PSY’s agent speaks to students
Despite Time magazine’s “D-” grade for Korean pop artist PSY’s “Wonderful Pistachios Get Crackin’” 2013 Super Bowl commercial, “Gangnam Style” was one of the most popular songs of 2012. And with more than 1.3 billion views, it is the most viewed video in the history of YouTube.
Kyu Lee, the agent behind the South Korean singer’s success, spoke to Washington University students on Monday night about his experience in the entertainment industry. As the founder and CEO of Kino 33 Entertainment in Los Angeles, Lee referred PSY to his good friend Scooter Braun, who manages pop stars such as Justin Bieber and Carly Rae Jepsen.
Lee shared his thoughts with students about the importance of building relationships that have been crucial to both his career and personal life. Lee, who moved to America at the age of two, mainly works as a middleman bringing foreign artists to America. He also owns a restaurant in Seoul that opened three months ago.
Lee’s involvement in the entertainment industry began somewhat spontaneously. He was travelling after he graduated college and happened to be in Los Angeles the same week as the Academy Awards. When his friend invited him over to watch the award show, he decided to go see it live instead.
“We are in LA. Why don’t we go and watch it? Why do we have to watch it [on TV]?” Lee said.
Lee did not have an invitation to the awards but spotted a group of people who turned out to be the crew of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” including Yun-Fat Chow, Ziyi Zhang and director Ang Lee. When security blocked Lee, he pretended he could not speak English and went into the ceremony.
That night, the foreign film won the Oscar for Best Art Direction. At the after party, Lee met the Sony executive who would set the stage for the rest of his career.
Lee said his successful introduction of PSY to American pop culture was not the result of his business acumen but of his connections with professionals in the industry. Braun, for instance, is a good friend of comedian Kevin Hart. As a result, PSY appeared at the 2012 MTV Video Music Awards, which Hart hosted.
“You don’t have to have a certain path to get somewhere. You don’t have to have perfect grades to get something. It is all really what you make of it,” Lee said.
Even as a young child, Lee was a particularly magnanimous person to those around him. Growing up in Seattle, he would frequently deliver his mother’s home-baked cookies to neighbors.
When Lee’s father developed a brain tumor five years ago, he was treated immediately because of help from Lee’s friend Tom Sherak, a partner at Revolution Studios and an active sponsor of fundraising for multiple sclerosis research and therapy.
“It is good to make those relationships now because it is better to ask friends than strangers, and friends are able to help you better because they know you more. Everything I have done today, I included friends at some point,” Lee said.
Yoonkee Sull, who graduated from Wash. U. last semester, saw Lee speak on the “MK Show,” a popular talk show in Korea on which he shared his life story.
“When I was looking for an internship last summer, I realized I was networking for one purpose—to secure something. But that didn’t feel right. [Lee], albeit through TV, inspired me to think about long-term relationships rather than focusing on short-term goals, as well as generously giving to others without expecting anything in return,” Sull said.
With the help of the Korean Student Association and Alpha Kappa Psi, Sull was able to bring Lee to the University. He hoped students would “take back a fresh perspective on how to best prepare for their professional careers.”
“It is not about getting a 4.0. It has much more to do with having good relationships with a lot of people,” Sull said.
Senior Elizabeth Lang said she appreciated Lee’s advice.
“He not only had good career advice but insightful ideas about life. He advised us to make friends wherever you are and everything will follow from there,” Lang said.
“The way he stressed relationships as most important was very impactful. I definitely want to follow all of his advice and befriend as many people as possible,” sophomore Sojin Fadavi said. “I thought it was a good event. There were enough people to make him feel welcomed but few enough that we could all ask questions and talk to him.”