“Gangnam Style” Star’s Charisma Carries His First Release Since Crossover Success
For many around the world, Psy and his viral hit “Gangnam Style” are K-pop’s primary ambassadors — either a point of entry into discovering the genre or the only example they’re familiar with. And while the South Korean music industry certainly owes a lot to Psy’s international crossover and the impressive feat of getting a song with mostly Korean lyrics to no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 was an important milestone, the reality is that Psy is and always has been outside the mainstream in K-pop. In 2001 when he released his debut album, Psy From the Psycho World!, he was fined by the South Korean government for the album’s “inappropriate content”. Since then, he’s remained popular through his charismatic performances and over-the-top songs, but has been seen as something of an oddity.
Chiljip Psy-da, or This is Psy’s Seventh Album, is his first substantial release since the success of “Gangnam Style” and as such, his first since being widely accepted as a proper superstar. It’s clear he’s felt the pressure of following up his success, this album coming over three years since the release of “Gangnam Style”. In each year following “Gangnam Style”, he’s put out a new single and music video, attempting to recreate the outlandish comedy of his breakout. But neither of those songs — “Gentleman” and “Hangover” — appear on Chiljip Psy-da, and it seems clear why. If YouTube metrics are something to judge by, both singles were very successful: “Gentleman” currently has over 900,000,000 views and “Hangover” has over 200,000,000. But they too obviously try to be “Gangnam Style 2.0” and Psy is smart enough to know that, at least for a full-length album, he needs to prove to everyone who hasn’t followed his career since the beginning that he’s more than that.
For the most part, the album accomplishes that goal. Upon its release, Psy put out two music videos, the first of which unfortunately falls into the “Gangnam Style 2.0” (or are we at 3.0 now?) category. “Daddy” is a high energy dance track with obnoxious synths, a simple vocal hook, and a bizarre dance move to accompany it. The music video finds Psy’s head superimposed onto a body of a dancing child, onto a middle-aged professional dancer’s body, and Psy himself in prosthetic grandpa makeup. The three generations of Psy gyrate ecstatically while they answer the question, “Where’d you get that body from?” with the cheeky, “I got it from my Daddy.” The song follows the “Gangnam Style” formula, but manages to still be entertaining and sonically interesting. Lyrically it most obviously pulls from will.i.am’s “I Got It From My Mama” (will.i.am also collaborates with Psy on album track “ROCKnROLLbaby”), but “Daddy” is also a sort of parody of JYP’s “Who’s Your Mama” from earlier this year, in which the fellow middle-aged star comments on young women’s butts and asks, “Who’s Your Mama?”
The more interesting single released, however, was “Napal Baji”. The track trades in the thumping EDM beats for disco grooves, but keeps all of Psy’s infectious charisma. The song allows Psy’s voice to shine in ways we’re not used to hearing on his singles as well, even if the sound is more competent karaoke star than refined crooner. Stylistically, “Napal Baji” is a nice change of pace for Psy and points towards the kind of variety to be found on the rest of Chiljip Psy-da.
To be clear, the album doesn’t shy away from the spirit of what makes Psy so great. Most of the tracks are still slightly ridiculous dance songs, like the sax-infested opening track “Dance Jocky”, which sounds exactly like what one would expect a song with that title to sound like. But we also get quieter tracks such as the piano-based hip-hop track “Dream” with JYJ’s Xia and the dark, trap-tinged R&B of “The Day Will Come” with Jeon In-Kown. These songs might not be the most thrilling — or artistically successful, for that matter — but they do show a wider range of Psy’s talents for his newly global audience.
Throughout though, Psy rests on his natural skills as a showman to carry the songs. Even without watching him perform, you can feel the energy and charisma through the recordings, and it saves Chiljip Psy-Da from being too much of a bore. Musically, he still stands outside the K-pop mainstream, preferring to rely on American EDM and dance trends, but he still does well as a de facto representative. Nothing on the album is essential listening, but all of it is executed with a high level of competence and an even higher level of energy and enthusiasm.