Remember “Gangnam Style”? Of course you do! Shortly after the video went viral in 2012, I sat down with South Korean pop star Psy in L.A. to talk about his newfound fame in the U.S. I found him to be very nice, and he even had me take my shoes off at the door.
The interview was published in TIME, but we edited out a chunk of it. Here’s the rest of it below:
How was your appearance on Ellen? Was it fun?
Oh yeah. I had a great performance and the audience was awesome. I really feel weird because they sang along with the Korean words. They don’t have any idea what it means. There’s a word “sanaee” which means “the man of men.” [Note: here he means “the manliest man.”] The word appears a lot in the song so people get used to it, I think. I passed the mic and they said “sanaee.” They didn’t have any idea. All the Americans shouting Korean words. That was crazy for me. And they all know how to dance the dance.
It seems the ladies really like “Gangnam Style”
Yeah, I think it’s half and half. Half ladies and half guys. I saw YouTube’s percentages, who clicked more. YouTube found out that more guys clicked, which I don’t like. It seems like they felt more energy so I don’t know why. In Korea also, I have a lot of guy fans. It’s not a usual thing that guys like guys. Honestly, I don’t like it. I have allergy with guys.
How does it feel to be the first solo Asian artist to top the iTunes chart in the US?
Honestly I’m not the responsible person. I hate responsibility. I’m just the artist. The thing is everything I’m doing from now on is the very first time for Korean culture and Korean pop history, which means I’ve got to have some responsibility about that. I hate the word, but fortunately I’m representing my country right now…It’s the first time to be charted on Billboard and iTunes and first time within our own language. So to me it’s a really meaningful thing and the responsibility—I’m sort of joking—but the thing is, I’ve got to be good. I’ve got to appreciate my parents because they’re giving me such great talent to be a positive person…I don’t get any nervousness or panic to be together with the superstars. I’m just doing my job.
You’ve seen all these parody videos. The lifeguards, the navy. What’s your favorite one?
There are too many so I can’t tell. These kind of parodies are helping me. I really appreciate each of these parodies. A lot of people doing a lot of their styles. That’s what this song is all about. All the things I’m doing. It doesn’t have to look good, because honestly I don’t look good. But if they are doing what’s real for them and that is their style. I think their style is their own. Their style needs to be real. All the parodies look fun. They look like they’re having fun when they’re making this, so that’s what this song is all about.
You’ve been in the U.S. What has surprised you most about Americans?
Like today, when they sang along with any idea. That kind of thing is huge for me. It’s a culture shock. If I release a next one, it’s going to be in English.
Have you written it yet?
Not yet because I’m here and all the equipment is in Korea, so I’ve got to go back and write the song.
But you have ideas already?
There are plenty of different styles for composers. For me, I get really quick inspiration. I don’t actually plan for writing. I’m just living my life and meanwhile if I’ve got something, all of the sudden I’m writing. It’s random. But I don’t have it yet.
Do you feel pressured for your next song to be as big as this one?
I don’t know why, but I was born in a way that I cannot feel stressed about anything. I’m a very positive person. But the thing is I’m thinking a lot every day. I’m thinking lots of things every day. That’s not because I don’t care. I’m thinking too many things every day. It can be music, it can be some dance moves or part of the video. Mentally, I hate to take a rest.
Which American artists would you most love to collaborate with?
First of all, it doesn’t depend on name value. It depends on what the song is, so honestly I want to collaborate with everybody because they’re still a star to me. I want to work with everybody, but only if the song fits with him or her. I don’t think about any specific person. I’m thinking about the song first. For me, that’s my principle. The song first, the melody second, the lyric third, the concept fourth. I’m not thinking about collaboration yet.
Have you picked any endorsements or television appearances that you’re working on?
Here’s the deal. Three weeks ago, I arrived here. The reason I came here was I felt like I needed to promote myself. So I’ve got to promote myself more and more to get over the video first. I’ve got to promote who I am as well. Then I’m going to move on to the next step, which will be a single or an album. I don’t know yet.
Any plans to be in a video with Justin Bieber?
I haven’t met him yet because he’s on tour right now so he’s not in town. We already talked on the phone. I heard a lot about Justin from [manager Scooter Braun]. He heard a lot about me from Scooter. We can do some work together later on.
What might you do together?
I don’t like that kind of thing because Justin’s so popular and so famous. I want to be as huge as him and then we can do something together.
But it could help you, no?
It will be helpful. If Justin wants that, I’ll do it, but I’m not going to tell him, “Hey, help me out.”
Has it been good working with Scooter Braun?
Very much. He’s a very creative, smart manager.
From Psycho. Because I’m crazy about music, stage performance and show. I really like the word. It is great to be crazy in one certain aspect. So to me that’s psycho. That’s why I call myself psycho. My fan club in Korea, their name is “cho.” We share the name.
Yeah, but they prefer KO, like knockout.
JENS ERIK GOULD
Jens Erik Gould is a political, business and entertainment writer and editor who has reported from a dozen countries for media outlets including The New York Times, National Public Radio and Bloomberg News.