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Unpacking PSY’s Gangnam Style, What Does it Mean?

September 16, 2012 at 1:28 pm by: seeta Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Intersectionality, Poverty, Sunday Music Flashback

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Ok, peeps, I just got back from a conference and Gangnam Style was all the rage. The dance and video was fun, but what the heck does it all mean? Thankfully, Racialicious unpacks it all for us:

The uneven development between Gangnam and Gangbuk has made the former more affluent and its residents richer but made the latter lag behind and its residents feel deprived emotionally as well as economically. Over the past four decades, Gangnam has become an iconic place to Korean people, representing wealth, status, and luxurious life. PSY’s “Gangnam Style” is a satire about the Gangnam life itself which is nothing but materialistic and about people who are chasing rainbows, dreaming of becoming a Gangnam resident someday. If you had googled the phrase 강남스타일 (“Gangnam Style”) before the release of his song, you would have seen so many questions asking “What the heck is Gangnam style.” (Now you’ll get results almost all about the song.)

As Gangnam earned the enviable reputation “overnight” (compared to Korea’s 5000-year-old history) as the best place to live not because it offers rich heritage, sophistication, or cultural legacy, people don’t really know exactly what they are longing for even in the midst of longing for the “Gangnam style.” And here, PSY is being sarcastic about the idea of “Gangnam style” that is not actually tangible, just like the “Emperor’s New Clothes.”

Now, let’s listen to the song with English subtitles.

Just like that, PSY is making fun of people that are so vain and materialistic; but at the same time, he’s making a mockery of where he’s really from, that is, Gangnam. It’s like he’s shouting, “Look at me! I’m a true Gangnamese but don’t I look really tacky and pathetic?” Had he been good-looking, haughty, and snobbish…who knows, the song might have not been well-received.

For most Koreans are fed up with all those “nouveaux riches” in Gangnam who became rich because of their real estate values skyrocketed “overnight.” The haves in Gangnam are so materialistic and philistine that they hardly have a real organic relationship with the world outside Gangnam, let alone a sense of noblesse oblige. Just as much people outside Gangnam admire their wealth, status, and lifestyle, they underestimate and look down on the outsiders. They even gang up on the rest of the world motivated purely by economic self-interest even though it’s contrary to the public interest. That’s how they have become the scorn of the rest of the world.

Actual video here:

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