Reactions to Gangnam Style
July 24, 2012 11:19 AM   Subscribe

PSY (Park Jae Sang) is a Korean singer, previously graduating from Boston University and Berklee College of Music. His latest, Gangnam Style, parodies K-pop videos and features several singers from that genre, plus Korean tv stars. Gangnam itself is a wealthy region of Seoul. The lyrics are perhaps standard for pop songs, while reactions to the video [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] show that a visually engaging video and a catchy tune are often fun the world over, irrespective of the language.
posted by Wordshore (44 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
First thing I watched this morning was this video. Then I watched my very favorite Canadian-expats-discuss-Korean-culture-food-and-music blog's take: Eat Your Kimchi on Gangnam Style. Just so you know, Eat Your Kimchi is 100% responsible for turning me from a Kpop hater into a Kpop addict. Consider yourself warned.
posted by ourobouros at 11:38 AM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

Postscript. Watching a few more mv reactions, not everyone is picking up on the Gangnam 'Style'. Which is cowboy / horse riding / lasso swinging.
posted by Wordshore at 11:49 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

100% responsible for turning me from a Kpop hater into a Kpop addict

Wait until you find yourself hanging out on darksmurf or viki, compulsively hitting reload in the hope that the fan subbers have translated enough of the latest Hong Sisters drama in order for you to be able to watch it and make *some* sense of what's going on.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:31 PM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Not generally a fan of reaction videos, but if ever there was an MV deserving of one, it's this. It will probably end up being my favorite kpop MV of the year.

I've already declared my love for PSY in another thread (starting from his fifth album and the "Right Now" MV), but I will happily repeat that I was excited for his sixth album to drop this summer. And my expectations for his MV were more than met. (Admittedly, my expectations were mostly that I would be delightfully entertained; but that's more than I can say for a lot of kpop MVs.)

The cameo of Yoo Jae Suk was by far my favorite, and I loved the little tag dance-off at the end between PSY and Yoo Jae Suk. My only little quibble with the MV was I felt like there was a little too much HyunA (not a fan, although I do enjoy 4minute).

I've heard that PSY managed to do an "all-kill" on the charts with this, which makes me happy (apparently his last album wasn't able to do that because he went up against SNSD, the queens of kpop). It's nice to see something that's slightly different from the kpop norm get a lot of recognition.

The album (at least the first part that has come out) is pretty good, too! I wasn't sure if I'd like it as much as I would "PSY Five," since as much as I love "Gangnum Style" as a MV, the song isn't my favorite -- but it's met my expectations for PSY's ability to play around with a variety of music styles. Not to mention the collaborations! I never thought I'd experience the ballad king Sung Si Kyung on a pop-rap song -- that alone was was worth the price of the download.
posted by paisley sheep at 12:31 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Well, Dick, it's got a nice beat, I could dance to it, I'll give it a 9.
posted by HuronBob at 12:37 PM on July 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

Reaction video #2 had me giggling almost as much as the original MV. Nicely done.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 12:39 PM on July 24, 2012

Wait until you find yourself hanging out on darksmurf or viki, compulsively hitting reload in the hope that the fan subbers have translated enough of the latest Hong Sisters drama in order for you to be able to watch it and make *some* sense of what's going on.

Hah! I think even if I was perfectly fluent in Korean I would have absolutely no idea what is going on in "Big." What a crazy mess. If it weren't for Gong Yoo, I would have given up on it weeks ago. But I'm going to see it through to the end, dammit.
posted by paisley sheep at 12:40 PM on July 24, 2012

Lost in Translation... Is this meant to be as silly as it looks? I guess I liked Yellow Submarine so I should be able to like this.
posted by pdxpogo at 12:56 PM on July 24, 2012

I feel like that about it too, but my wife -- who has never watched a kdrama before -- thinks it's quite the best thing she's ever seen.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:58 PM on July 24, 2012

The video was good, the first reaction video was entertaining due to the impressive energy level, the rest less so.
posted by beerbajay at 1:17 PM on July 24, 2012

PSY is quite a character - he's himself a rich Gangnam boy, who did mandatory military service TWICE, and has written hit songs for other K-pop acts.

I think the video parodies the notion of Gangnam as depicted in popular media and the stereotypes Koreans have about the area (literally "south of the river" - Han River in this case). Wealthy, rampant consumerism, all the excesses of the nouveau riche. Overall it's a wealthy area, with the highest test scores and best high schools in Seoul, perhaps South Korea. I think it's a pretty nice area to live in within Seoul proper - convenient transportation, modern housing, plethora of shopping other than the traditional open air market kind. There are some very wealthy spots, which is where the popular media focus on, but large parts of Gangnam are just like upper middle class suburbs in the U.S. that are full of highly educated, high achieving parents. Not surprisingly, real estate is very expensive, so that it's hard for young people to move in there these days unless they were born there (i.e. their parents or grandparents moved to Gangnam when it was still affordable, or already had property there since way back when).
posted by needled at 2:12 PM on July 24, 2012 [9 favorites]

Nothing would please me more if this becomes the late-2012 LFMAO Party Rock Anthem.

Also, be sure to read the tongue-in-cheek youtube description.
posted by amuseDetachment at 2:34 PM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

Thank you, thank you a million times for this!
posted by loquat at 3:02 PM on July 24, 2012

I don't know why. But that reminds me of "Rock Me Amadeus"
posted by mrducts at 3:17 PM on July 24, 2012

This is... AWESOME!
posted by gen at 3:57 PM on July 24, 2012

This makes me feel much better about slowly becoming obsessed with K-pop. And re-inspires me toward my MeFi Swap mix, mwa ha ha ha...
posted by maryr at 4:19 PM on July 24, 2012

BTW, are there notes anywhere about the cameos in the video?
posted by maryr at 4:23 PM on July 24, 2012

What a fun video. That's Hyuna in the subway car / second-half of the video, but the other cameos are out of my depth.
posted by spanishbombs at 4:41 PM on July 24, 2012

Yellow Suit is Yu Jae Suk, Korea's finest MC (not the hip-hop kind).
posted by Tikirific at 4:47 PM on July 24, 2012

maryr, this is what I could identify (others please fill in):

[0:21] dancing little kid ("mini-PSY") appeared in the Korean variety show "Star King"

[1:43] Yoo Jae Suk, Korean comedian, who appears in the variety shows "Infinity Challenge" and "Running Man" (he's also collaborated with Korean musician Lee Juk as "Sagging Snail" in 압구정 날라리 and 방구석 날라리), known for his "grasshopper dance"

[1:54] No Hong Chul, Korean comedian, who also appears in the variety show "Infinity Challenge" and known for his crazily upbeat persona

[2:11] Hyuna from 4Minute
posted by needled at 4:53 PM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

(And previous MeFi thread in which "Gangnam Style" made an appearance)
posted by needled at 5:07 PM on July 24, 2012

The biggest part of my job these days is running weeklong programs, here in Korea, for employees of the growing group of global family companies that are part of the Korean Megacorp I work for, teaching them about the history and values of the company, the management philosophy, all that stuff, as well as Korean history and culture, and generally showing them a good time and helping them to feel like they belong. It's the kind of gentle paternalism that American companies used to do back in the day, and still do, to some extent, I guess, but the participants genuinely seem to enjoy it, and come away with positive feelings about the company and Korea in general.

The participants for the English-language programs (there is a Chinese-language stream for our many Chinese employees as well, these days) come from all over the world -- our last session had people from India, Indonesia, Brazil, America, Slovenia, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, and other countries. As an ex-worldwanderer, it's a huge pleasure to work with them, get to know them, and watch as they get to know each other.

One morning during our most recent program, one of my young Korean colleagues, at the behest of his manager, played some (I think) Girls' Generation (?) videos on the screen before we began our morning session. Now, I'm both old and crusty, and though I still love music with a passion, new and old, I have never had much patience for manufactured saccharine dance music, no matter where it comes from. In fact, I fall much more into the 'burn it with fire' camp, and tend to recoil with horror. I wasn't all that keen on the idea, but not just because of my musical tastes.

Korea has always had -- at least in the decade-and-a-half that I've been here -- a swift-running undercurrent of sexuality, but it has, as tradition dictates, mostly been illicit. As late as the 1990s, underwear ads in print or on shopping channels never featured Korean models, because of the shame attached to appearing semiclothed in public. There was a famous incident of a old hallabuji (grandfather) hauling off and slapping a girl he'd never seen before on the street in Seoul, because of the miniskirt she was wearing. There is a massive, rarely acknowledged (and horrifying, to me) sex trade, but it is mostly kept as a known-by-all-secret, something that Koreans are extremely good at. Women are making strides, especially in the last 5 years, but Korea is not a good place to grow up female still, for many, and if I were to have a daughter, I wouldn't want her to grow up here.

All of this goes to say that the spectacle of those 'singers' -- there's like 10 of them, I think -- in that group, vamping and voguing and being publicly hyper-sexual in those videos... well, some of the people in the group of the trainees (including a couple of women in the muslim headscarf) who come from cultures still less free-and-easy about public sexuality were clearly uncomfortable.

But for my young male mid-20s Korean coworker, who's not what one would describe as culturally-sensitive, he was just proud of the whole hallyu (Korean wave) phenomenon, and thought of it as another aspect of Koreaness -- one that was less musty and boring than the old Joseon stuff.

But I found it interesting how only a decade ago or less, Koreans tended to be aghast at the licentiousness of western culture, and now are in their turn, being mildly shocking to people from cultures that haven't changed as quickly, for better or worse.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:18 PM on July 24, 2012 [6 favorites]

Needled, it really does parody Gangnam life. I used to work in the area near Gangnam station and had friends living in Afflujeong Apkujeong about ten years ago, and that whole nouveau riche conspicuous consumption thing was very on trend back then. Incidentally, I couldn't go anywhere without hearing this song by Psy back then.
posted by peppermind at 5:19 PM on July 24, 2012

Psy's popularity actually has a lot to do with the fact that he's not the typical K-Pop star. He's stocky, and not a pretty boy, but his debut around the early 2000s with the hit "Sae" rocketed him to popularity as a "yeopki" singer, a cultural/internet buzzword at the time that roughly translates to "strange," but has more to do with upsetting expected norms. For example, the Korean title for the movie "My Sassy Girlfriend," is actually "Yeopkijukin Geunyuh," which was based on a series of popular web stories a man posted about his kooky girlfriend, who did outrageous things for a girl, like getting drunk and throwing up publicly. Act very violently, etc. All things most guys or love stories would deem as undesirable traits in a girlfriend.

Psy's yeopki style set him apart because he seems more down-to-earth, but with a rough-around-the edges swagger where he has no problems depicting himself as an unsmooth guy who says it like it is (interesting considering his educational pedigree). The language used in his lyrics also reflects that because he tends to use brash, colloquial Korean peppered with a lot slang chronicling (mis)adventures that's different from the smooth stylings of other artist. In fact, it's exactly this sort of thing that's gotten him in trouble for being inappropriate. He's like that lovably awkward neighborhood "hyung" who always wants to go to the clubs and party hard and meet girls through "booking" but rarely scores.

Beyond the funny imagery in the video, what's hilarious about "Gangnam Style" as a song and video, at least to Koreans, is the fact that it's a tongue-in-cheek depiction of a guy that likes to think he's "Gangnam style." It's like how people say use the word "classy" you probably aren't. Guys who pick up girls by throwing around terms like how they hang out at the hottest clubs in Apku and Gangnam are probably really trifling despite their posturing. In the same way, a guy telling people that he's like the people of the rich Gangnam area, probably isn't, and this is shown throughout the video where he juxtaposes set ups making it seem like he's living the life enjoying the leisurely past times of the rich, but really isn't.

For example, there's the very obvious opening sequence revealing him to really be on a neighborhood playground though he likes to think he's on some beach. But then the scene of him popping up out of the water with swimming goggles gives you the initial impression he's at a fancy swimming pool, but in reality when the shot pulls out, you see that he's in a hot tub at a public bath house (made even funnier by the reaction of a fellow patron in the background's dumbfounded look, because it's quite rude to splash around in that way at a bath house). Even in the sauna, he's surrounded by large and tattooed guys, betraying the fact that he's not at a fancy spa sauna, but probably your neighborhood bath house sauna, because tattooed dudes (basically gang members) in saunas is a popular comedic trope in Korea because they are ripe for awkward moments when you realize you're in an enclosed space with violent criminals. The scenes showing him partying on a bus, is a bit more nuanced, because the party bus being depicted is actually a "gwangwang bus" or tour bus, usually patroned by older people (mostly women) going on group trips, and usually ends up becoming rolling parties on wheels featuring plenty of not cool ppongjak and trot music as old ladies dance around.

Even the lyrics are funny on a "try too hard" level. It's obviously depicting a pick up situation where a dude trying to impress a girl as he tells her that "oppa" ("older brother," but basically a title and/or term of endearment women use for older guys who aren't family as well) is Gangnam style. The lines are full of false bravado, yet at the same time try to convey an earnestness that seem to say "Hey, I'm not much to look at but I've got heart." Such as the claim to be the type of guy who can "one shot" a cup of coffee before it gets cold because he's just burning with that much passion. My favorite lyric from the song has to be "군육 보다 사상이 울퉁불퉁 한 사나이" (My ideals bulge rather than my muscles).

He's also written songs for other popular acts, such as composing "Cinderella" for Seo In Young, and for something completely different, is the composer and lyric writer for Lee Seung Gi's "Because You're My Woman". He's also seen his fair share of troubles, from some issues regarding compulsive military service and some drug charges related to marijuana. An interesting dude overall.
posted by kkokkodalk at 7:09 PM on July 24, 2012 [64 favorites]

Oops, "Cinderlla" link is supposed to go here.
posted by kkokkodalk at 7:18 PM on July 24, 2012

This song is awesome!

Seems to me like there's been a of kind of stadium-ready Kpop singles this summer. Maybe it's always like this - I wasn't a Kpop fan last summer - but maybe it also has something to do with a certain major worldwide sporting event that's taking place right now, yanowhatimsayin?

Anyway, I made a short playlist.
posted by subdee at 8:44 PM on July 24, 2012

(been a LOT of)
posted by subdee at 8:45 PM on July 24, 2012

It seemed like this song was playing between every other match of the Starcraft World Championship Series. Earworm confirmed.
posted by jet_manifesto at 9:17 PM on July 24, 2012

Subdee, funny you should say that -- PSY also created Korea's official cheering song for that certain major worldwide sporting event.
posted by paisley sheep at 9:51 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Stavros, I assume you've read James Turnbull's recent piece: Korean Sociological Image #69: Attitudes Towards Sexual Objectification, 2004 vs. 2012 as it covers exactly the trends you've been seeing change in Korean culture.
posted by gen at 10:43 PM on July 24, 2012

This just popped up in my feed: making of "Gangnam Style" MV. Looks like the crew had a lot of fun.
posted by paisley sheep at 11:04 PM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

Stavros, I assume you've read James Turnbull's recent piece

Nope, but I will now. Thanks!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:41 PM on July 24, 2012

who did outrageous things for a girl, like getting drunk and throwing up publicly

Mad those Koreans, mad as hatters.
posted by Damienmce at 6:35 AM on July 25, 2012

Subdee, funny you should say that -- PSY also created Korea's official cheering song for that certain major worldwide sporting event.

I know! I think Korea loves the Olympics more than the U.K. does.
posted by subdee at 8:23 AM on July 25, 2012

Another contender for Korea's official cheering song was Luck to Everyone from UV (I am ignoring the Samsung Galaxy S III jingle er Olympics cheering song featuring a massive cast of k-pop idol groups).
posted by needled at 9:26 AM on July 25, 2012

Thanks, needled! I hadn't seen that.

I actually find myself associating UV with PSY because I can rely on both create delightfully entertaining MVs. Such as Itaewon Freedom (with my favorite JYP cameo ever).
posted by paisley sheep at 11:13 AM on July 25, 2012

The PSY Olympics song is great. I may go home and buy it.
posted by maryr at 1:47 PM on July 26, 2012

A Wall Street Journal blog post carries an interview with the two people in the fifth reaction video.
posted by Wordshore at 6:17 PM on August 8, 2012

and the parodies keep coming: BATMAN GOTHAM STYLE!

Still waiting for Jar Jar "Gungam Style", Little House on the Prairie "Gingham Style", "Gandhi Style", "Gong Show Style" and (for World Overplayed Pop Music Unification) "Gotye Style!"
posted by oneswellfoop at 9:19 PM on August 17, 2012

Was just coming here to post that.
posted by jessamyn at 4:28 PM on August 23, 2012

It is actually very heartening indeed that the first real breakout hit overseas from the K-pop pap machine (which I've denigrated so often, including this thread) is a self-aware, self-deprecating, humorous pisstake.

The Atlantic article gets the thrust of the song, surprisingly (even if they aren't entirely on target with the economic analysis -- the debt situation for most Korean households for the last 5 years or more isn't nearly so dire in reality, nor is it because of out-of-control credit card spending as much as things like out-of-control private tutoring costs and increases in cost of living that are unsustainable for the poor and lower middle classes).

It is pretty unusual for mainstream Korean entertainers to make fun of Korea or Koreanness, to be satirical beyond broad, vaudeville-style 'gag-shows', to be anything but (faux)-sentimental and (charmingly or cloyingly, depending on how you look at it) sincere.

No doubt there is already a tall-poppy backlash developing against Psy here in Korea for the unforgivable sin of doing something that is both wildly popular overseas (a good thing) and critical of any aspect of Korea (a bad thing indeed, letting outsiders have a glimpse at the dirty laundry).

Folks here are actually scratching their head in wonder that this song (well, the video, really) has gotten so much traction outside of Korea. The idea (which doesn't seem at all odd to us western types who are more accustomed to gentle mockery and humour as a tool to talk about social ills, even if it's not specific to our own nation) that this song and the message in it could be understood, enjoyed, and resonate in some way with non-Koreans is a little shocking to some, I think.

But it's part of the continued flowering of... well, without sounding too paternalistic and judgemental, hopefully... independant thought and creative freedom here in Korea, and hopefully it will inspire more, and help more Korean folks get used to the idea that being Korean is just a way of being human, and people who aren't Korean can share an appreciation of Koreanness that is more nuanced, that isn't hokey 'cultural heritage products' or slavish Koreanized imitations and extensions of western cultural artifacts, like most K-pop tends to be.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:20 PM on August 23, 2012 [14 favorites]

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