Jae-Ha Kim, Celebrity Travel, September 18, 2012
What a difference two months make. For the past dozen years, PSY has been a popular rapper and entertainer in Korea. Then in July, he uploaded his video for "Gangnam Style" on youtube.com, and the song went viral to the tune of more than 161 million views. Katy Perry, Britney Spears and Nelly Furtado tweeted about the song to their followers. "Gangnam Style" charted at No. 1 on the iTunes Music Video Charts, topping Perry and Justin Bieber and cracked the Billboard Hot 100 chart at No. 64. PSY is now represented by Bieber's manager, Scooter Braun.
Born Jae-Sang Park, the 34-year-old musician spent his college years in Massachusetts, first at Boston University and then at the Berklee College of Music. "It's not easy to learn a foreign language, but I hope to teach my fans in the United States how to speak a little Korean," says PSY, who speaks fluent English. "Some may already know the words to the song, but they don't know the meaning. A lot of people ask me if I was trying to send a message with the song and the answer is no. I just wanted to have fun." Fans may stay in touch with PSY on Twitter @psy_oppa.
Q. If people were to go to Korea to visit the Gangnam area, would they be surprised?
A. I think if they'd been to places like Beverly Hills or Manhattan, no, they wouldn't be surprised, because there are a lot of similar things. There are lots of department stores, nice hotels and nightclubs. It's similar in that respect.
Q. When you studied in Boston, did you go to see a lot of bands play in Boston or New York City?
A. No, because when I was in Boston, the economy in Korea was horrible at the time. So I lived humbly. I didn't travel that much and tried to save my money.
Q. What's your favorite destination?
A. Right now? The United States! I do love Boston and wish I could get there again soon. It's hard to find the time right now though. It's so close to New York, but still about four hours by car. So if I ever get a proper holiday, I'm going to go visit Boston again. I miss it a lot.
Q. Some of your fans are worried that you're losing weight. Do you eat less when you're overseas?
A. (Laughs.) I am the same size I've been for the past 12 years. TV always makes people look more chubby, so when they meet me, they might think that I'm thinner. But I'm not. I will admit, though, that Korean food is my favorite. So if you ask me if I like American food, I will say, "Yes, I do." There are so many great places to eat in the United States. But let me say, for real, I think Korean food is the best. It's definitely my favorite.
Q. What is the worst part of traveling?
A. Jetlag used to be very stressful to me. I'm on airplanes all the time. From Korea to Los Angeles, it's 10 hours. From Korea to New York, it's 15 hours. So I have to deal with totally different daytimes and nighttimes within three to four days and then head back home. It is tiring. But this time, the jetlag doesn't bother me because I'm working and promoting my song, which is a fabulous thing. I'm so happy to do it.
Q. What do you always pack in your carry-on bag?
A. An iPod so that wherever I go, I can listen to music.
Q. When was your first trip to the U.S.?
A. I have cousins who live in California and New Jersey, so when I was a kid I had a chance to visit both of them. I remember it as being really fun. I knew I wanted to come back to visit again.
Q. How did you learn to speak English so well?
A. I actually learned English before I came to the U.S. for college. When I was young, I used to watch wrestling. Then when I grew older, I got interested in things like the NBA and Michael Jordan. So during that period, I wanted to be able to understand what Jordan and Hulk Hogan were saying, so I used to practice speaking English a little bit by myself. Also, I loved so many U.S. pop songs when I was young and I would try to figure out what they were saying. I used to follow the Billboard charts to see how my favorite singers and groups were doing. Today, my song debuted at No. 64 on the Hot 100. So I'm living the dream right now.
Q. Do you think you could ever live anywhere else other than Korea?
A. No! I'm missing Korea so much already. I have all my friends and family there. My whole life is there.
Q. Where would you like to travel to next?
A. My management company has plans for me and tells me that this song is getting viral in some parts of Europe and South America. So, I think I've got to travel a lot more this year. But I'm happy to do it. This is my lifetime opportunity, so I want to make something instead of nothing.
(Jae-Ha Kim is a New York Times bestselling author and travel writer. You can respond to this column by visiting her website at www.jaehakim.com. You may also follow "Go Away With..." on Twitter at @GoAwayWithJae where Jae-Ha Kim welcomes your questions and comments.)