Music

Psy “Gangnam Style”: Viral Internet Sensation Or Subversive Korean Commentary?

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(Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

(Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

Over the course of the last week you may have been exposed to the Internet’s latest entry on 2012’s viral video sensation chart: “Gangnam Style” by Korean popular music (or “K-Pop”) recording artist Psy. If not, get ready to add to the video’s +67 million views.

A highly lucrative musical genre consisting of electronic pop, dance, hip-hop and R&B influences originating in South Korea, K-Pop has become a global subculture. It is most popular among teenagers and young adults, resulting in widespread interest in the fashion and style of Korean pop groups and singers.

While “Gangnam Style” may be an instant hit, the man behind the music, Park Jaesang who performs as Psy (short for ‘Psycho’), is far from an overnight success. Released in July, “Gangnam Style” is the first track and lead single from the 34-year-old’s sixth studio album.

Like the scene that nurtures this style of music, it’s easy to focus on “Gangnam Style’s” first impression quirkiness: a well-dressed, yet average looking man performs a pounding horse-trot dance over a pumping techno-trance synth riff and, in doing so, unveils the potential for the hottest international dance craze since the Macarena.

What if inside this viral sensation lurks a deeper social commentary? The Atlantic’s Max Fisher explores this possibility in detail within his article: Gangnam Style, Dissected: The Subversive Message Within South Korea’s Music Video Sensation, saying, “[Gangnam Style’s video] is rich with subtle references that suggest a surprisingly subversive message about class and wealth in contemporary South Korean society.”

Gangnam (officially “Gangnam-gu”) is one of the most affluent areas of South Korea’s capital city Seoul that, according to Adrian Hong, a well-known Korean-American consultant cited in Fisher’s article, is overwhelmingly populated by “trust-fund babies and princelings.” Put in terms of the Occupy movement, the residents of Gangnam are South Korea’s one-percent.

Hong continues, “Koreans have been caught up spending to look wealthy, and Gangnam has been the leading edge of that. I think a lot of what [Psy] is pointing out is how silly that is.”

So, not quite the throw-away pop song we expected.

Looking for a lyrical translation of “Gangham Style?” Check it out:

Take a look behind the scenes at the making the “Gangham Style” video:

-Tim Mudd, Energy 103.7/San Diego

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