Here are some facts: Last night, Korean musical artist Psy's global smash hit song "Gangnam Style" reached 2 billion views on YouTube. It became the first video to do so, after also becoming the first video to reach 1 billion views in 2012. According to tech site The Verge, it took 525 days for "Gangnam Style" to rack up its second billion views, while the first billion took just 159.
In the course of the last 684 days, I have lived in four different apartments in two different cities. I have consumed many forms of media in large quantities. I have established a career as a professional music writer, in which it is literally my job to watch music videos on YouTube. I have listened to rap mixtapes with mere hundreds of downloads and participated in the frenzy that was buying the platinum-selling album Beyoncé on the night it was released. I have made GIFs from many YouTube videos. I have live tweeted multiple televised music events. I have definitely watched the video with the second most views, Justin Bieber's "Baby," multiple times.
But I have never watched the video for "Gangnam Style."
I didn't mean for this to happen. As I went to write this blog post with its original title, "'Gangnam Style' Just Became the First YouTube Video with 2 Billion Views" I was all prepared to draw on all my favorite "Gangnam Style" video references to make it really pop. I was sure I had seen this document that everyone on the planet who has interacted with music online in the last two years knew. But as the first few scenes unfolded, I realized none of this looked familiar. By the time Psy was in the sauna, I, too, was sweating in a small room as I realized with certainty that I had missed out on what, at least by one definitive metric, is the most universal piece of video in human history.
It's probably safe to say that more people have watched this video than have enjoyed every single piece of music I have ever interacted with. Maybe more people have, at one point, heard the song "Billie Jean." But basically, everything that is dear to me crumbles to dust in the face of the monolith that is "Gangnam Style." There are many ways to evaluate art, but I'm a firm believer in the theory that numbers don't lie—at least not that much. If something is really, really, world-crushingly popular, then it clearly it is good, or at least has some merit. And, in the case of everything I like, its total amount of democratically awarded merit falls short—in non-Bieber cases, well short—of the video for "Gangnam Style."
All my haters coming for me
Certain parts of the music consuming world tend to associate knowing about something first as making you hip. By that standard, I am the 2 billionth hippest person in the world, coming in slightly ahead of pretty much just the share of people in the world who don't have access to the Internet. Futhermore, as a critic, everything that I could ever possibly say about music is invalidated by the fact that there are, like, grandparents in Idaho (or, like, Tajikstan) who are more on the cutting edge of music videos than I am. There is almost certainly a kid somewhere in the world whose first experience ever using the Internet was to have someone show him or her the video for "Gangnam Style."
I have not been oblivious to the existence of "Gangnam Style": I've heard the song a bunch, I've seen the GIFs, I've witnessed the University of Minnesota cheerleading squad lead an entire football stadium of people including myself in the dance. I've written a content marketing article for a brand on how to harness the viral success of "Gangnam Style" when developing a corporate content strategy. I've even watched the video for Psy's other hit, "Gentleman," which, despite being labeled a flop on its release, is itself closing in on 700 million views. But I am still way out of the loop.
So, what were my impressions? I think this video is great! Is there anything else left to be said at this point? Are there any GIFs left to make? This is universally appealing stuff. Really excellent. I am immensely happy to have watched it and also to have gotten this confession off my chest. Oppa Gangnam Style.
Since I started writing this post, 113,780 people have watched the "Gangnam Style" video, which is roughly double the population of the town where I grew up. The world is huge and also baffling, and I have no idea what to make of any of it. I finally know a little more about music, though.
Follow Kyle on Twitter - @KyleKramer