In honor of the 2017 American Music Awards, Billboard is counting down the best performances from the awards show’s history. Here is no. No. 7.
PSY‘s “Gangnam Style” went beyond breaking records for YouTube — it changed the way the website ran.
When the music video arrived in July 2012, the platform was in the process of stitching itself more tightly into people’s online lives. YouTube reported that 800 million unique users per month that year. In the summer and fall, right as “Gangnam Style” was making landfall, the site adjusted its algorithm, which began to promote videos that engaged viewers for the longest, rather than ones that tricked you into clicking with a tantalizing thumbnail.
It seemed unfathomable that a video like “Gangnam Style” wouldn’t catch some air from YouTube’s ever-expanding audience and technical changes, but over-the-top remarkable. A choreography-heavy satire of a bourgeois district in Soeul, PSY’s vision of Gangnam is colorful, extravagant, and filled with screenshot-able frames of him screaming on a tennis court and strutting away from explosions.
Most people can recite its honors from memory by now: the video held the title of most-watched video on YouTube for nearly five years before being nosed out this July by Charlie Puth and Wiz Khalifa’s “See You Again.” It was also first clip to surpass one billion views and eventually hit YouTube’s ceiling of 2,147,483,647 views, prompting them to upgrade their counting system to accommodate. (As of this article, the video sits just south of 3 billion). The virality of the music video alone was enough to drive “Gangnam Style” to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, making PSY the highest Korean artist to chart up to that point.
When asked to close out the 2012 American Music Awards, PSY gave American audiences a look at the type of live performances the K-pop star had been displaying to Korean-dominated audiences to for more than a decade. PSY’s dancing and darting gestures were so sharp, even as he fights to keep his driving hypeman energy from being eclipsed by the thundering beat. Leaning into his status as a dance-craze progenitor, his AMAs performance drew the connecting line from his fame to that of ’90s rapper/dancer MC Hammer. Halfway through his set, Hammer stepped out to join him in the ubiquitous horse-riding move, as the EDM pulse of “Gangnam Style” was chopped into the gang-vocal hook from his 1991 hit “2 Legit 2 Quit.”
White there are quick comparisons to be made between PSY’s sharp ascent in 2012 and this year’s K-pop breakouts BTS performing at the 2017 AMAs ceremony, but many — PSY himself included — see his brush with mainstream popularity as an anomaly from Korea’s complex musical ecosystem.
While the impact of “Gangnam Style” tripled the views of Korean music videos, the 40-year-old PSY stands apart from the younger, major-label groups with whom he’s often associated. As he told Billboard earlier this year, “In culture and business, everything happens coincidentally and accidentally. In Korea, there are so many muscular, handsome, pretty K-poppers and I’m kind of chubby honestly. Personally, I felt a little bit guilty representing my country’s music. Right now if somebody is going to do a better job than me from now on, he or she has to be less chubbier than me.”
Vote for the AMAs on Billboard.com.
The 2017 American Music Awards will broadcast live from the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles on Sunday, Nov. 19 at 8 p.m. EST on ABC.