South Korean pop star and invisible-horse jockey Psy, 34, became a household name over the summer, thanks to his absurdly catchy dance-number "Gangnam Style." The single is poised to make him upwards of $8 million alone, mostly from YouTube views (900 million and counting) and downloads from iTunes and other music services. Psy's meteoric rise to the top of western music charts is a first for a singer of Asian descent.
But long before he was doing big things like closing out MTV awards shows with MC Hammer and dancing with Ellen DeGeneres on her talk show, a 24-year-old Psy had much angrier things to sing about. According to Haps.com, during a 2002 concert, the singer took to the stage to protest the presence of 37,000 American troops in South Korea, reportedly smashing a miniature "American tank" to condemn the death of two Korean school girls run over by U.S. forces.
Two years later, performing lyrics by a band called N.E.X.T., Psy reportedly got up in front of an audience to rap about the United States' presence in Iraq following the beheading of a Korean missionary. In a protest song called "Dear American," Psy sang:
Kill those fucking Yankees who have been torturing Iraqi captives
Kill those fucking Yankees who ordered them to torture
Kill their daughters, mothers, daughters-in-law and fathers
Kill them all slowly and painfully
Conservative outlets have already pounced on the "Gangnam Style" singer's apparently anti-American past, with many wondering why Psy's disgruntled early days haven't gotten as much attention as his much more upbeat YouTube video.
Update 5:08 p.m EST: After a wave of backlash, including a petition to rescind his invitation to perform at the White House, Psy has issued an apology (via The Hollywood Reporter):
As a proud South Korean who was educated in the United States and lived there for a very significant part of my life, I understand the sacrifices American servicemen and women have made to protect freedom and democracy in my country and around the world. The song I featured on in question from eight years ago was part of a deeply emotional reaction to the war in Iraq and the killing of two Korean schoolgirls that was part of the overall antiwar sentiment shared by others around the world at that time. While I’m grateful for the freedom to express one's self, I've learned there are limits to what language is appropriate and I'm deeply sorry for how these lyrics could be interpreted. I will forever be sorry for any pain I have caused by those words.
Psy is hardly the first artist — American or otherwise — to venomously condemn the actions of the U.S. military through his early music.
A perhaps too-brief sampling:
Outkast - B.O.B. (2000)
Rage Against the Machine - Killing in the Name (1993)
Creedence Clearwater Revival - Fortunate Son (1969)
Bob Dylan - Masters of War (1963)