This Day In History: December 21

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On December 21, 2012, the music video for "Gangnam Style," a song by the Korean rapper Psy, becomes the first YouTube video to garner one billion views. The video's global popularity is a case study in the power and unpredictability of viral internet content.

Psy had been well-known in Korea for a decade, earning awards and acclaim as well as a reputation for controversy. Though Korean pop music, or K-pop, was increasingly popular outside of South Korea, Psy was not an international star until "Gangnam Style." Released on July 15, 2012 as the lead single to his album Psy 6 (Six Rules), Part 1, the video would make him a global sensation.

"Gangnam Style" is a send-up of "posers and wannabes" Psy observed in Seoul's fashionable Gangnam District. Though the lyrics are humorous, it was the video that made the song a sensation beyond Korea. Psy and others perform the "invisible horse” dance, in which the singer pretends to ride a horse and occasionally toss a lasso, in a variety of locations including a stable, a bus, a tennis court and other locales around Seoul. The iconic dance, the memorable chorus of "Hey sexy lady!" and the general over-the-top nature of the video caught the attention of a global audience.

The likes of T-Pain, Britney Spears and Katy Perry noticed the video and drew attention to it on social media. By the end of August, it was garnering over 3 million YouTube views a day, and in December it reached its unprecedented 1 billionth view.

Like other viral videos, "Gangnam Style" inspired countless parodies, reaction videos and flash mobs. Athletes, television personalities and even politicians joined in the viral craze. U.S. Representative John Lewis recorded a video of himself doing the dance, and then-Prime Minister of the United Kingdom David Cameron reportedly performed it along with future PM Boris Johnson at a conference. Though no longer the most-watched video on YouTube, "Gangnam Style" was an inescapable cultural phenomenon, serving as an introduction to K-pop for millions around the world and as a lasting example of internet virality.

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