When most people hear the name PSY, they immediately think of "Gangnam Style" and his horse-dancing antics. What some don't realize, however, is that PSY actually has an extensive and accomplished artistic career in South Korea prior to "Gangnam Style." Since the 1990s, PSY has been putting out boundary pushing jams (with equally fresh performances). His latest release, '4x2=8,' is just another example of what's possible with a career of hard work and going against the grain.
In 2001, PSY released his debut album to a mixture of buzz and controversy. "Psy from the Psycho World!" received fines due to what government censors declared excessively profane content, and was eventually halted from sale due to concerns from civic activity groups. His brazen lyrics represented something previously unseen in Korean music, and it captured the attitude of hip-hop's Eminem-dominated early 2000s era. Songs and videos like "Bird" made a splash and caught attention for being simultaneously flamboyant and vulgar.
Subsequent albums experienced similar success and controversy, with "Ssa2" experiencing backlash immediately upon release due to - stop me if you've heard this one before - a marijuana arrest and jail time. Instead of cowering away, though, Psy made songs referencing the controversies he experienced. Naturally, this resulted in more controversy, and his "defiant" words were once again fined and barred from sale to minors.
Becoming a Champion
It was only with the release of 2002's "Champion" that Psy was able to truly win over the public, as the song came out right on time for that year's FIFA World Cup which was co-hosted by South Korea and Japan. Despite all of his prior issues, "Champion" became a runaway hit and soundtracked an exciting time for many Koreans, permanently establishing Psy as a force to be reckoned with in the Korean music scene. Psy had inexplicably turned into a pop star sized rap act, and it was this duality that would go on to highlight the rest of his career.
Starting from today, gather your strength
And join forces and unite as one
Gather your strength and shout out your youth
The free shouts will ring across the high skies
Scream – we are killers of the status quo - (Lyrics from "Champion")
Beyond his controversial lyrics and personal life, Psy was known for being an eccentric and often over-the-top performer even early on in his career. Many of his own songs acknowledge this, and this self-awareness is rather unique within the Korean popular music world. With a stage persona that's halfway between provocateur and caricature, Psy won the people over without ever coming on too strong.
Against All Odds
Prior to the start of his "modern era" and tenure with mega-label YG Entertainment, Psy experienced another controversy in the form of an army service dodging scandal. Interestingly enough, Psy was initially excused from military service due to a rule at the time allowing software developers to remain on the job instead. Essentially, even though he was "drafted" in 2003, he was able to live among citizens in the workforce since his job was ruled valuable to Korean society's interests. This decision was reversed in 2007 because Psy continued to promote as an artist during the time when he normally would have been serving, and Psy once again became a lightning rod for hot takes in the public eye. It's with this context in mind that his 2010 return - and, of course, subsequent world domination - are that much more impressive. To win the public back over so many times is a true testament to Psy's abilities.
Psy has a history that's at once both complicated and accomplished. He established an exponential success rate as his career developed, and bucked the trend of Korean male artists fizzling out after military service and/or controversies. Right as it seemed like he was reaching a point where he could coast on his "legend" status, he transcended with "Gangnam Style" and became an international icon that represented Korea on the world stage. '4x2=8' isn't just a victory lap, it's a fired-up and inspired reminder of why he's made it this far.