that crowd -- so in that video, you know, I've never seen picture like that without Olympic at the time.

CHO: But it's one thing to love music. We all love music. It's another thing to realize that you have a gift for performing, for creating a dance craze. At what point did you realize that you had that gift?

PSY: Well, obviously, not from parents. Because they were all academic person. When I was young, I thought, "I have different gift, but why do they keep talking me to study?" In Korea, there's like certain tradition that, you know, son has to inherit if there's family business.

CHO: Of course.

PSY: Yes. So, for me, in my entire whole family I'm the only son in the entire whole family.

CHO: Uh-oh.

PSY: All the girls. Only son. And we have like family business. And my grandfather established it, you know, after, you know, Korean War. You know, he came from North to South. He inherit things from nothing to there. And my father inherits it. So everybody want me to inherit. So everybody want me to study, like maybe management or business or that kind of thing.

CHO: At what age, then, did you start writing music and thinking about lyrics?

PSY: Until freshman of college, I didn't think about, you know, being a musician. So I just convinced them that it's twenty-first century. I want to study in the bigger world. So that I can be a bigger businessman. Please, I want to study abroad.

So he allowed me and I entered Boston University at the time. And as soon as I get to BU, I quit it and with the tuition, I hang out a bit.


CHO: Hang out?

PSY: Yes, hang out a little bit. And, you know, feel the atmosphere of United States. That's why I can speak English, you know. With the hanging out.

CHO: Ultimately, you ended up at the Berkley College of Music.

PSY: Yes, so I found the Berkley College of Music and, in that period - that was the year of '96-'97, and it was all about hip-hop at the time in the United States. Like I got influenced by all that kind of hip-hop music. Like Dr. Dre, Snoop Dog, Eminem, you know - Puff Daddy, like Notorious - everything. Tupac. So, there was the huge momentum, because at that time I was not that good singer. But when I see the rappers, you know, if I can say the words like fast or if I can say the words like some -

CHO: So you thought, "I don't need to sing as long as I can say these words in a cool way, maybe I can make it"?

PSY: Yes. Maybe I can be a singer without singing. So with the tuition, I start to buy computer and media stuff to make a beat and to rap. So I copied all the famous, you know, rappers, you know, lyric and I translate it into Korean.

CHO: Wow.

PSY: And I, you know, re-do it in Korean way and I start beat drumbeats and bass coming in. And in that way, I learned composing.

CHO: You went back to Korea, then, in 2000?

PSY: Yes.

CHO: Why?

PSY: I transferred to Berkley College of Music without any agreement to my parents. And, you know, Berkley College of Music, they had a problem, because they sent a letter to my parents -

CHO: Oh no.

PSY: -- invitational parents' day, you know? So, my father stopped wiring money.

CHO: so you were fresh out of money and you said, "I have to go home"?

PSY: Yes. So, the thing was, I, you know - at that time, so I have lots of friends so I, you know, made some, you know, let me say, foundation or something. So if I get big hit, I'm going to pay you guys back, so give me the money. I got to make a record.

CHO: Have you paid them back?

PSY: Oh yes. After my debut hit.

CHO: Wow.

PSY: I paid them all back.



CHO: You have said that you want your next single to be in English?

PSY: Yes.

CHO: How much pressure do you feel?





CHO: I think people don't realize that "Gangnam Style" is a song on your sixth album.

PSY: Yes.

CHO: Pretty incredible. Where'd you get the idea?

PSY: Well so, to the world, this was my debut. But in Korea, it was mandatory success for sixth time. So it was like highly pressured. Especially with the dance moves. So this was my first dance moves to the world, but this was like my sixth dance move. And my previous ones got - every dance move was so hit.

CHO: Really?

PSY: Yes.

CHO: In Korea.

PSY: Yes.

CHO: But not here. Not around the world.

PSY: Not around the world. Which means I have five more moves left. Coming up.

CHO: So we could see those very soon, right?

PSY: Oh yes.

CHO: So tell me about the horse dance.

PSY: It was such a big pressure with the dance moves, so after song's done, me and my Korean choreographers like, we spend like more than 30 nights. We got to try everything we see. You know, like every animal. Literally everything.

CHO: And what was it about this one that you think stuck?

PSY: You know, this horse dance was originally - I don't know about other countries, but in Korea, it was really huge at the '80s. One day, I thought about it and my choreographer's like - he's like three years older than me and he knew about the dance. So, hey, why don't we try some, you know, classic ones like, they say, "OK, such as?" And like, "Horse? Horse dance? Horse dance? What is horse dance?" It's like wow.

CHO: You obviously, though, have a knack for performing and have a knack for dance. But do you think that part of the reason why this has become so successful and went so viral is because this dance is something that almost anyone can do with a little bit of practice? I mean, you know, I watch the video a little bit and, what do you think it is?

PSY: I have a huge talent to be shown easy dance.

CHO: Right.

PSY: Yes, so, but you know, honestly, it's not that easy, though.

CHO: Some of the moves are really not easy. I've tried them.

PSY: Yes. But when I do the dance, it looks easy.

CHO: It does look easy.

PSY: And I like the part. Because, when people see it and if it looks like, "Oh, I cannot do that". Then they're not going to do it, right?

CHO: Right.

PSY: But if people see it and, "Ah ha, I can do it". And they are trying. And if people are trying, that means viral.

CHO: They've tried nearly a billion times.

PSY: That's what I'm saying. So, you know, I just saw like 20,000 people flash mob in Italy.



PSY: I saw the video footage at the You Tube. And they were doing every move. And they were saying every Korean word.

CHO: How crazy is that?

PSY: So, you know, when I do performing, it's kind of - I feel kind of, you know, sorry to the audience. Because they don't have any idea what I'm talking about, right?


CHO: I do.

PSY: But when I see their face, they are so happy. But they don't have any idea what I'm talking about. But they are so happy. And they are waiting all the way until "sexy ladies".


PSY: They are waiting, waiting, waiting. So they are like just do the dance and waiting. And if they got "sexy ladies" and they are exploding, you know?

CHO: Why do you think it is? I mean, honestly, if you had to pin it down, why do you think - it's the most liked video in You Tube history. Nearly a billion people have seen it around the world. That's more than three times the population of the United States. It's unbelievable.

PSY: It's more than 10 times population of Korea.

CHO: It's hard to wrap your mind around it. What do you think it is?

PSY: So people describe it as phenomenon. And, you know, unfortunately, we cannot analyze phenomenon, I think. So, if I hit another one or maybe another one, and then and after that, I can say something. "Oh, I think I have a success with this reason, that reason, those reasons". But only this one, I don't want to say it.

CHO: You have said that you want your next single to be in English.

PSY: Mix.

CHO: Mix.

PSY: Yes.

CHO: How much pressure do you feel?

PSY: But honestly, track is done.

CHO: Track is done?

PSY: Yes.

CHO: Hard to beat a billion views on You Tube, though. I mean, do you feel -

PSY: I'm not going to beat that and I cannot beat that. And, you know, for example, Justin Bieber - he got his debut song, "Baby", 700 million. And he cannot beat it.

CHO: You know, you have said - I don't know if you still feel this way - but you have said, "The problem is the music video is bigger than I am".

PSY: Yes, yes.

CHO: Do you still feel that way?

PSY: Yes.

CHO: You do.

PSY: You know, music video got more than half a billion view. But literally not half a billion people recognize me, yet.

CHO: You say you're more recognizable with your sunglasses.

PSY: Oh yes. With the sunglass maybe half a billion, I don't know.


CHO: Without the sunglasses, do you think people still have trouble?

PSY: These days, getting better.

CHO: Not so much.

PSY: These days getting better. Because this kind of interviews without sunglasses. That's the reason why I'm doing without sunglasses, you know.


CHO: Ban Ki-moon said that, "Before Gangnam Style, I was the most famous Korean. I can't say that anymore, Psy is".





CHO: You gave a concert, 80,000 people showed up, and that's not including the people who were out on the streets. It literally shut down the city of Seoul. Tell me what that was like. That was a "thank you" concert.

PSY: The Seoul Plaza City Hall is only open for national things. And it was first time they opened for one person.

CHO: For someone who has been in the business for more than a decade and, listen, you had your ups and downs in your career, I'm sure. To make it on this level, how does it feel?

PSY: So, my life and my career - I can say it before and after Gangnam. And before Gangnam, it's embarrassed to say to myself, but I was huge in Korea before Gangnam. And I was not that, like, some boy, girl band like hottest then, but I -

CHO: But you were known.

PSY: I have like biggest concert in Korea.

CHO: Wow.

PSY: Yes. So I was well known at concert in Korea. But after Gangnam, in Korea I'm like a gold medalist right now. They are, you know, every Thursday - Korean time - every Thursday they never sleep because they are waiting for Billboard coming out.

CHO: To see whether you hit number one?

PSY: Yes.



CHO: I am very lucky, as you are, to know Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General.

PSY: Oh yes.

CHO: I know you met with him recently and you taught him a few moves. But do you know what he said to me? He said that, "Before Gangnam style, I was the most famous man" -

PSY: Oh yes.

CHO: -- "the most famous Korean. I can't say that any more, Psy is". How does that feel? The UN Secretary General?

PSY: It's Secretary General. And he is, you know, what can I say? To the Korean -

CHO: Of course.

PSY: -- he's like heart. So, when I heard like I was invited? I was like, you know, you know, trust me, more touched than Billboard number two.

CHO: Wow.

PSY: Really. So proud about myself to be invited by him. This honor.

CHO: Let's talk a little bit about some of the spoofs. There are thousands of Gangnam Style videos -

PSY: Parodies.

CHO: Parodies.

PSY: Yes.



CHO: 1,000 inmates in the Philippines.

PSY: Oh yes, yes, yes.

CHO: What did you think?

PSY: You know, it was, like, really touching, you know? And, you know, Gangnam Style is really a casual song. It's not touching or moving song. And Gangnam Style -

CHO: I saw it.

PSY: I'm the writer and I didn't make this song in that purpose. But the thing is, with the way they are doing, it's like, "Wow".



CHO: Teaching Britney Spears how to do the horse dance on the Ellen DeGeneres show, what was that like?

PSY: So, that was the most nervous moment in my life.

CHO: Come on.

PSY: Really. Because that was my first national TV appearance.

CHO: Wow.

PSY: In the United States. And so, everything was so first time. First time meeting Britney, first time meeting Ellen, first time being on national TV. And Britney doesn't know I was coming there, so I got to be hiding all over. So it was like - when screen opens, I popped out. That was the scenario. And right behind the screen - wow, much more nervous than when I debuted, you know?

CHO: In fact, you introduced yourself -

PSY: Yes.

CHO: -- before you started dancing.

PSY: Yes, yes.

CHO: Was that because you were nervous?

PSY: No, that was my kind of, you know, strategy, you know? Because -

CHO: Introduce yourself to the world.

PSY: You know, when I first got schedules in the United States and when I get on board at the plane, I planned some tactics, you know. What my attitude was, "From now on, what should I do?" So I set the basic principle at the airplane, which was being a Korean.

What I meant was, a lot of Asians travel to the United States, but thing is, in some reason, they are pretending like American. That's what I thought. But I'm not American. And if I pretend like American, it will be ridiculous. Because I'm not an American. I want my identification, you know, and occupation and nationality - I want to keep it.

CHO: Well, Psy, I wish you the best of luck in everything you do. Thank you so much for sitting down with us on "Talk Asia".

PSY: Thank you.

CHO: What a pleasure.