Culture, Pop — February 13, 2013 at 1:03 pm

Do you know about “Gangnam Style”?


Psy’s hit song “Gangnam Style” clocked more than one billion views and made history as the most-watched video on YouTube. And while the huge viral success of Psy‘s hit has created a whole genre of jockey-based dance moves, you should know that Gangnam is a place, too.

“Gangnam” means “south (nam) of the river (gang)” in Korean. Gangnam is the icon of the rapid economic development of South Korea in the 70s and 80s and has become the richest area in the entire South Korea. Seoul is the capital of Korea yet Gangnam is, as Psy says, the capital of Seoul.

Gangnam is an upmarket shopping area, home to the enormous underground COEX mall (where part of the video was filmed), as well as the tree-lined street in Sinsa-dong which caters to unique cultural tastes and artistic sensibilities, and nearby boutique-lined streets of Apgujeong-dong and Cheongdam-dong. This area has a good nightlife but is quite different from places like Hongdae and Itaewon for the sheer opulence of the customers. There are a number of clubs but a large number of them are jazz clubs, expensive wine bars, and so on.

You can also see more Western brands than Korean ones in Gangnam – imagine BMW, Jaguar or Audi cars and advertisements on the street instead of Hyundai or Kia. Restaurants, coffee shops and wine bars can also be found with hints of Western culture influences. Groups of young, well-dressed teens are usually in the area mingling with the super-rich crowd of the city.

As Psy refers to Gangnam style, this song is poking fun at the need to appear wealthy, and therefore cool in Gangnam. This idea of cool is linked to the westernization of what being cool means: drinking coffee, playing tennis, or doing yoga – which are all overpriced in Korea. Now you understand why Psy is making fun of himself in the song for acting like a true Gangnam man as a way to attract a sexy lady.

Based in Seoul, Lindsay Bae oversees the Korean operations for Valleyarm and is digging the Korean music scene for Music Weekly.