Gangnam Style In Context: A Global Phenomenon In Appreciation of Irony?

If you are among the youtube watching masses, music enthusiasts or otherwise avid followers of popular culture, then you are likely among the close to 900 million viewers and counting who have seen this video by prolific South Korean superstar hip hop artist Psy:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9bZkp7q19f0
What kind of content could possibly overtake Justin Bieber (who held the previous YouTube record) in global popularity?  At first glance, this journey through ridiculousness:  a  mixture of late 90’s and early 2000’s “bling”-oriented, sexist hip hop with a bit of Napoleon dynamite sprinkled in, might seem a bit behind the times, albeit entertaining.

But on closer look at the context, it gets more interesting.
Lets start with what the heck “Gangnam Style” means.  It refers to a subculture  lifestyle associated with the Gangnam district in Seoul, Korea.  Think Beverly Hills 90210.  However, this part of town has really only recently “come up”.  Up until about the 1980’s it was actually one of Seoul’s least developed districts, but due to intensely rapid development over the past 30-ish years has become the most populated district in Seoul and is now one of the most affluent and influiential areas in South Korea.

It is a city very popular with the U.S. military and global financial and  diplomatic community:  having hosted hundreds of U.S. military personnel events as well as the 2010 G 20 Summit and 2012 Nuclear security summit.  It also boasts local headquarter representation for global corporations like Google, IBM and Toyota among other bustling domestic and international businesses.  The bustling economy has made real estate a bit ridiculous (an average apartment costs over $5,500 a month in rent) drawing a largely affluent population.

The prosperity and trendiness of Gangnam are the central focus of the song and Psy’s video: featuring him dancing “horsey style”on top of landmarks like Seoul’s world trade center and even in horsey stables, the subway and high-end nightclubs complete with pin lights through haze!  🙂  And lets not forget all the well dressed “sexy ladies”.

But if you ask this anthropologist what’s really happening here, I will tee it up to the popularity of Irony.  If you look at all the global youth, young adult and lifestyle trends, they all point to an appreciation and prioritization of balance:  with regard to finances as well as lifestyle.  People are decidedly more well-rounded, wellness-minded, pragmatic and appreciative of the simple things and traditions that both bring us happiness and remind us of our humanity.

The tone of this music video, while seeming to “glorify” an affluent, shallow lifestyle, does more to poke fun at excess than anything.  The cartoon-like nature of the characters and mocking dance moves (horsey ride?) can only logically be assumed to be tongue in cheek – and very “hipster chic”.

I encourage you to have a look at the international pop sensation and form an opinion of your own.  I will promise you, however, that even if you don’t see the irony you will at bare minimum be entertained – like if you were watching a bullfight or a train wreck.  In either case, you might be horrified but generally speaking unable to turn away.

Ironic indeed.

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