- Psy’s single “Gangnam Style” turned 10 years old on July 15. It was released in 2012.
- The landmark song and music video set records on YouTube, being the first to hit 1 billion views.
- Psy also helped open the door for K-pop music internationally and outside of Asia.
In April of this year, Psy killed “Gangnam Style.”
Well, at least figuratively. The music video for the singer’s latest single, “That That (prod. and feat. Suga of BTS),” saw BTS bandmember Suga slapping a blue suit-clad version of Psy, very obviously hearing back to his 2012 music video for “Gangnam Style.” Later, Suga cradles the old Psy on the hood of a car as a stream of blood drips from the now-44-year-old performer’s mouth.
The 10-year anniversary of “Gangnam Style” was July 15. Back in 2012, Psy — a well-known artist in South Korea, before he became a global icon — reached unprecedented heights with a satirical song about Seoul’s Gangnam district, and a “horse dance” that was copied around the world.
A decade later, the song’s influence is still felt. “Gangnam Style” was a crucial step in K-pop’s global success, while the music video set precedents for YouTube records.
“Being the first artist to reach 1 billion views on YouTube was an extraordinary feeling 10 years ago and it still is today,” Psy told YouTube Music at the video’s anniversary. “To have played a role in paving the way for music of all kinds to transcend borders is a true honor.”
‘Gangnam Style’ was the first video to hit 1 billion views on YouTube
The music video for “Gangnam Style” was released on YouTube on July 15, 2012. 159 days later, the video hit one billion views, according to data from YouTube.
Today, its view total sits at 4.4 billion.
Kevin Meenan, Music Trends Manager at YouTube, told Insider that the “international appeal” of “Gangnam Style” was a huge part of its virality. At the time, the video’s success was completely unprecedented — by that point in 2012, only two other music videos on YouTube had surpassed even 500 million views, Meenan said. YouTube even had to “upgrade” when the number of views on the music video exceeded the limits of the platform’s view counter, Insider previously reported.
Readers would be good to remember that it was a whole different streaming world. YouTube views weren’t factored into the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart until February 2013. These days, milestones like one billion views, or 24-hour debut records, are coveted among music artists and fanbases, who organize to stream music videos on YouTube.
The “billion views club” — as YouTube refers to the collection of videos that have notched the milestone — has also now expanded, with artists like J Balvin, Rihanna, and Blackpink among its ranks (in addition to children’s songs like “Baby Shark” ).
‘Gangnam Style’ slow itself to engagement, which proved crucial to its international success
When “Gangnam Style” went viral, people didn’t just watch the video. They parodied it, turned its choreography into a dance craze, and created content around it.
“Right from the beginning, they really had this idea of making ‘Gangnam Style’ into a highly participatory viral sensation, and we can see that even in the dance choreography,” CedarBough Saeji, Assistant Professor in Korean and East Asian Studies at Pusan National University, told Insider.
Saeji told Insider that part of the success of “Gangnam Style” was tied to the fact that Psy, nor his company YG Entertainment (he’s now under his own label, P-Nation), didn’t challenge the ways that international audiences were engaging with the track.
“It invited people to have fun with the music,” Saeji told Insider. “It didn’t slap them with copyright strikes, it didn’t try to police the ways that people in foreign countries were interpreting the music.”
The engagement with “Gangnam Style” set a precedent for other viral moments like the “Harlem Shake” in 2013, Meenan said. These days, too, K-pop dances regularly go viral on TikTok, with artists and companies promoting their choreography as challenges.
‘Gangnam Style’ helped to open the door for Korean pop music outside of Asia
In the decade since “Gangnam Style,” other Korean artists — particularly idol groups — have found global audiences, with some like BTS surpassing the chart milestones that Psy himself set. Psy said in a behind-the-scenes interview for “That That” that BTS had “made” [his] wish come true” by hitting number one on the Billboard Hot 100.
“With ‘Gangnam Style’ he paved the way for K-pop in the US, that we were able to follow his footsteps with ease,” BTS member Suga, whose real name is Min Yoon-gi, said in the same interview.
Sun Lee, Director of Music Partnerships (Korea & Greater China) & Artist Relations APAC at YouTube, told Insider that “Gangnam Style” changed the way that K-pop artists thought of their primary audiences, and the kinds of music that international audiences wanted I consume.
“Before ‘Gangnam Style,’ when K-pop artists wanted to enter the US music market, they tried to localize their sound to that market, working with US based producers and staff and sometimes even moving to the US,” Lee told Insider. “However, after ‘Gangnam Style’ broke through, K-pop artists realized that their music could work overseas, and looked for ways to elevate their music while keeping their own unique and distinct style.”
Ultimately, “Gangnam Style” represented a breakthrough, introducing an incredibly large global audience to K-pop, from its rich visual world to the ways that audience could participate.
“If what they liked about ‘Gangnam Style’ was laughing at Psy, then maybe they didn’t continue to consume K-pop,” Saeji told Insider. “But if what they liked about ‘Gangnam Style’ was the attention to visuality, and the invitation to be part of a different cultural world, then maybe they did follow on from ‘Gangnam Style.'”