Absurd Korean pop hit 'Gangnam Style' actually a subversive critique of consumerism
Could we be witnessing Korean pop's plunge into the cultural criticism arena?
Fri, Dec 28, 2012 at 05:43 PM
Photo: Ian Gavan/Getty Images for MTV
Sometimes, appearances are deceiving. A dude singing on the toilet might not just be participating in a ridiculous gag, but a nuanced critique of consumerist culture in Korea. Or it might just be a dude singing on the toilet.
Such are the questions raised by the viral pop hit "Gangnam Style," by Park Jaesang, or Psy, which has been propelled to Internet ubiquity on the strength of its breathtakingly absurd video, strangely catchy hook, and the fact that its chorus sounds an awful lot like "open condom style." It has nearly 50 million views on YouTube. But it turns out that there's some substance behind all the silliness, as the Atlantic's Max Fisher notes in his detailed explainer on the video. The video, it turns out, is a satire about life in the wealthy Gangnam neighborhood of Seoul:
One of the first things [Adrian Hong, Korean-American consultant] pointed to in explaining the video's subtext was, believe it or not, South Korea's sky-high credit card debt rate. In 2010, the average household carried credit card debt worth a staggering 155 percent of their disposable income (for comparison, the U.S. average just before the sub-prime crisis was 138 percent). There are nearly five credit cards for every adult ...Gangnam, Hong said, is a symbol of [the materialism] of South Korean culture. The neighborhood is the home of some of South Korea's biggest brands, as well as $84 billion of its wealth, as of 2010. That's seven percent of the entire country's GDP in an area of just 15 square miles. A place of the most conspicuous consumption, you might call it the embodiment of South Korea's one percent ...
Indeed, in the making-of featurette, Psy says that "Human society is so hollow, and even while filming I felt pathetic."
This seems like pretty rudimentary stuff, but it's evidently all but unheard of in Korea. Pop music is typically toothless and devoid of any meaning, and purposefully so — artists can get fined by the government for producing songs that contain "inappropriate content." So this bizarre song might represent Korean pop's plunge into the cultural criticism arena. In other words, that ridiculous video we scoffed at with our co-workers at lunch break is actually a more nuanced take on conspicuous consumption and materialism in Korea. Go figure. See for yourself in the video below.
Related 'Gangnam Style' stories on MNN:
- NASA spoofs 'Gangnam Style' video
- DIY robots dance 'Gangnam Style'
- Gangnam fever 'just the beginning' for new Korean wave
This story was originally written for TreeHugger. Copyright 2012.