It would have been difficult to miss the fever surrounding the song “Gangnam Style” that swept the world in the summer of 2012—but did you know that the lovably weird Korean pop video by artist Psy is one of the most viewed YouTube videos of all time? Soon after it was released, it became a viral sensation, and it’s managed to hold enough attention and interest to become a worldwide cultural touchstone powerhouse. Check it out or re-watch it here.
Many Americans have watched it and enjoy because to us it seems nonsensical and funny in an endearing way and with an irresistibly danceable beat (Psy’s goofy horse dance is also loads of fun to imitate). But another fun fact about the song is that within its K-Pop landscape it’s made waves in a pretty interesting way. A lot of K-Pop focuses on themes of young love and typical pop fare that certainly lands far from social satire, but not “Gangnam Style.” “Gangnam” refers to an area of Seoul in Korea marked by expensive boutiques and apartments and conspicuous spending, analogous to New York City’s Upper East Side or L.A.’s Beverly Hills. The character in “Gangnam Style” is attempting (and failing) to look wealthier than he is, to have “Gangnam Style.” This is actually a phenomenon in South Korea, to the point that the average South Korean household carries credit card debt worth 155% of their disposable income, and Korean bloggers lampoon a certain type in Gangnam as “soybean paste women”—women whose main diet is $2 ramen so that they can afford cups of $6 coffee every day.
It’s funny to us, but Psy’s video cut through the fluff of most K-Pop to be incredibly catchy but also incredibly insightful. The gamble paid off. Talk about disruptive!
- “Gangnam Style.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation. 4 May 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gangnam_Style
- Fisher, Max. “Gangnam Style, Dissected: The Subversive Message Within South Korea’s Music Video Sensation.” The Atlantic. 23 August 2012. https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/08/gangnam-style-dissected-the-subversive-message-within-south-koreas-music-video-sensation/261462/