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Gangnam Style, Dissected: The Subversive Message Within South Korea's Music Video Sensation

Stashed in: Celebrities, Wealth!, Korea, Awesome, Music Videos!, Pwnies!, inequality, KPop JPop, Music Videos, Conspicuous Consumption, Korea

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Beneath the catchy dance beat and hilarious scenes of Seoul's poshest neighborhood, there might be a subtle message about wealth, class, and value in South Korean society.

awesome article. I wonder if the American education of Psy has more to do with his ability to cross over than the message.

I think so:

"No one here in the U.S. has any idea what Psy is rapping about."

Psy is pointing out the ridiculousness of materialism, as exemplified by Starbucks:

This skewering of the Gangnam life can be easy to miss for non-Korean. Psy boasts that he's a real man who drinks a whole cup of coffee in one gulp, for example, insisting he wants a women who drinks coffee. "I think some of you may be wondering why he's making such a big deal out of coffee, but it's not your ordinary coffee," U.S.-based Korean blogger Jea Kim wrote at her site, My Dear Korea. (Her English-subtitled translation of the video is at right.) "In Korea, there's a joke poking fun at women who eat 2,000-won (about $2) ramen for lunch and then spend 6,000 won on Starbucks coffee." They're called Doenjangnyeo, or "soybean paste women" for their propensity to crimp on essentials so they can over-spend on conspicuous luxuries, of which coffee is, believe it or not, one of the most common. "The number of coffee shops has gone up tremendously, particularly in Gangnam," Hong said. "Coffee shops have become the place where people go to be seen and spend ridiculous amounts of money."

Conspicuous consumption is mockable in a society where 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).

"Gangnam Style" is similar in theme and music to Aqua's "Barbie Girl":

Pop music skewering superficial ostentatious displays of wealth are not unique to Korea and Denmark.

For example, Moon Unit Zappa did it in the U.S. with "Valley Girl":

And of course there's Madonna's "Material Girl":