During Psy’s “Rock Phase” in between his military stints in 2006, he offered up two indelible numbers that are now regular staples in his concerts.
The first is usually translated as “Entertainer”, but is also given alternate translations like “Celebrity” and “Artist”. But whatever the case, it is a highly melodic, arena-ready anthemic number that is reminiscent of Robbie Williams’s 1998 hit (and his own concert staple) “Let Me Entertain You” [NOTE: Robbie Williams was reportedly among the first celebrities who tweeted his praises for Psy’s “Gangnam Style” video–wonder if he’s aware of this song and is flattered by it, that’s why he gave such compliments?], and if you listen closely, he also paraphrased the “hip-hop-hippity-hop” phrase of that pioneering rap classic “Rapper’s Delight” from the Sugarhill Gang. The song is reportedly addressed to Psy’s wife, about how even if he’s imperfect, he’ll be her entertainer and celebrity and do his very best for her. The music video is a cute and amusing treat where Psy plays both an angel and an everyman character that evokes the Jim Carrey smash hit film, Bruce Almighty.
The other song is “Father”. Though it doesn’t seem to be released as a single (I don’t see it listed in his discography), it is also another staple in Psy’s concerts. It’s a loving, moving tribute to self-sacrificing fathers everywhere, that even for listeners whose fathers may not be exactly as described in the song would get misty-eyed. The animated music video is so crystal clear and straightforward that you don’t really need a translation to understand what the song is about. I could declare that this is my prime candidate for a modern-day Father’s Day anthem, the way the late 2Pac’s “Dear Mama” seems to a front-runner for a modern-day hpster’s Mother’s Day theme song.
During the early phases of his career, Psy handled everything independently, but after finally completing his military duties, with the encouragement of his wife he signed with powerhouse Korean entertainment agency YG Entertainment in 2010, home of superstar acts like Big Bang and 2NE1. With the new signing he again evolved from the rock sound in 2006 to a sleek electro-pop sound. The launching single after that signing, “Right Now”, seems to be like a prototype that “Gangnam Style” eventually took to astounding heights of fame. There are even those elements of comedy and wacky dancing.
Another aspect that Korean fans expect from Psy, especially in his concerts, are his dance impersonations of female entertainers, and he normally will assume alter-egos, usually combining the element “Ssa-” (as in Korean, his stage name is actually spelled out as “Ssa-I”) with the lady’s name. In his 2011 summer concert, he impersonated Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” and Beyonce’s “Single Ladies”, assuming the alter-egos of Lady SsaSsa and Ssayonce respectively. In this year’s concert, he mimicked Korean girl group Sistar’s sensual disco-tinged hit “Alone” (not to be confused with Heart’s 1987 smash) and repeated the Lady Ssassa number, this time with firework bras (he should’ve changed the Lady Gaga song to “Bad Romance”, because the flaming bras were of that era, but that’s just a minor quibble). Enjoy the laugh-riot-worthy and mind-blowing performances below:
Despite the “novelty” factor of “Gangnam Style”, examining Psy’s oeuvre should make one realize that this guy actually has the qualities to go beyond being a one-hit wonder, that perhaps he can escape the fate the befell other artists with smash non-English recordings (a whole slew of them, from Soeur Sourire’s “Dominique”, Kyu Sakamoto’s “Sukiyaki” [should’ve been better known as “Ue O Muite Aruko”], and Los del Rio’s “Macarena”) and perhaps maintain a sustained profile in the international stage. He has demonstrated that he’s a consummate artist and entertainer from all the numbers I have featured in this essay, and he actually could speak English well especially since he went to college in Boston University and Berklee College of Music (maybe would probably need a little help creating fluid rhymes in English, but that could be a manageable challenge). In fact, he can even turn into the one who can finally break the barrier and help other fellow Korean artists finally make serious inroads in the American market–since he belongs to the same agency he can collaborate in recordings by 2NE1 and perhaps Big Bang to help them forge their US breakthroughs. He can also guest in recordings by other US/European artists, like the way Pitbull does. Though “Gangnam Style” already exceeds everyone’s expectations, Psy seems capable of capitalizing on the breakthrough to go to even greater artistic and commercial heights. It will be interesting where he goes from here–all I’ll probably wish is that Psy remains true to who he is as an artist and entertainer, to remain committed to his art without taking himself too seriously.