Cultural Impact of Psy`s Gangnam Style in South Korea Unit

CulturalImpact of Psy’s Gangnam Style in South Korea


Gangnamstyle has to be one of the greatest songs ever that took the world bystorm in 2012. The song currently has over 2.2 billion views onYoutube which makes it the most viewed video on the site’s history(BBC 2014). Originating in South Korea, the song has grabbed globalattention and exposed K-pop (Korean Pop) to a wider global audience.The music video has topped charts in Korea and around the world andredefined K-pop. This paper seeks to show the video music and thelyrics mock some current cultural and social trends such as plasticfashion sense and expensive lifestyle common among the affluent inKorea to show that they are not worth the effort and thus funnels hisaudience to pursue more relevant issues such as education andenjoying the funny side of life.

Thesong addresses the Korean social and cultural situation. The song issilly in its entirety and mocks some of the major current issues inthe country. For one, there has been too much emphasis on wealth andgood looks. Millions in cash is being spent to enhance physicalappearance through flashy fashion and plastic surgery at the costliving life and pursuing more important things. The essay thusorganizes the ideas on major aspects of the lyrics and the musicvideo and illustrates how each of this is mockery of the current fadin the country or offers advice and helps shape young Koreans intobetter individuals from a cultural and social perspective.

Thename Gangnam style itself mocks the rich kids of Seoul. The name isborrowed from Seoul’s influential district Gangnam. The termGangnam style thus translates into style or ‘swag’ of the richkids from Seoul or trendsetters of Seoul. However, Psy doeseverything to dismantle what would be otherwise associated withglamour or expected of style suggested by the Gangnam. He shamelesslymocks and makes fun of fashion and perceived class of the rich kidsof Gangnam (Kaye, 2012). Psy imitates these kids from their dancingto fashion sense by making himself look ridiculously glamorous. Themusic video contrasts what would be considered glamorous as modernmusic artists have taken to displaying their wealth and flashy carsin such videos. In this case, Psy portrays himself as an ordinary guyunaccustomed to saunas and Jacuzzis he which to overwhelm him asdepicted (Hou, 2013).

Similarly,the video emphasizes on his ordinary looks and the ordinary sillinessof the average guy. His image largely portrays a “textualcuddleness” and his plump body clearly depicts the ordinary guy(Khoo, 2013, p. 152). He makes all efforts to identify with theordinary Korean through his image. He does not go to extras lengthswhere artists cultivate unique identities complete with uniquetattoos or even designer clothes and even for some branded wear. Hedoes not even don heavy jewellery which most modern day artists haveportrayed as a requirement to complement their image. Through thisvideo, Psy seems to pass the message that being ordinary is cool. Iturges artists to desist from trying too hard or being too seriousabout their celebrity brands and images (Hou, 2013). This goes quitewell with the song which is seemingly silly and has a funny horseriding dancing style.

Therefore,it can be said that Psy is teaching Koreans not to take life tooseriously. He tells Koreans to be comfortable in their own skin. Thiscomes at a very critical time when the country is facing what somesources have named a crisis in the high number of cosmetic surgeriesbeing recorded in the country. Buoyed by the rise of and popularityof Korean Soap Operas, many Koreans including young children haveresulted to cosmetic surgery to achieve that ideal look popularisedby these soap operas and Americanization. In fact many Koreansespecially artists and celebrities have turned to a growing cosmeticsurgery procedure known as the V-line. This involves breaking andshaving the jaw line to have a narrower lower face that gives an“elfin, anime-like appearance” (Stone, 2013). Psy retains hisnatural and conspicuous jaw line to pass a message that a natural jawline is ‘cool’ too (Hong, 2014).

To,Psy, Koreans should desist the growing social pressure to take upcosmetic surgeries. He presents his natural plump face to the worldwith pride for other people to ape. A little bit of research aboutthis artist before he became famous reveals that music producers werevery worried about his ugly look. They feared that no one would buthis music because he was unattractive. Koh (2013, p. vii) puts itstraight to say that “the company (recording label) spent a lengthof time deliberating how or whether they could market him and “whatto do with his face.” Well, according to Psy in the video and theraging popularity of the video in Korea, there is no need to work onthe face to make one more appealing.

Thehit Gangnam style also addresses the issue of education. This messageis very clear in the song’s lyrics as he sings in one line “Aguy who has bulging ideas rather than muscles.” In another line hesays “I’m a man who knows a thing or two.” He thereforepersuades men to identify with their intelligence and education asopposed to muscles or even looks which he groups as muscles (Koh,2013).The same message could apply to girls pursuing plastic surgery aspart of looking good, a necessary accomplishment to be successful inlife according to Koreans.

Atthe same time, Psy preaches modesty in dressing. Apart from himselfdressing modestly for a man in the video, the dancers in the videoand other people are also dressed modestly. This matches with hisviews in the lyrics as translated below in part

“Agirl who puts her hair down when the right time comes A girl who covers herself but is more sexy than a girl whobares it allA sensible girl likethat” (Acuna, 2012)

Byincluding such lyrics in a music video that contains little elementsof nudity, Psy is promoting modesty in dressing. It is worth notingthat the artist manages to portray what he sings about in the video.Though the video contains some moves that might be consideredsexually expletive, the overall appearance is that women and womencan still remain sexy without needlessly exposing their bodies. Thisis one of the core reasons that the video has become popular evenamong kids because parents have no reason to invoke parental controlsover nudity or explicit language (Kaye,2012). The dancing style is also particularly popular with kids.

Inthe same way, this horse riding dancing style has changed the Koreanmusic and entertainment industry forever. Apart from the dance stylebeing popularized by fans all over the country and the world, otherartists have joined the bandwagon (Hong,2014).This dance style has thus brought Korean together in unity tocelebrate the achievement of one of their own in the global stage.The style has ushered in a new sense of awareness and setting oneselffree form all inhibitions by engaging in silly moves that unitesKoreans. Additionally, the style has been a unifying factor and hasprovided a new form of entertainment for Koreas. Flash mobs as largeof 15000 people dancing to the Gangnam style have been reported inSeoul and other parts of the country (Jung,2014).

Itis clear from the Gangnam Style all about of living life with what wehave. As a cultural artefact, the hit song addresses key issues inthe Korean culture. Although the message in an unconventional manner,the message is clear that Koreans and especially the youth should nottake life too seriously and should relax and make do with what theyhave. As a celebrity, he makes silly of some glorified trends inKorea to show they do not matter that much and at the same timehighlights the important issues in life such as education whichshould be pursued and are better measures of success.


Acuna,K. (2012). Here`s The English Translation Of `Gangnam Style`.Retrieved from

BBC(2014). Gangnam Style music video `broke` YouTube view limit.Retrieved from

Hong,E. (2014). Thebirth of Korean cool: how one nation is conquering the world through

popculture.Seoul: Simon and Schuster.

Hou,M. (2013). Thesemiotics of internet celebrity: gangnam style case.Tilburg Papers in

CulturaStudies. Tilburg Univesity. Retrieved from

Jung,S. (2014). Globalaudience participation in the production and consumption of gangnam

style.Retrieved from

Kaye,L. (2012).Why Psy and gangnam style demolish cultural andsocioeconomic barriers.


Khoo,G. (2013). Gangnam style. In Choi, J. &amp Maliangkay, R. (eds).K-pop– The International

Riseof the Korean Music Industry.New York: Routledge.

Koh,C. (2013). Investigating the “gangnam style” phenomenon: globaleurocentrism, Asian

masculinity,and Psy. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the degree for the Masterof Fine Arts Department of Art Criticism and Writing. Retrieved from

Stone,Z. (2013). The K-pop plastic surgery obsession. the k-pop plasticsurgery obsession.