Gangnam Style: Affluence, K-Pop, and Class Critique in South Korea

If you haven’t heard the song Gangnam Style by South Korean rapper Psy… well, take a few minutes to see what the rest of the world’s been watching. Since it came out in July, the video’s been viewed (at the time of this writing) over 52.5 million times.

So pull up a chair. Here’s what you’ve been missing:

This video is one of those things where, once you start watching… you can’t pull away. I don’t speak Korean, and have no idea what the lyrics mean. Still, my brain tries to put some kind of narrative to the visuals I’m seeing, piecing the disparate sequences into some kind of coherent whole.

What’s up with the dancing kid in the beginning? And how does he fit in to the singer cross-dressing in a sauna, hanging out with what looks like a tattooed Yakuza guy?

I saw the video for the first time about a week ago, and thought to myself: Weird. This is what Koreans think of, when they think of famous pop stars? Turns out, I was way off the mark.

This morning, I came across a fascinating article by Max Fisher entitled Gangnam Style, Dissected: The Subversive Message Within South Korea’s Music Video Sensation. If you found the video compelling in any way and want to know more about what’s going on… it’s worth a read.

Quick summary: Gangnam is an area in Seoul, known for its money. Just how much money? Well:

The neighborhood is the home of some of South Korea’s biggest brands, as well as $84 billion of its wealth, as of 2010. That’s seven percent of the entire country’s GDP in an area of just 15 square miles.

The song’s singer, Psy, displays himself as a caricature of someone from the area… or as someone who aspires to be from Gangnam.

For me, when I saw this video… I dismissed it as soon as it ended. Reading Fisher’s essay was a neat experience, as I got to see under the hood a bit.

Prior to his essay, the video was a meaningless jumble of dance sequences. And while it’s still mostly that for me, I like that there is something a little more, underneath the surface – issues of wealth and class, affluence and materialism.

All this from a guy who’s riding an invisible horse.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. my whole family is in LOVE with this video! :)

    aimee Reply

    • It’s incredibly catchy. After a few days, I got it out of my head… but it showed up again yesterday. At least now, there’s something to prevent me from humming Gotye’s stuff all the time.

      Also of interest: a lot of people, all invisible horse-dancing.

      avoision Reply

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