Psy’s "Gangnam Style," South Korean’s global pop sensation, has generated U.S. $8 million in advertising revenue on YouTube alone, Google’s chief business officer Nikesh Arora announced during the company’s earnings call on Tuesday.
These results came soon after the announcement made December 21st that the video had been viewed over 1 billion times – the first video to break this barrier – since its debut last July. As of today, this number has climbed to 1.23 billion.
It’s no surprise that the song snagged the Song of the Year award at the Golden Disc Awards, Korea’s answer to the Grammys held in Kuala Lumpur last week – an impressive feat for Psy, whose first album titled PSY… From the Psycho World! got him fined for “inappropriate content”.
"When I made this video I didn't even expect 1 million views, because this is off my sixth album in Korea, so I just hoped it would be huge there," he told MTV News in an interview last December. "I didn't even think about any other countries; I just did my job and waited and watched.”
The video’s legendary success mainly stems from its viral nature. Revolving around a jig that resembles someone riding a horse with their arms crossed, it satirizes the consumerist glitz of Seoul’s Gangnam District, where Psy, real name Park Jae-sang, grew up. He never could have imagined the response.
“I’m still wondering and analyzing its success,” he told MTV News. "Because I’ve done this things many times, this dance, this album, this video … this one just became something else entirely.”
The video begins with an image of Psy, now 35, lounging on the beach where he is being fanned by a beautiful woman. When the camera pulls away, however, viewers see that he is actually on a playground dreaming up the beach scene. From here, it’s all parody: Psy in a sauna with gangsters, dancing in the aisle of a bus, sitting on the toilet, and never quite succeeding at being cool or actualizing the ‘Gangnam Style’ dream after all.
The playful, catchy tune and easily-learned dance have made the video ideal fodder for viral parodies, which first came in the form of other YouTube videos and later manifested in dancing flash mobs worldwide.
Several public figures have joined in the lampooning, from Chinese artist Ai Weiwei to British sculptor Anish Kapoor. The dance has even broken out at the level of statecraft, most notably with United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon joining Psy in the horse-riding dance during Psy’s visit to the UN headquarters in New York last October.
Pop success on this level makes the idea of ‘going platinum’ seem paltry, even quaint, and begs the question: how much of these earnings do Psy and his record company YG Entertainment get to keep?
According to an estimate by Quartz, each view of the video generates around 0.65 cents in ad revenue. Since about half of this goes to Google, Psy and YG Entertainment have likely earned around U.S. $4 million from their giant YouTube presence alone.
While it’s hard to imagine how much further Psy will be able to take the hit tune, South America has apparently managed to dodge the onslaught—relative to the rest of the world at least. Psy plans to remedy this with a tour of Latin America, starting in Brazil this February.
With so much record breaking happening from one song, it will be very interesting to see how Psy fares in the Latin world, and for that matter, what other pop offerings he may yet give us on YouTube. Where to next, Psy?
Jonathan DeHart is assistant editor for The Diplomat.