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Thursday, August 9, 2012

KOREAN MUSIC: PSY’s “Gangnam Style” and "Gangnam Oppa" in “Architecture 101” (1)


 What the Heck Is Gangnam Style?


PSY finally set the world on fire with a song, Gangnam Seutail (강남스타일, “Gangnam Style”), written and performed by himself. The song is the title track of his 6th studio album, Yukgap (육갑), which can be interpreted two ways: (i) the word originally  means “the sexagenary cycle”; but (ii) it is mostly used in a derogatory way as meaning “a total retard.”  However, PSY chose this word to express his hope that his sixth ((), “six”) album would be the best ((), “best”).  He made a wish and his wish came true.  In fact, the song turned out to be a greater success than he had hoped; it became an instant YouTube and iTunes hit upon its release and also has immediately become a worldwide phenom.  And people are beginning to wonder what the heck is “Gangnam style.”

Generally speaking, "Gangnam" is the south of the Han River in Seoul while "Gangbuk" is the north of the river, in which gang means “river,” that is, the Han River, nam is “south,” and buk is north.  More specifically, though, it refers to the areas that include Gangnam-gu and Seocho-gu districts as seen below.  (Note that Songpa-gu can be considered to be part of Gangnam in a broader sense.)


Map of Seoul (2012)


Gangbuk has been the heart of Seoul in every way until lately when Gangnam started being developed in the 70's.  The most time-honored, cherished, and traditional areas in Gangbuk include Jung-gu and Jongno-gu. Jung-gu (중구(中區), “central district”), as its name suggests, is located in the “center” of present-day Seoul while Jongno-gu is located in the center of old Seoul - Jongno-gu or Jongno district was named after its main street, Jongno (종로구(鍾路區),"Bell Street").  Jongno-gu has been the heart of Seoul for about 600 years as it has been the abode of kings and queens of the Joseon Dynasty and of the presidents of South Korea.  Both Jongno-gu and Jung-gu not only boast a valuable historical and cultural heritage that is reflected in the numerous palaces, museums, monuments, and other tourist attractions but have served as leading economic and political centers of South Korea.  On the other hand, as seen in the following 1912 map of Seoul, present-day Gangnam was not even part of the city.


Map of Seoul (1912)


Gangnam was an undeveloped rural area, especially Korean cabbage and Korean pear fields, and called Youngdong which means “the east of Youngdeungpo,” in the 70’s, about 40 years ago.  However, the area was designated for commercial and residential development on an unprecedented scale as old Seoul was growing at the speed of light in the 60’s, and with the opening of the Hannam Bridge in 1969 and the opening of the Gyeongbu Expressway in 1970, which starts from its northern end in Seocho-dong in Gangnam and continues south to Busan.  


(top) High-rise apartment complexes just constructed by Hyundai, right next to
Korean pear fields in Apgujeong-dong, Gangnam-gu, in the 70's; 
(bottom) the night view of present-day Apgujeong-dong

(top) Apgujeong-dong, Gangnam-gu, in the 70's;
(bottom) 
the night view of present-day Apgujeong-dong

(top) Jamwon-dong, Seocho-gu, in the 80's;
(bottom) 
 present-day Jamwon-dong

(top) The surrounding landscape of Gyeongbu Expressway Station in
Seochodong in the 80's; (bottom) present-day 
Gyeongbu Expressway Station 

(top) The Hannam Bridge under construction in 1969;
(bottom) the 
surrounding landscape of the present-day Hannam Bridge

(top) The construction site of Youngdong new town photographed in 1970;
(bottom) present-day Gangnam (formerly known as Youngdong)


The development process of Gangnam kicked into high gear in the 80’s and caused such problems as land value bubbles and real estate speculation.  And as many of the most prestigious high schools once located in Gangbuk moved to Gangnam, the area known as Gangnam School District 8 was eventually catapulted to top performing school district countrywide, which in turn caused yet another real estate bubble.  And as its population (including floating population) kept growing, it became widely known for its lively nightlife.  Gangnam now has rows of high-end, upscale department stores, restaurants, big name entertainment agencies (such as SM and JYP), to name a few.  In short, it's like the U.S. Upper East Side plus Beverly Hills minus tradition; or I’d rather say it's more like “Dubai” built on Korean cabbage and Korean pear fields. 

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.





So, the song is a comic satire about people who bluff, pretending to be rich and trendy.  "Oppan Gangnam style" can literally translate to "I'm Gangnam style," in which "oppa" is a Korean referring expression used by females to refer to older males such as older male friends or older brothers. However, the narrator in the song refers to himself in the third person.  He keeps saying he lives or loves a Gangnam style life, but in reality, he's far from it.

One, the music video begins with PSY seemingly sunbathing on sandy beach, being fanned by a hot chick, but it turns out he is surrounded by little kids playing in the playground.  Two, there’s PSY walking together with two hot girls just like P. Diddy walking on the red carpet but in fact, he and the girls are in an outdoor parking lot and instead of confetti, tens and thousands of pieces of trash are thrown at them; then the fake snow keeps flying into their faces to make them look ridiculous.  Three, he's been all over the place for the luxury lifestyle but ends up (i) in a sauna with mobsters, not with the wealthy, (ii) on an express bus filled with Ajumma tourists who are known for dancing on the running bus, not in one of those Gangnam nightclubs (Ajumma means a married woman especially with children but many times the word is used in a derogatory manner.), and (iii) on a merry-go-round ride, not on a real horseback ride, to name a few.  Four, he’s looking for a hot girl who’s gotta be classy and luxurious in irrelevant places such as under the bridges over the Han River or in the Han River Park and eventually finds his ideal woman on the subway and dances with her and others there, not in one of those Gangnam nightclubs.  Five, when he emerges from the water, it looks like he’s swimming in the swimming pool at a country club or in the sea but it turns out he’s in fact swimming in the public bathhouse.  Six, when he looks like P. Diddy sitting in a luxurious chair, it is actually the toilet he’s sitting on.

In the song, the narrator says he’s looking for a classy lady who can afford a relaxing cup of coffee and he’s a real man who downs the boiling hot coffee in one go.  And I think some of you may be wondering why he's making such a big deal out of coffee, but it’s not just your ordinary coffee; it's gotta be a cup of Starbucks coffee if you will.  In Korea, there’s a joke poking fun at women who eat 2,000-won (about $2) ramyeon (Korean style ramen) for lunch and then unstintingly spend over 6,000 won (about $5.30) on Starbucks coffee.  Actually, the word Doenjangnyeo (된장녀, “Soybean paste girl/woman”) or Doenjang girl/woman was created to mock women who spend more than they can afford.  Such crazes were believed to be inspired by HBO’s “Sex and the City” in which the designer stuff-obsessed women frequently meet together to talk over brunch or coffee.  But clearly, that you can afford a relaxing cup of “Starbucks” coffee doesn’t make you classy.  And just think about a guy who downs the boiling hot coffee in one go.  Wouldn’t you worry about him?  Hot coffee would burn the mouth and throat.  Contrary to his boasting, it's never a manly thing to do.

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 misunderestimate 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.

And PSY, whose ideas are bumpier than his muscles, are singing this deliciously self-mocking song because he’s just that kind of man.  Now, I hope you'll understand why each scene is necessary in the song’s music video and I bet you will if you have read this post.

(Click to read the second part of this series)


Related Posts:




Racialicious.com cross-posted this post, with my consent, to their site @http://www.racialicious.com/2012/09/11/psys-gangnam-style-and-gangnam-oppa-in-architecture-101-1/

194 comments:

  1. Your explanation is fantastic. Thank you so much, Onsemiro!

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  2. You're welcome and thank you back! :)

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    1. Jack of all trades, master of none. just used this expression today, props! But thank u for ur incredible knowledge on this. way more than I expected. and ur way of telling the song so clearly...:-)

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  3. im so addicted to this song its not even funny! i cant stop listening to it lol

    thanx for the translation. i knew he was making fun of upscale town in korea but i had no idea of the interpretation behind each scene.

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  4. It was my pleasure and I'm hooked on this song too. :)

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  5. A Youtube user nicknamed Myoldnamesdontwork asked me about one part of the song's music video featuring Big Bang's Daesung and Seungri: "so tell me what is this part 0:49 in this video is representing??? and there is like an explosion....totally random to me..." So I thought I'd better post my answer here too and here it is:

    There you see two grandpas play Korean chess called “Janggi” together, which used to be one of Korea’s everyday life scenes. Whenever the village elders played Korean chess outdoors, the villagers including kids were gathered to look on or to kibitz just like PSY does in the MV. I think Janggi is still part of rural fun and games but in modern Korean cities and especially in Gangnam, such heartwarming scenes are disappearing.

    In the MV, (i) the grandpas stand up and watch PSY walk away, which I think symbolizes the younger generations’ attention that is being drawn away from age-old traditions; and (ii) the explosion symbolizes the extinction of such traditions -- especially in Gangnam because the grandpas are under a bridge over the Han River. Actually, this part of the MV was the hardest for me to understand and remember, my interpretation may not be perfectly right even though I’m quite confident it is.

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  6. Awesome, Onsemiro! Thanks for the thorough, informative and extremely interesting read.

    I'm trying to figure out what artist in American POP music is successful with the satiric, comedic approach. This style is somewhat successful in the asian pop cultures I've been able to experience, but the only American artist that comes to mind for me is Weird Al. Thing is, I think his stuff is generally successful because they are parodies. Oh well... I'm not obsessed about figuring that one out. I do appreciate the lesson on Gangnam Style! I'm glad for Psy's success and I love how YG continues to invest in being different.

    I'm going to have to go watch again to see if I can spot Daesung and Seungri.. I didn't notice them ...

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  7. Allan, I think Yankovic safely fits into that category, except that, as you just mentioned, he's pretty much a parodist. PSY reminds me somehow of John Belushi (of the Blues Brothers in the early days).

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  8. Seems like most koreans are obsessed with Starbucks. Elsewhere in the West, most of us think it's shit coffee and prefer to frequent independent coffee places with better service, coffee and ambience

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  9. Sexy Lady, the good news is, more and more Korean consumers are turning to local coffeehouse chains lately such as Caffee Bene or Hollys Coffee. But I prefer independent coffee places too. :)

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  10. I have always thought the video was funny but I didn't know that it was making fun of a certain type of lifestyle that isn't just an issue in Korea, but around the world.

    I'm going to re-watch his MV now from a new perspective. Thanks for sharing!

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  11. Alex, it's so true.... Thanks for sharing. :)

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  12. I'm just wondering about the Oppa is my style reply. It doesn't have any of the satire and it seems to be replying to the original song at a different level, which confuses the real meaning of the original song. Not that I don't believe what the original song is supposed to mean. I kept wondering if there is a different meaning to Hyuna's version.

    In other words what is the song/Psy saying about Hyuna. :P

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  13. Wahyimo, they just changed the hook "Oppan Gangnam style" to "Oppan ddak nae style," which translates to "You're exactly my type (of guy)." And the rest is pretty much the same. I was personally disappointed with Hyuna's version and the MV itself. Her version is just like over-egging the pudding and they seem to have rushed to make the MV.

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  14. what you have done is a very interesting social and cultural analysis. i have never expected this song to be that interesting. thanks for the explanation.

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  15. Thank you Onsemiro ;)

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  16. ming, I too had fun writing this. :)

    Anonym @ 8:33 AM, you're welcome!

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  17. this is an awesome post, thanks so much for the detailed analysis!

    what are your thoughts about the dance moves he used? any hidden meaning behind them? :)

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  18. Onsemiro some of your blogs and biases piss me off but you hit this one out of the park.

    I think your observations about how Psy himself lives in Gangnam is a cogent one and it reflects the Korean penchant for self-criticism. This is different because in the West we are focused on pointing fingers outward. The black artist blames white man. The jewish comedian blames the Christian society. The fundamentalist radio host blames the Liberal apologetics etc. In Korea (also elsewhere in Asia but particularly Korea) the eye is always first cast inward. The first person to criticize a Korean about ANYTHING is another Korean.

    Part of it is the legacy of traditional Confucian emphasis on personal moral cultivation but I think it reflects the basic Korean ambition to improve oneself before imposing change on the outside world. The satire has greater resonance because Psy himself is immersed in the Gangnam culture he criticizes. He's not just pointing fingers in the Western tradition but the satire has more levels because he's both outside and inside the thing he's mocking. He's both aspirational yet disillusioned by the same thing. I think it's a very greyscale Korean view of a cultural phenomena.

    One good thing from this song is that a lot of closeminded, paternalistic people in the West will look at this song and understand the nuance of other cultures, music and satire. Musically it's a masterful blending of Western beats and Korean melodies and cadence. The song is just really really good, probably the best pop song released in 2012 anywhere.

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  19. muller, I don't think there's any hidden meaning in his dance moves. The "horse riding dance" idea was bought from a professional Korean choreographer and the rest I think was basically Psy's choreography. I think the dance moves were used just to add a fun kick to the song.

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  20. DCC, very well put. I really thank you for sharing. Had the song been released when Gangnam was hitting the high note in every way, though, it would have pissed off most of the people outside Gangnam and wouldn't have well-received as it is today in Korea. Plus, I'd rather add "grassroots" to "the basic Korean ambition."

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  21. i personally thought there was a sexual hidden meaning in the dance.

    Beverley Hills is well known to be an area where rich and high class individuals enjoy adultery and carry out affairs outside of their relationship with their spouses. therefore, I thought since Gangnam is described by PSY as the Beverley Hills of Korea then this dance is making a subtle reference to that darker side of Gangnam

    of course I could be completely wrong about this since I have never been to korea before and I have only just recently heard of Gangnam

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  22. sarah, I think Psy compared Gangnam to Beverly Hills for the sake of easy understanding since they don't exactly match/ But I you're right in the sense that most of the opulent, luxurious lifestyles include a wild nightlife, in other words, men and women/affairs/wine.....

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  23. actually there's a saying in korean "let's ride a horse" which means 'let's have a drink and have some fun' -- hence the dance

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  24. Anonym @4:49 PM, I thought it's Dallyeo (Run (all the way)!) or Dallija (Let's run (all the way)!). If you're correct, then we can say the dance move has some implication.

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  25. Very well said, I couldn't get all that and I'm a foreigner living in Korea. Interesting cultural piece I can talk to my students about.

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  26. Alex, are you teaching in Korea? I envy you. :)

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  27. I really enjoyed your blog. I think you can definitely interpret the song as a form of satire. I was wondering why you didn't mention the potential connection between PSY and 신해철. 신해철 is considered to be one of the founding lights and social conscious of modern Korean music (particularly during his time under N.E.X.T.), and his satire is legendary- see his play on words for the album title "개한민국."

    PSY and 신해철 also have numerous connections: PSY covered NeXT's "도시인" (a very dark commentary on urban life in Seoul); both of them also worked on the song "killer" in 2003. I don't want to take the comparison too far, but I think PSY has many dimensions- and you are definitely right in your analysis on the development of Gangnam! Great Job!

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  28. Troeltsch, thanks for reminding me of Shin and N.EX.T. I'm a huge fan of his music and what a shame! I just simply forgot about him. You're so right; Shin's satire is one of the best in Korean music and Shin and Psy are very close friends although Shin is Hyung. When Psy as arrested and and banned from media for smoking marijuana, it was Shin who got him out of his cave. Again, thanks for your comment!

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  29. This is really enlightening! :) The song appears silly - never knew there were so many layers behind it.

    Would you mind terribly if i linked your blogpost on my fb? x

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  30. I enjoyed reading your sharing of this song. When I found out what Gangnam is, I figured out that the singer must be poking at those dreaming of being rich. Thank you for proving the background information and interpretation.

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  31. Lydia, I don't mind. Please go ahead. :)

    Anonym @8:21 AM, thank you!

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  32. I'm going to be honest, Why does he look for classy woman who can afford a cup of coffee in unlikely place?, Does it satire the idea of Soybean paste women?

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  33. Anoynm @9:59 AM, it's because he simply can't afford to be in luxurious places where he can come onto those luxurious girls. This is the key point of what this song is about. When he says he loves and lives a Gangnam style life, not only does he act/look far from it but he can't even afford it.

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  34. comprehensive and fantastic! thank you for the insight. you're so gangnam style! :)

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  35. Anonym @12:42 PM, thank you so much for the nice compliment!

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  36. Psy for U.S.president. Onsemiro his Secretary of State. Let's get this campaign moving.

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  37. Kamsamnida! I love Korean music, but reading this made me appreciate that there is more to K-Pop than just good-looking guys and girls dancing and singing. Are there other groups that sing about Korean society? I know Japanese for the most part aren't very reflective, but am not as familiar with Koreans.

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  38. Having spent 4 year in Korea, I can't agree more with the explanations you made about that song.

    I even worked for two hagwons as a french teacher, one in Jongro, the other in Gangnan, and I could feel the difference between students from those schools. The ones from jongro were usually motivated, learning french in order to get into good universities or study in france, treating me meals or drinks. The ones from gangnam were often lazy, studying french because they found it beautiful, even sometimes disrespectful and cold. And so many students there cancelled their class because even though I was french native, as korean adoptee I wasn't the "hot and handsome french guy" they were fantasizing.

    But when trying to speak with korean about the fact korean society might be a little too materialistic and money oriented, they (the girls) often told me I was just jealous and knew nothing because I was just a redneck from france countryside, cheap, living in a oneroom with no money and car.

    Whatever, all that talking for one question, can you tell me if korean people can see the second sense on that song and its MV, or do they just enjoy it as regular KPOP ?

    And and by the way, no matter what I said, I loved my stay in korea met incredible people there and can't wait to go there again.

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  39. Steve, just like American/British popular music fans who enjoy not only Bieber but Bob Dylan or James Taylor, Koreans also have a rich tapestry of popular music. Well, I recommend you to start with YB, Jang Kiha and the Faces, Tiger JK and Tasha, LeeSsang, N.EX.T, You & Me Blue, Shin Joonghyun, Sanullim, Han Youngae, Kim Hyunsik, Deulgukhwa, Kim Gwangseok, Yoon Jongshin, Kang Sane, Jaurim, 2nd Line Butterfly, and Bobby Kim.

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  40. Anonym @7:54 PM, I hear you and am relieved you still have some fond memories of your time there in Korea. I hope you block out such mean-spirited, degrading comments by someone you couldn't care less.

    And about the nuanced satire conveyed in this song, I think some Korean people get it while others don't. BTW, as materialistic consumerism is opposing the intellectual and the spiritual aspects of our being "worldwide," I think the song's not just satirizing about Korean Gangnam society in a broader sense.

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  41. I am wondering about the man in the yellow suit who challenges Psy to a dance-off. Is this someone who would be recognized in Korea? Thanks!

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  42. He's Yoo Jaeseok, the most popular TV personality and show presenter in South Korea. For more details, go to the second part of this 4 part series: http://mydearkorea.blogspot.com/2012/08/korean-music-psys-gangnam-style-and_15.html

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  43. Thank you for the great read! I too am addicted to this song. I even showed the video to all my wife's family and friends when we visited Tokyo a couple weeks ago. My brother in law loved it too! :)

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  44. Anoynm @3:38 AM, yay~ Great! Thanks a lot for sharing!

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  45. "Psy finally set the world on fire..."
    Flash bulb notoriety in the US and East Asia hardly qualifies as the world. BTW, I just created that word - flash bulb notoriety - for this comment. lol. I think it fits the bill.

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  46. Morpheus, either flash bulb notoriety or fame, my blog's constantly getting more and more traffic from European countries and I see so many parody or reaction vids uploaded on Youtube by people in Europe. And I didn't know until I read your comment that Europe does not belong in the world.

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  47. Great explanation.

    I just went to Korea for vacation. It looks like SM Entertainment artists like Girls Generation and Super Junior are the official ambassadors of Gangnam City since The agency is located there. The irony is that Psy (from YG which is located north of the river in Hongdae) is doing a better job than them. I bet a lot of foreigners would like to go to Gangnam now.

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  48. Jayson, actually, Gangnam district office has been working on building the Street of the Hallyu Stars in cooperation with SM Entertainment (SME)to attract the Hallyu fans from all over the world. The street will start from where the SME building is located and continue to where the JYP Entertainment building is located. But as Psy's song has unexpectedly brought the world's attention to Gangnam, the district office is now known to be walking on eggshells around SME trying to find a way to show their gratitude to Psy. Funny, right?

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  49. I wasn't sure where to add this comment and I know that you probably very busy maintaining this website with new and well-researched info but I was wondering if u could have a look at this site:

    http://truetvxq.blogspot.ca/p/roadmap-to-truth.html

    if u click on where it says Purpose of this Blog u will definitely get an idea on what its about.

    Now, I realize that this is a very sensitive topic to most Koreans and Kpop fans. so I'm not gonna ask u to discuss it here but I was wondering if u could reply to me by briefly telling me whether the info provided in this blog seems authentic and legitimate as I have no other way of determining its truthfulness when I don't know the Korean language myself.

    of course you can completely ignore this message if your not interested in this topic :)

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  50. Anonym @3:12 AM, I don't think I'm the right person for this 'cause I've never been a fan of TVXQ. Thus, all I know about the group and the lawsuit is just fragmentary. Most of my knowledge is based on telling tales online and the official statement released by each side, which left the fans in he said, she said situations. I'm sorry i couldn't be of more help.

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  51. thats fine :)

    the reason i actually asked u for this is becz i knew u were not a TVXQ fan and i felt you might have a more fair and unbiased opinion about this topic. I just needed someone who is not emotionally attached to TVXQ or JYJ to tell me if the translations in this site are accurate and have not been tempered with like they usually are on various international kpop sites

    I was just hopping you could read one of the Korean documents on the website and tell me if the translation is correct. Specifically, I was hoping if u could check out bulletins #1 and #2 on this page

    http://truetvxq.blogspot.ca/p/625-voice-file.html

    I wasn't gonna ask u to translate the whole thing. Just tell me if the translation of the 6.25 voice file (bull #2) is accurate to the original Korean transcript (bull #1)

    I completely understand if you wanna ignore this cuz i know how messy this topic is lol :)

    thanx anyways for replying :D

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  52. I just read the part transcribing what Junsu's father said (both in Korean and in English) and I think it was translated quite accurately.

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  53. thank u very much! at least now I know the blogger is not twisting facts around :)

    In a way, I was kinda hoping that he/she was mistranslating some parts.. at least that would have lessened the disappointment in certain pple.

    I guess the truth and reality are always painful to witness when lies are much more alluring to our emotions and delusions.

    Thank you again for listening to my request, and keep up the good work with MyDearKorea :)

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  54. Well, it will be less painful for us if we admit they are humans. Loving or respecting the people in the entertainment industry (or even in politics or religious circle) and their work is one thing, idolizing them is another. If we idolize them, then it will blind us. We gotta remember this "for example": Troubled stars (I'm not saying it's TVXQ or any specific idol stars) should not be ostracized and judged for the rest of their lives for just one mistake. We give troubled stars a second chance not because they are flawless but because they deserve it just as we do. I might get stoned for saying this, but some of the scary fans (of any stars) gotta admit their stars are not idols but humans.

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  55. yes ur words are right. being a TVXQ5 fan made me extremely bitter against SM when the lawsuit started. Criticizing SM rightly or wrongly was really the easiest thing to do back then. Then I came across that blog and for the first time I became aware of how I putting the whole blame on SM just becz I wanted to believe in JYJ's words, even if deep down inside I knew something was off.

    now I realize that although SM is not innocent in this matter, JYJ are far from being angels themselves. It was a bit of a slap in the face really.

    it actually took me a while to accept kpop and idols again after reading all this becz I felt that everything I was seeing was faked.

    But now that I'm much older I have come to realize that we'r all humans and we all make terrible mistakes. Considering the mistakes I have done in my life, I have no right to judge either side. This in a way allowed me to accept JYJ once again but this time I decided that music should be a source of entertainment and joy. thus, now I'm just focusing on enjoying the music of both TVXQ and JYJ while always remembering to never be strongly attached to any musical group/artist out there.

    once again thanx for ur words :)

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  56. Yes, that's the spirit! Just remember you're the one who buys the albums and goes to the shows. Without fans like you, no one can be stars. Let's just enjoy what our stars provide; but let's not put too much energy or time in them. Be happy! :)

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  57. Amazing explanation!
    Really interesting and so detailed... Thank you alot to have written and posted it! I'm happy to understand this MV now!
    Kamsahamnida!
    Ju'

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  58. You're welcome!
    Cheonmaneyo.(천만에요) - bookish
    Ani-eyo.(아니에요) - more colloquial
    Mwolyo.(뭘요) - even more colloquial

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  59. This is so interesting. Thank you for posting it. I am South Korean too but was born in America and really find your native explanation of the city and evolution kind of illuminating. Great blog!

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  60. I watched a video on some like E news or something with him their and he said that Gangnam Style is like the beverly hills style of korea, high fashion and rich, as the video shows...

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  61. FANTASTIC explanation mate! i from Malaysia blogger find out, what the heck PSY be viral for Gangnam Style.

    Good work!
    www.shahrulhairy.com

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  62. Anonym @2:27 AM, Yes, I watched the show. I think he compared Gangnam to BH for the sake of easy and quick explanation. From a Korean perspective though, Gangnam can obviously be compared to Dubai or BH minus tradition. :)

    Shahrul, thanks much!

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  63. I lived in Gangnam (or "Kangnam", as I've always seen it spelled) for many years, but have lived overseas for so long that the subtle references that you make explicit were completely lost on me! Thank you for a very insightful post and I will be sure to check out your other blog entries as well!

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  64. One more thought about the whole Gangnam VS Gangbuk debate: I returned to Korea after living overseas, for middle school and lived in Apkujung-dong (a posh neighborhood in Gangnam). I was regularly targeted by hoodlums (ggang-pae) from Gangbuk, who would venture across the river to "harvest" some easy spending money from those sheltered children from Gangnam. After repeated incidents, including getting my bike taken on my way home from school, I started lifting weights and taking TaeKwonDo as a way of making myself a less attractive target! It did work and thankfully, I didn't have to physically fight back to the Gangbuk kids on the sidewalks of Apgujung-dong!

    This is all ancient history, some two decades ago, but all this talk of Gangnam VS Gangbuk is bringing these memories back!

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  65. D.H., wow, so you're a Gangnam-boy-turned-New Yorker and I'm a Gangbuk-girl-turned-Minnesotan. I see some kind of consistency here! :)

    BTW, those hoodlums (ggang-pae) will go anywhere, either to Gangnam or to Gangbuk, to extort money from rich kids. But true, it's more likely that Gangnam promises a way better "harvest."

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  66. Good back story so that people know exactly what is going on and all the context in which why things were said. Great job :-)

    If you have the chance Al Jazeera's Social Media show "The Stream" will be doing an episode on Monday Sept 3 asking "What is Gangam Style" ;-)

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  67. what can i say, when i first heard the song it was at the radio, it sounded catchy so i ended up looking fot it on youtube
    first time i saw it i found it funny but a bit satirical so i ended up looking for teh translation for teh song and ended up here.
    so i just want to say thanks for taking your time to explain the hole thing and translating the lyrics

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  68. darkhunter, thanks a lot for your compliment!

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  69. Thank you for writing this post as it was mostly accurate and insightful, but there was something that could be a little insulting at the end of the article. On the part that you said that people living in Gangnam look down on others while these others admire to live like them, I believe you are stereotyping the whole population which is not even true. I myself am from Gangnam, and never once did people there discriminate another for having a different home location or status. It is a common misconception that Gangnamese are haughty and extremely wealthy. In fact, all these traits are devised by others who have a very bad misconception of the wealthy.
    And I never realized it was a rich place until well in my late teens. (I am neither rich nor haughty) People who live there actually live modestly and think about prices before they buy something, and only very few show off their wealth in front of others. The whole fuss is made by those, who never went there, overexaggerating and saying Gangnam are a bunch of wealthy and stuck-up people.

    In conclusion, it would be great if you read my comment and corrected the last part. Thank you :)

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  70. I apologize if my blog offended you and I completely understand what you mean. While growing up in Gangbuk, there were times when I met some real big snobs too; and on the other hand, I've met some down-to-earth people from Gangnam here in the US. I wanted to talk about the general atmosphere of the "wealthy" part of Gangnam (hence the haves in Gangnam), but if it appears that I'm stereotyping the area and its people, then it's all my fault.

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  71. Your explanation on the lyrics and video so good! personally i don't know Korean but the song really catchy and got me hooked.
    now not only i understand the lyrics but the background of all this mockery behind it.
    Thanks so much!

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  72. TimTL, thank you so much for the compliment. It's always my pleasure to share my thoughts with my blog readers. :)

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  73. check out my gangnam style remis, this is for dj's but its free to download for promotional use only.. thanks

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  74. crystal, thank you so much for your visit and kind words! :)

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  75. A truly amazing and well written article. Than you for taking the time and effort to create it.
    I think that I, as so many others, was drawn to the song/video since it is so silly. I just love artists that don't take themselves too seriously since music, after all, is supposed to be fun. Even so it is really nice to read the explanation to the video and the whole story
    behind it.
    Thank you for expanding my knowledge about the world.

    Well done. Very well done :)

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  76. fractalfrog, With or without knowing the meaning behind the song, the song/video is excellent, very powerful, and very well made for us to enjoy. And thank you so much for the compliment. It means a lot. :)

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  77. 안녕하세요 온새미로님ㅎ 사실 저도 닉네임인 onsemiro를 보고 인터넷 검색을 해서 그뜻을 알았습니다^^ :) 한국문화에 대해서 잘 알고 계신거 같아요.그리고 강남스타일이 단순히 웃기기만 하는 노래가 아니라 풍자하는 노래라는 걸 알고계시다는게 저에겐 놀라웠습니다. 좋은 글 잘 보고 갑니다 ~~


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  78. 좋았어! 오늘은 이 글을 해석해야겠다. 멋진글 감사합니다.

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  79. 좋은 말씀 고맙습니다. 자주 방문해 주세요.
    그리고 해석을 해서 다른 곳에 올리실 때는 꼭 출처를 밝혀 주시기를 바랍니다. :)

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  80. 안녕하세요 온새미로님.실례가 안된다면 제 페이스북에 이글 주소를 링크 걸어도 되나요?

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  81. 김완석님, 물론 괜찮습니다. 관심주셔서 고맙습니다.

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  82. Thanks for the translation and the history behind the Gangnam district. I knew Psy was taking the piss out of something, but the history brings it all together. I didn't know anything about PSY before this song, but I totally love it and his sense of humor.

    Cheers!

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  83. I love the song but I'm even wilder about it now that I understand the meaning behind it. Thank you so much!!

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  84. Haunani Pao and Anonym @8:50 PM, thanks for your compliments and hope you come visit often. :)

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  85. I really enjoyed the MV and the description! I don't even really remember how I got here, but I'm so glad I did! :)

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  86. Hi Onsemiro! You have a very informative blog. I learned a lot. I quoted this article on my blog too. :) the link is http://myangelmariel.blogspot.com/2012/09/knowing-gangnam-style.html

    Thank you for writing such an informative blog post. :)

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  87. Angel Mariel, thanks much for your kind words. :)

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  88. I enjoy reading your analysis. I just read a recent article at a Hongkong blog, and it was like a translation of your article (without citation or hyper link to your blog). Are you related?

    http://thehousenews.com/personal/GangnamStyle的南韓社會現象/

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  89. Anonym @9:36 AM, no, I wasn't aware of that. Thanks for letting me know.

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  90. Thank you! I love getting good clear explanations of songs from halfway around the world! It's hard for anyone to understand a foreign country, but you've given me an excellent glimpse!

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  91. Bard Bloom, thanks a lot for your compliment! :)

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  92. Brilliant, both Psy's video/song and your explanation. This is the reason ppl are watching it over and over, the video story of grandstanding really reaches the masses. If ppl listen to his message they may help Korea avert a financial disaster.He should get a medal.

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  93. Anna, unfortunately, such financial disasters are hitting the world now; it's global.

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  94. Read this article after the link from TheAtlantic.com, and you have provided an excellent insight.

    I am curious if there is further meaning in the video based on the fact that the girl that PSY eventually sees (and seems to 'fall in love' with) has numbers on her clothing like lottery balls. Is there a national lottery system in Korea, and would you think that the instant wealth she would therefore represent also play into the subtle subversiveness that appears inherent in the video?

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  95. Unknown, I never thought of it that way - I didn't even notice she's wearing a shirt with lottery numbers on it. I think your guess may be right and it's really impressive. :)

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  96. Gracious Onsemiro,

    My main man Psy appeared on Ellen with Brit Spears, and he says, "Dress Classy. Dance Cheesy".

    To me, he purposefully made the dance moves easy to point to just how vacuous Gangnam style might be.

    I believe the making the video, video gives us insight into how ridiculous the dancing is, especially where it's taking place and the people involved.

    One day, I shall visit MN and pay homage to you.

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  97. qqmowmi, did you by any chance see this poster? http://ygfamilyy.tumblr.com/post/31401567632/psy-you-gonna-watch-me-performing-gangnamstyle

    Even though we don't see his face in the picture, it downright screams PSY to me!

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  98. Your explanation increased my enjoyment of the vid tenfold. As an Asian (fm Singapore) I can understand the obsession of material wealth esp among the developing/emerging economies ... some do come out of it when they discover or re-discover their souls, while others just keep drowning while chasing that "prize".

    감사합니다!

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  99. Iwang1605, it's always good to have someone with similar backgrounds to empathize with each other. :)

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  100. 안녕하세요 온새미로님 저번에 링크걸어도 되냐고 물어봤던 김완석이라고 합니다.몇가지 온새미로님의 의견을 물어볼게 있어서 메일을 보내드렸습니다.혹시 이 포스트를 보셨다면 메일을 봐주셨으면 정말 감사드리겠습니다.구글메일계정에다 보내드렸습니다.

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  101. 김완석님, 방금 답변 보내 드렸습니다.

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  102. ur blog was be famous because of this. ive know ur blog from indonesian web.

    i think much people love this because the music was catchy and funny, but mostly people didnt know 'the meaning'.
    before , honestly i think this song especially the MV was just showing about rich'pervert' uncle with much money and his harem. So after i read ur explaining ,i can take other consideration about this.
    U make me more love this song.

    Btw i think i see some adult content and maybe that content may cant be accept for some people.

    Didnt ur country cencored some adult content part in this MV when running at national tv channe|\program ?maybe at family time?

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  103. No Name, you're right. Before Psy and his song, my blog attracted audience mainly from North America and Asia; but now it's coming from every corner of the world. :)

    About the censorship of the music videos (MV): Starting August 18, 2012, South Korea now requires every MV to be rated before uploading or broadcasting. But the thing is, it's in fact up to the TV/cable networks as the rating association (RA) said the ratings are not forced but recommended. When a movie is rated by RA, all they have to do is show the rating just for 3 seconds. South Korean TV/cable networks also rate MV's themselves and in a way, their ratings can work stricter than RA's. For instance, if a MV is rated R by RA, then the audience will see R on TV screen for 3 minutes; if it is rated R by a network, then the screening can be restricted to certain times. But the system is quite incoherent as seen in Kara's "Pandora": it is rated NC-15 by RA and Mnet but G by MBC. Or in case of "Gangnam Style," released prior to the rating system going effective, RA said they would have rated it G while a group of parents and professionals rated it NC-12 or NC-15.

    In South Korea, people are not seriously aware of the meaning conveyed in such words as "sexy," for example. It's mainly because, I think, the word is not Korean, but import from the Western culture. Like this South Korean woman I met 15 years ago in Michigan: she was a big fan of such movies like Platoon or Beverly Hills Cop, so she casually thought all the Americans use the f-word or middle finger. So one day when she was driving on a local road in Ann Arbor, a car cut in front of her car with no signal, she got furious and showed him a middle finger and was almost attacked by him whose car chased hers all the way home.

    Likewise even some South Korean parents ask their little kids to dance Kara's or Secret's "sexy" dance, just thinking their kids' dance moves are so cute and adorable. On one show, Wonder Girls shared their experience they had while promoting their song in the US, "Nobody" for example. When they had a chance to teach a little American kid, they just casually said, "I'll show you a sexy dance," which made every non-Korean there aghast. WG said it was not until then they realized the word is not allowed to be used to people within a certain age-range. Ironically, their episode made all the panels of the show and most of the TV viewers surprised.

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  104. Great job! Very detailed, interesting and well written. I'm glad this video led me to your blog. Thanks!

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  105. Anonym, glad to know I helped you understand the song and Korea even a little bit better. :)

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  106. Great insight and analysis, I totally agree with your post as a Korean who used to live in the "Tower Palace" in Gangnam for a few years, the very symbol of Gangnam style life.

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  107. Heejun, nothing's more confirming than the acceptance from an ex-Tower Palace-resident. Thanks!

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  108. Onsemiro, the explosion scene might be mocking the general fact that in every action movie you see when there is an explosion the cool guy walks away from it without bothering to look back, just like the 'cool guy' protagonist is doing.
    Nena

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  109. Sounds fairly possible, Nena. :)

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  110. Thanks for the explanation. I'm glad there is a purpose to the song/video. :)

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  111. Katarina, thank you for leaving your comment!

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  112. Thank you for the explanation. Since I watched the video I've been trying to find a translation/interpretation.

    It feels kind of weird seeing it all over the place in the U.S. but no one ever asks what it's about or gives Psy a chance to explain. Are there any interviews of Psy talking about the whole phenomenon?

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  113. Anonym @4:44 PM, I'm not sure if you are talking about the global Psy phenom or the Gangnam phenomenon itself he's criticizing; so I hope I'm giving you the right answers.

    Psy said he has no idea why the world is going crazy about his music. And also he said he tried his best to create the most ridiculous scenes he could think about while filming the video and the guy in it boasts "I'm Gangnam style" when he's far from it. I don't remember where he said it though as he's been all over the map, featured on so many TV/radio shows.

    If I remember correctly, he never specifically mentioned the song is a satire though. My guess is, when the song/video has become a global phenom and the worldwide listeners are going wild about it, even having no idea what the lyrics literally mean, he might have not wanted to strike a sour note in the party of his and also his newly acquired global fans'.

    However, many of Psy's lyrics are satirical about Korean society and I bet many of his loyal Korean fans instantly knew the song is a satire.

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  114. Yup i agree. Asian & other culture has streotyped if western culture was "epic/cool". But they didnt know if some western culture like f-word & middle finger was disrespectful. They just do that with didnt know what the real meaning.

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  115. thanks for sharing all these wonderful things

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  116. Anonym @12:29AM, you're very welcome and thanks for your kind words. :)

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  117. Thank you for explaining Gangnam Style. It is wonderful to understand how and why the satire works. I watched the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony, and with pride (and naivity) thought maybe we British were to only ones happy to utterly confuse the rest of the world with our culture; I am heartened to find that's not true. :)

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  118. Anoynm @9:03 AM, well... I can't speak for others but in Korea, we put so much emphasis on learning world history in class, I was not confused watching it or had no problem following it. But I bet most of us are confusing and at the same time accustoming each other in this global era. :)

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  119. PSY's Gangnam Style is at NO. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. The following is an excerpt from the Billboard news article.

    At No. 2, PSY's worldwide hit "Gangnam Style" roars toward the Hot 100's top spot with the chart's top Digital Gainer tag, bounding from No. 11 (after debuting at No. 64 two weeks ago). The song surges in all fields that contribute to the Hot 100's data pool: it climbs 4-1 on Digital Songs (301,000, up 60%), 43-9 on On-Demand Songs (616,000, up 105%) and 68-34 on Radio Songs (34 million, up 79%). The song is likewise the top-gaining track on the mainstream top 40-driven Pop Songs radio airplay chart (28-19, up 95% in plays).

    http://www.billboard.com/news#/news/maroon-5-still-tops-hot-100-psy-one-step-1007959552.story

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  120. 안녕하세요 온새미로님 김완석입니다. 어느 한 영문기사 읽엇는데요 http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/sep/24/gangnam-style-south-korean-pop?commentpage=7#start-of-comments 입니다.

    제가 느끼기엔 이거 그닥 좋은 내용으로 쓴것 같지 않다는 느낌이 듭니다.근데 이게 제가 잘못해석한 거일수도 있으니까 이렇게 글을 남겨요.중간에 이해안간 영어문장도 있구요. 메일로도 보냈으니까 메일 봐주시면 감사하겠습니다ㅠ 거기에 제가 뭔말인지 감이 안오는 문장이 있습니다ㅠㅠ

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  121. 김완석님, 답변 보내 드렸어요.

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  122. About Hyuna's version: if you're not familiar with 4Minute, Troublemaker or her solo releases, you might not get that Hyuna has taken a satirical departure of her own—likely at Psy's direction. Instead of her usually powerful delivery, she sings in a high-pitched voice with cutesy mannerisms. Thus, she's satirizing the Gangnam girl who uses aegyo as a weapon and a means to get what she wants.

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  123. Scott, thanks a lot for your elaboration!

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  124. I was born, raised and living in Gangnam for 40 years except two years for serving army.

    A very good and correct review.



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  125. Bill, again, nothing's more confirming than the agreement from the native Gangnam people. Thanks!

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  126. 일부로 힘을 보태어 드리기 위해서 영어로 첫글 남겼어요!

    하여튼, 신중하게 생각해 보았는데요.

    강남 스타일 이곡 한곡만 놓고 보면 온세미로님의 글이 정확합니다.

    하지만, 뭐라고 할까, 싸이 음악의 본질에 대해서 설명이 좀 부족한 것 같아요.

    개인적으로는 "싼티(cheap, lower, not-educated, poor)"라는 단어를 빼놓고 싸이를 설명하는 것은 불가능하다고 보이거든요.

    ps)Actually PSY is the son of a very wealthy and powerful family and well-educated.

    즉, 이러한 B급 문화 지향적인 타란티노같은 싸이의 성향이 언급이 되어야 말춤(horse-riding dance)이라던가 세련되지 못한 영상구도 같은 것이 설명이 될 것 같습니다.

    이 곡도 사실 강남의 졸부 문화를 패러디 하는 면도 있지만, 가장 싸이 다운 것은 역시 "싼티" 라고 생각합니다.

    본질적으로 "싼티" 나는 사람이 "싼티"나는 문화를 지향하면, 결국은 "싼티"밖에 안나지만, "부티"나는 싸이가 "싼티"를 지향하면 세련됨으로 재창조되죠.

    좀.. 뭐라할까 위선적이라고도 할 수도 있지만, 이러한 싸이 음악의 본질을 설명하지 않고는 이 MV를 전부 설명하기는 힘들것 같아요.

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  127. 맞아요. 아주 정확한 지적이십니다. 제가 싸이 강남 스타일에 대해 대여섯개 정도 글을 올렸는데 그 안에 Bill님이 방금 말씀하신 내용도 잠시 언급했답니다. 그런데 대부분 제 블로그를 찾아 오시는 분들이 이 1편만 읽고 가시는 분들이 많아 아마 100% 확실하게 이해하기는 불가능했을 수도 있어요. 좋은 코멘트 주셔서 너무 고맙습니다.

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  128. Bill님, 써놓고 보니 오해의 소지가 있을 것 같아 다시 고쳐 올립니다: 덧붙여서 혹시 "시간이 있으시면" 방금 하신 말씀을 영어로 다시 한번 남겨 주시면 좋겠습니다. 제가 새로 쓰긴 뭐하고 본글에 박스로 넣고 싶어서요.

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  129. This was a very well researched and thoughtful post. Thank you very much, Onsemiro.

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  130. ekwilibrium3e8, Gomapseumnida! (Thanks!)

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  131. Sorry, May I take some of your opinions for my assigment?? It's great explanation about this popular song..

    for your permission, I'll say thank you so much.. Jeongmal ghamsahamnida..

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  132. This morning i discovered your blog as it was linked to in a Time online article. I am so glad i now know of the existence of your well-written and informative blog. You see, I have just started learning Korean as I developed an interest in that country. For many years now I have been studying Chinese and hope that it is possible to both learn Chinese and Korean without becoming terribly confused. Expect me hanging around your blog a lot as i suspect it has lots of goodies that will be very helpful to me!
    As to the Gangnam Style song, i love it even though it is not at all the type of music i normally listen to (classical and jazz). I only learned about the song during the skit at SNL a few weeks ago. Intrigued, i immediately looked up the song at YouTube; it had 195 M views then and today it has about 325 M. It's wonderful to see a song from South Korea becoming this successful. I have been hooked ever since and listen to it several times a day. Your explanations of the song only adds to my enjoyment of it. Thank you!

    Btw, i had endless problems getting my comment posted as i could not decipher correctly the word i had to type in to prove i am not a robot ;)

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  133. Anonym @7:56 AM, first of all, thank you for asking for my permission and of course you can go ahead but please quote me (Jea Kim) and my site (My Dear Korea @mydearkorea.blogspot.com) in your paper. Good luck!

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  134. la femme h, thanks a lot for your kind words and I bet you'll never get lost between Chinese and Korean as these two are grammatically different languages except for Sino-Korean vocabulary. For example, 강남 in Gangnam Style can also be written in Chinese as 江南 but the pronunciations are completely different: Kangnam in Korean and Jiangnan in Chinese. I'll have to explain why from a historical linguistic point of view but to make a long story short, think about the British/American words that are spelled the same but pronounced differently. Overall, except this, I bet you can "learn Chinese and Korean without becoming terribly confused." :)

    BTW, I didn't even know until now this blog requires people to identify words. I think it's to prevent robot-generated spam.

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  135. Onsemiro,
    Thanks for you response. This is truly a wonderful blog.
    There is also Kanji in Japanese, derived from Chinese. I had a Japanese friend and when he was reading his Japanese newspaper I would recognize a lot of word. Then i would ask him whether it meant such and such and he would say "Yes." The pronunciation of those words would be vastly different though.

    Finally, i figured out my problems with the word to type in to prove you're not a robot. It asks for two words but i would only see one. And i have often difficulty reading these words. After a loooong time it dawned on me that the block adjacent to the word had a number in it. This number was the "other" word.

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  136. la femme h, yes, Japan, along with such countries as Korea or Vietnam, belongs to the "Sinosphere" (Chinese character cultural sphere). Generally speaking, the Chinese language in Asia is like the Latin language in Western countries in terms of vocabulary.

    BTW, I sometimes have the same problem as you do when I try to type in the words to prove I'm human, then I increase the font size in my browser.

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  137. Thanks for the explanation.
    I never thought that the song had such a deep message!
    One of my dreams is to visit Korea one day.

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  138. Ricardo, thanks a lot for your compliment! I hope all of your dreams come true.

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  139. thanks, from malaysia, 4 the great explanations behind the biggest KPOP hit yet. even my country is already got hit by the GANGNAM STYLE viral fever every where. hahahaha. ^^

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  140. szewei, thanks for sharing! And the happiness and laughter go viral over the world along with the song. ;)

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  141. Hi, I know you wrote this blog post a few weeks ago but I was looking for a translation of the Gangnam Style music video and somehow ended up on your blog. WOW! I just wanted to check this topic out for 5 minutes and ended up avidly reading your entire blog post. How interesting and well formulated! I don't know if you're a student, but this is definitely worthy of being presented to a professor! Such good vocabulary too, I was very impressed. Thank you very much for this fascinating glimpse into modern Korea!

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  142. EllyBelly, thank you, thank you, thank you!!! :) I'm not a student anymore though, haha. ;)

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  143. Onsemiro,

    Thanks for the great background and history about "Gangnam Style" and Gangnam culture in general. Like many Americans, I initially just wanted to see what all the fuss was about when I came across a couple of references to the song. Initially, I assumed that it would probably just be cutesy bubblegum pop. When I first found the song on YouTube, I was surprised to find a very catchy tune, along with an obviously satirical video. Unfortunately, without the translation for the lyrics and my limited knowledge of Korean culture, I was unable to figure out precisely what Psy was lampooning in the video. At first, my guess was just that he was poking fun at himself, or perhaps the lavish pop star lifestyle. My curiosity led me to Google, and after a few other articles, I landed here, where you managed to answer just about all of my questions in one shot... and in a knowledgeable and thorough way.

    Ironically, the more I read in your blog post, the more I began to draw parallels to American materialism and the obsession with pop culture. Personally, I think that much of the satire in song and video could also apply to American pop culture and consumerism. However, I also thought that Beverly Hills would probably be a poor choice as a parallel to Gangnam. A better comparison might be the South Beach area of Miami, where style rules over substance and the appearance of affluence seems to be a pretty common goal (think Doenjang girls with dark tans, sun-bleached hair and bikinis).

    That said, I was left with one small question about the song which I was hoping you could lend some insight to. I noticed that in a few spots in the song, Psy chose to sing in English as opposed to Korean... "Hey, sexy lady...", "You know what I'm saying?", and the use of the English word "style" itself, as opposed to a Korean equivalent "seutail" you mentioned (unless perhaps they are very similar in pronunciation?).

    Do you happen to know why Psy would choose to mix in English phrases in a song that was most likely not really written and recorded with an American/English-speaking audience in mind? I realize that in most industrialized countries around the world, English is fairly ubiquitous these days and is often taught as a second language in schools. Still, it still struck me as a little unusual, particularly where they appear prominently in the chorus.

    Is it common for English words and phrases to appear in K-Pop music? Obviously, my experience with Korean music is very limited, so I was just wondering if English was becoming commonplace enough to appear regularly in Korean music. I also considered the possibility that the use of certain phrases or slang might be a nod to American dance music or culture, but I don't know enough about Korean media to know how influential our culture/music is in Korea.

    Any insight you could provide would be greatly appreciated. Thanks again for taking the time to provide the excellent source of information.

    Steve

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  144. Steve, first of all, welcome to my blog! :)

    Re the second paragraph of your comment: Psy's song applies to American pop culture and consumerism 'cause neoliberal capitalism which was expanded "globally" in the 1990s was a product of US hegemony. Through the 1990s with the dominance of neoliberalism, Korea has transformed into a very materialistic and socio-economically polarized society.

    And English words and phrases started appearing in K-Pop music in the late 1980s, especially in dance music and since the mid 90's in hip hop music; but I don't think Korean grass-root songs or folk songs use any of them. I think it's quite understandable considering where dance or hip hop music was born.

    Hope my explanation helps. :)

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  145. That makes perfect sense on both counts, Onsemiro. I guess we really are evolving into a global society. I just hope that Korea (which still has a truly unique and rich cultural heritage) and the other growing nations of the Far East manage to retain their distinctive identity and qualities instead of continuing to fall victim to some of the more shallow, one-dimensional aspects that have become so prevalent in Western society these days.

    Thanks again for sharing your insight and knowledge on the topic with all of us!

    Steve

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  146. Steve, Eastern and Western cultures have their own values and concepts that can be adapted for each other's improvement. But I think it's about time for the Westerners to challenge their own values and concepts and to adapt Eastern values to theirs in order to create synergies needed, especially for coexistence between humans and nature/wildlife. As you may already know, the Eastern philosophy sees humans as part of nature as a whole and traditionally the Eastern people have tried to find ways to live in harmony with nature.

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  147. Absolutely, Onsemiro... Unfortunately, American industrialism and consumerism have been such dominant forces in Western society for so long, we tend not to stop long enough to look around at other cultures for better ways to live in harmony with our surroundings. We are slow to change and often too arrogant to consider the possibility of a better way to do things. Sadly, it seems that we often end up learning these lessons the hard way... and you often don't realize what you had until it's gone.

    As you mentioned in your article, material and social status have become prominent concerns in Korea (and nearly all of other nations of the East as well). I guess my concern is that instead of the West learning important lessons from our friends in the East, it appears that Western materialism is slowly eroding the culture and heritage of Korea and the rest of the East. Don't get me wrong, I am certainly proud of America's incredible growth and success since our independence, but at the same time, we tend to dominate our surroundings (and usually for the worse). Also, we don't have thousands of years of culture and heritage to draw upon here in America, so we tend to look forward all the time... which is isn't always a good thing. After all, a wise man once said that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. Having the "melting pot" of cultural diversity that we do has great benefits, but it also means that we don't seem to lend much credence to the lessons learned by any one culture, and we have artificially created this materialistic culture to give ourselves an identity. Ask anyone around the world what they think of when they think of America... and I'd be willing to bet that their answer will somehow involve material prosperity and power, along with the freedom that we so love to tout.

    I worry that many countries throughout the world aspire to be prosperous and successful like America... but unfortunately, one of the first things they see is the crass materialism, so they also seem to adopt those aspects of our culture rather quickly. Many countries also seem to be losing some of the more unique elements of their own culture and heritage in the process (as with the two older men playing Janggi in the video that you mentioned) and instead seem to be embracing some of the shallower aspects of capitalism instead. Sadly, it seems that the negative elements of the Western world seem to be propagating just as rapidly as the positive ones.

    In the end, what you end up with are nations that are in such a hurry to industrialize and modernize in an attempt to emulate American culture that they end up assimilating the "Gangnam Style" mentality in the process, which seems to be exactly what Psy is satirizing in the video.

    I guess I just worry about what is being left behind while we're all so busy rushing to modernize. America has become an example of how to create a successful capitalist society... but we've done a lot of damage in the process. I just hope that that damage doesn't become our legacy throughout the world.

    I apologize for being so long-winded, but I really am fascinated by the cultures of the East and find it intriguing how quickly Western ideas are being assimilated (for better or worse), hence my question about the English phrases peppered throughout the song. That's one of the things about your blog that is so important. It's an excellent way for the rest of the world to learn about Korean culture and perhaps learn some lessons on the effect that American culture is having on the rest of the world.

    Thanks again,
    Steve

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  148. Steve, I really thank you for sharing your deep thoughts and don't worry, I totally understand what you mean and agree with what you said. Over the past six decades in post-war Korea, America has been whitewashed by the Korean government and also by the glitzy, glamorous American cultures (like the Hollywood movies). Simply speaking, the word "America" has symbolized everything that "seems" good; hence, many, many ordinary Koreans have harbored fantasies of achieving American dream. And we all know how that turned out.

    BTW, one thing I noticed living in the US is the majority of Americans live their lives feeling no need to learn about any other cultures than theirs. For their ignorance has never inconvenienced their lives up until lately. It's sad and scary but I think it's true.

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  149. I couldn't agree more, Onsemiro. As you have so astutely observed during your time here in America, we have a tendency to push forward without stopping to consider the effect we have on the rest of the world, whether we're talking about our own natural resources or the effect our actions have on other nations around the world.

    Personally, I have always admired nations like Korea and tend to read a lot about other cultures. Although I have never had the opportunity to travel extensively, I would love to be able experience cultures like Korea's firsthand someday. Like you, I also think Americans could learn a lot about how to interact more harmoniously with the world around us from nations like Korea, athough I fear that the rapid growth in industrialism in Korea and the rest of the Far East might be coming at a high cost when it comes to natural resources (similar to what we have experienced in the U.S. since the late 19th century).

    On the bright side, it sounds like the backlash you mentioned among the youth of Korea means that they are wise enough to realize that some things about America aren't really as glamourous as they might initially appear and probably shouldn't be emulated. In time, I hope that they will come to the conclusion that materialism is no guarantee of happiness and that the cost of excessive consumerism is usually too great to justify. Similarly, there seems to be a growing movement in the West to be more environmentally-conscious and somewhat less materialistic as well, so fortunately, I think there's still plenty of hope for the future for all of us.

    Thanks,
    Steve

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  150. And the profound change in the direction our "global" society will be taking starts with people like you who are aware of exactly how the change is going to affect them. Thanks again, Steve.

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  151. Well, thank you! It truly has been a pleasure to chat with you, Onsemiro.

    Thanks again for taking the time to share your knowledge with us. =)

    Steve

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  152. Listen to the NPR report by Zoe Chace: Gangnam Style: Three Reasons K-Pop Is Taking Over The World

    Excerpt from the report: "Yes, the video is totally crazy and awesome. But this is not some viral fluke. South Korea has been building up to this moment for 20 years."

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  153. Like most of the commenters, I just wanted to leave a note to say thanks for the explanation :) It was very informative and thorough. It certainly pointed out a lot of things I didn't notice.

    I'm glad PSY has become so well known world wide, when his message is how ridiculous materialism and the need to flaunt wealth is. I admire his ability to see beyond the shallowness and make fun of it.

    I was born and raised in Toronto, Canada, of Chinese descent, and I work on Bay Street (Canada's version of Wall Street). It frustrates me to no end that a large part of society (be it Western or Eastern) judges us based the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, the restaurants we go to, or just all the "stuff" we have.

    My own mother insists that the most important thing in the world is money. Forget happiness, health, good family and friends, saving the environment, helping those less fortunate than you. With money you get respect and your dreams come true.

    Apologies for the rant. Ultimately I am happy to learn that there are people out there who recognize there's more to life than accumulating and flaunting expensive "stuff".

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  154. Julie, thanks a lot for sharing your thoughts. I understand what you mean and agree 100% with you. At the same time, I think I kinda understand your mom too even though I can never dare to understand what kind of life the immigrant parents in her generation have led. Most of the first generation immigrants to North America must have never afforded the luxury of doing something more than just making money and that's why I think it's our turn now to think otherwise. :)

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  155. I could tell by looking that this video had a distinct comedic/satirical bent (and also that was a masterpiece that had reaffirmed my faith in the art). I now have an explanation for exactly why. Thank you for the great effort and wonderful result!

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  156. Anonym @5:22PM, thanks a lot for leaving your kind words. Come visit here often! :)

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  157. boswald50@yahoo.caNovember 3, 2012 at 4:07 PM

    I'm glad I found your blog. I am a Canadian who was lucky enough to have lived in Korea for a time, in 1996/97. I was working on a canadian style log building, a restaurant near the Hantan River on hwy 3. This meant that I was living in a very small community, as the only foreigner in town. Happily for me, people there were very friendly and generous, and my stay was very interesting. Penetrating the language barrier was not easy, because very few people there could speak any English at all, and Korean is a very subtle and complicated language, in which social standing is the basis of many verb forms. I never did get past the basic restaurant and taxicab Korean, but I did get by, and now have some appreciation for Korean culture. I did get to hang out in Seoul, but I preferred Gang-buk, especially Myong-dong. There is a 5-story Starbucks there, full of lovely Korean girls, where I liked to read the paper and enjoy a coffee. At that time, decent coffee was not easy to find, for those who sneer at Starbucks, and Koreans were being exposed to it for the first time. Those were heady days in Korea, just before the IMF crisis, and I was there for it. Everything came to a crashing halt, and Kim Dae-Jung was elected. Interesting times indeed...... So what was my point again? Oh yeah, consumerism, as we know it in the West, is pretty new to Korea. Up until the Eighties, people didn't have a lot of money: Gangnam itself didn't even exist, as you show in your blog. So I must forgive the Gangnamites for feeling proud of themselves, they made something out of literally nothing, well, ok, out of cabbage fields. Koreans in general should be proud of themselves, they made a whole economy out of nothing. After the war, in 1953, there was not a lot to work with, and for the Koreans to have reached this point where Psy can make make fun of the rich and wanna-be rich is amazing. And Hyuna is sooooooo beautiful.....

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  158. boswald50, it's great to hear a vivid testimony to the controversial South Korea in the 90's form a person, especially a non-Korean like you, who really lived in the era. Reading your comments brought back some of my memories from those days. Thanks a lot. :)

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  159. Great way to tell the message , Good trying

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  160. Hi, Jea--I found your blog because I was googling around for more info on Gangnam Style after I just read Ai Wei's video parody of it was banned in China (!). Wow, what a lot of great information and analysis you provide for Psy's song and the development of Gangnam! I've tweeted and shared your article with my network and I hope you get a lot more readers who are interested in Korea and what you have to say.

    I'm looking forward to reading the rest of your blog. I really love the cultural perspective you bring to what you share. Thanks so much for doing this blog. Great writing, too!

    -Teramis

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  161. Teramis, thanks a lot for sharing such kind words about my blog and also sharing it with your friends. I hope it helps you understand more about Korea. Thanks again!

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  162. That is a great blog post!

    Perhaps you have seen the Fox News segment bemoaning the popularity of the original video. If not, you can see it here http://t.co/mDSCd5Ec

    I sent to link to Bill O'Reilly at the Factor - I'm sure he'll be sharing it with his "Doctor" pal and they will shortly be doing a follow up segment stating their regret for not having done a bit of basic research before shooting off their big fat uninformed mouths and declaring the song and video as 'meaningless.'

    Of course they will. 

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  163. Tmg Lost, yes, I watched it. Actually, the moment O'Reilly said, "This is a little fat man from Ying Yang" or something like "internet numbness," I went, 'Oh, there you go again.' And strangely, even Ablow's ignorance didn't surprise me at all. But as you just mentioned, they gotta know one thing: Just because they don't understand the song in other languages or from other cultures, it doesn't mean they are meaningless or stupid. http://t.co/mDSCd5Ec BTW, thank you for your kind words about my blog!

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  164. I am an 8th grade teacher and would love to share this article with my students. Is there a printable version?

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  165. Margaret, this post is cross-posted to Racialicious.com. The site allows you to right-click so I think you can print my post there. Here's the link: http://www.racialicious.com/2012/09/11/psys-gangnam-style-and-gangnam-oppa-in-architecture-101-1/ I hope your students will find my post interesting and informative! :)

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  166. to:
    onsemiro@mydearkorea.blogspot.com

    Hello,
    I am a French writer, and I am currently preparing a digital book on Psy.
    I found your blog very exciting,
    and I would like to have your permission to talk about you and your blog in my book,
    do some short quotations,
    and also put a link inside of my book to your blog.
    Will you be so kind and allow me to do this?
    I tried to write to you at:
    onsemiro@mydearkorea.blogspot.com
    Is it a good address?
    My email address is:
    gccm@wanadoo.fr
    Could you please don't let this post on your comments?
    I will put another, with less private address, etc...
    Sorry for my bad english,
    Thanking you,
    Sincerely,
    Gisele Cavali,
    Alliage Editions numériques.
    Maybe it

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  167. This is incredibly helpful. My wife is an ex pat and explained some of what she understood to me, especially the part of Seoul the song refers to, but this really delves deeply in an authoritative way.

    One thing that can't be underestimated is the way the phenomenon has built intercultural bridges and broken down barriers simultaneously.

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  168. Onsemiro....I think YOUR ideas are bumpier than your muscles! (what a great line!!) Thank you it's a wonderful explanation

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  169. Onsemiro - I think YOUR ideas are bumpier than your muscles! Thank you for a very interesting blog.

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  170. Betty, thanks a lot for your kind words. Please come visit my blog often. :)

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  171. Thank you for your interesting explanation. I'm still thinking about PSYs critique in the song: He makes fun of pseudo-gangnamstyle-people who try to be part of gangnam in vain and are nothing but ridiculous. But is this realy a critique on the materialism of the "real" gangnam-people, who easily can afford luxury? (Which would be the class, where he is from) Is this his first critical song, or are his albums also like that? And: How important is his resemblance to northkoreas boss?
    Thanks again for your blog!

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  172. Smaz, thank you back! I think he's making fun of both - Gangnam natives and outsiders. He's been making social commentaries for over a decade now and even though even South Koreans think his appearance is quite unique, no one has ever found any resemblance between Kim Jung-un and him. I think it's just the non-Korean Youtube viewers. :)

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  173. Hello Onsemiro,

    I was wondering what Hyuna exactly says when she sings “Oppan Gangnam Style”. To me the word 'Style' sounds like 'Stai'.
    Does she means to sing 'Style?' or is it the Korean word for 'style', seutail, (that is the phonetic word in Google translate)

    Furthermore, you stated 'they changed the hook 'Oppan Gangnam style' to 'Oppan ddak nae style',
    is that what she is singing? Because it sounds like 'Gangnam', or is 'ddak nae' sounding almost the same as 'Gangnam'?

    Thank you for all the insight you are giving through your blog, I am from the Netherlands, and until a few months ago I had no special interest in South-Korea, but now one of my wishes is to visit it one day.

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  174. Simon, if Hyuna pronounced the word 'style' as 'stai,' then it is probably because she wanted to sound close to the original pronunciation of the word as it really sounds like 'staille' in French but she failed... In Korean, the word is spelled '스타일' and pronounced as 'seu-ta-il' but the sound 'il' is anything but the English '-il.'

    And yes, in the entire song, they changed the hook 'Oppan Gangnam style' only to 'Oppan ddak nae style' as the narrator of Hyuna's version is female. 'Oppan Gangnam Style' "literally" means 'I'm Gangnam Style" while 'Oppan ddak nae style' means 'You're exactly my style' and I think you're probably right they chose 'ddak nae' for 'Gangnam' 'cause they amost rhyme.

    I'm really happy to hear that my blog (of course along with Psy's GS) made you interested in my home country. If you visit S. Korea, you will definitely fall in love with its unique culture. FYI, S. Koreans are just greatly fond of the Netherlands because of Guus Hiddink. You'll be greatly welcome there too. :)

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  175. Awesome post. Honestly, i'm not into kpop, but I myself was also hooked by this music. That's how viral this music around the world.
    Thanks for providing us what the song means. Keep it up.

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  176. Thanks, Lisa, for your kind words.

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  177. What's the elevator scene all about? Any hidden meaning there, lol...

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  178. Thank You, Onsemiro.

    Your explanation is fantastic. When I am in Seoul, I usually stay at one of the star hotels at Gangam, and would wonder whats this place. You really have explained it in very simple and condensed manner.

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  179. Thank You, Onsemiro.

    Your explanation is fantastic. When I am in Seoul, I usually stay at one of the star hotels at Gangam, and would wonder whats this place. You really have explained it in very simple and condensed manner.

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  180. Thank you for the extended explanation, and especially thank you for the workable translation. Without it I could not have composed the parody I am about to post.

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    Replies
    1. You're welcome, Isobel. Hope to watch (or listen to?) your parody ASAP! Good luck!

      Delete

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