By now, you must have already listened to (and perhaps got tired of) the hit song, “Gangnam Style” by Korean celebrity Psy. Despite its fame, most people are not even aware of what “Gangnam” really means, or the song’s true message. While being in Korea during this winter break, I decided to provide you with a little fun fact about this song.
As a Korean, I have lived in and visited Gangnam several times. Gangnam, or “강남” in Korean, is a metropolitan district in the heart of Seoul, South Korea. With its trendy shops, restaurants, bars, high-rise buildings and spectacular nightlife, Gangnam is not only one of the most crowded areas in Korea filled with young Korean folks through day and night, but a “must-go” place for the tourists.
However, “Gangnam Style”, in actuality, is an expression associated with the lavish, affluent lifestyles of the people living in Gangnam district. The song satirically mocks the culture of heavy capitalistic consumption and materialism which followed the rapid economic growth in South Korea. At first glance, Psy’s video does seem to be simply “ridiculous”. However, his work is in fact criticizing the fact that the country once built on hard work and aspirations by the earlier generations is starting to focus solely and excessively on wealth, status, and appearances. The seemingly lighthearted song portrays Psy doing crazy, silly things on the set to appeal to the viewers; but as he drops his clownish appearances in an interview, he admits that “each frame by frame (in his work) was hollow”, just like how he feels about the “current human society”.
What seems to be silly and cheery on the surface of the song actually serves to heavily satirize people’s blinded pursuit for prosperity and status, which is common among neighborhoods other than Gangnam, and countries outside of South Korea. Perhaps, when you listen to this overwhelming, “in-your-face” infectious song next time, you should try having this dark yet socioeconomically insightful perspective in your mind.