Psy vs. The World

Guess who’s back? Psy poses with BTS Suga in the “That That” MV.


Guess who’s back? Psy poses with BTS Suga in the “That That” MV.

Chase Kim, Photojournalist

With the release of his 9th album, his first in nearly five years and a decade after “Gangnam Style,” Psy proves to the world that he’s still got it. Psy collaborates with Suga of BTS on the lead single, “That That,” keeping Psy relevant with an ever-changing K-pop scene. His popularity defies the expectations of many by remaining steady through the late 2010’s and early 2020’s. But in many ways—Psy’s been defying expectations since the very beginning of his career.

Though “Gangnam Style” of late 2012 is the song that really ‘started’ Psy’s popularity (and dominated much of my childhood), Psy’s professional career really began far before, with a rather controversial debut.

In January 2001, Psy released his first album, Psy from the Psycho World! While Psy had featured in the album In stardom 2.0 of South Korean rapper zoPD, Psy from the Psycho World! was his very first solo venture in the world of music. Unfortunately, the album did poorly.

He was fined by South Korean officials for the album’s ‘inappropriate content,’ and earned the nickname ‘The Bizarre Singer’ since it had such odd lyrics and dance moves. His second album, Sa 2, didn’t fare much better. Believed to be a “negative influence” on South Korea’s youth, it was banned in 2002 from being sold to those under 19. Psy was controversial, and far from popular.

But—it was in his third album 3 Psy that he defied odds, in the way that’s now just typical him. Coinciding with the World Cup games in Seoul that year, the lead song “Champion” saw great success, and Psy was given awards for songwriting at the annual Seoul Music Awards.

Psy lived out the next decade with more controversy, music, and serving his two-year military service (mandatory for males in South Korea).

And then—Gangnam Style happened. And it was huge.

Not only was it huge though, it broke international boundaries. Never, before “Gangnam Style,” would a person think that the first YouTube video to break the one-billion-view mark would be a man from South Korea speaking a language other than English. It made no sense, but it opened a world of possibilities for international artists and entertainers hoping to make it on a global scale. A person no longer had to be restricted, or defined, by their origin.

I doubt that we’ll ever see such a boundary-shattering thing again.

“Despacito” may have never happened without “Gangnam Style” first. BTS may owe its success to Psy. This recent ‘renaissance’ and celebration of international culture may have only happened because “Gangnam Style” was there first—I’m talking the explosion of K-entertainment, Latin pop, and more.

It is good to see him returning to making music after a long break.

— Derek Moore (9)

Now, it’s Psy vs. The World again. After disappearing for a few years, he’s become little more than nostalgia in the eyes of many, especially given how much K-pop has changed in his five years of absence. No longer the pioneer of international culture, he’s just one of millions. But, as Derek Moore (9) said, “It is good to see him returning to making music after a long break.” It means that Psy is back.

He’s retained many of his fans over the years (this dear writer included), and that may just separate him from average. So maybe it’s too pessimistic to be saying that Psy’s up alone against the entirety of the planet, in an Endgame/Captain America-type situation.

Maybe it’s not Psy vs. The World. 

Maybe it’s Psy plus millions of loving fans vs. The World—and that may just be enough to launch him back into the spotlight.