The Gangnam Style! sensation is all over the internet, complete with parodies that both honor and mock the original. This first video is the original, which in a few short months received well over 200 million views on YouTube and shows no signs of slowing down. PSY is a legitimate star, appearing on the Today Show, with Ellen DeGeneres and Saturday Night Live to name a few.
This video is flashy, arrogant and decadent, but in a self-referential style. The goofiness isn’t just unintentional comedy, but part of the intended critique of the song. Still, the playful absurdity has made this a perfect target for parodies (including Saturday Night Live), and it’s infectiousness is difficult to explain or quantify still Korean rap has never had such an impact on the global scene (who ever never of ANY Korean rapper before this?). My cultural geography class has been discussing the meaning behind this.
Questions to Ponder: Considering the concept of cultural diffusion, what do we make of this phenomenon? What cultural combinations are seen in this? How has the technological innovations changed how cultures interact, spread and are replicated?
This first parody from the SNL crew highlights the inexplicable, highly-infectious nature of a viral pop culture sensation.
The University of Oregon parody put in their own impressive performance:
The Haka performed by the New Zealand rugby team (the “All Blacks”) is itself a combination of traditional and popular culture. Here in this photo mashup, it gets blended into other cultural motifs.
This next one is a dramatic departure from the other parodies, since Korean culture has received so much attention, those creating this parody have taken the opportunity to shine the spotlight on the political oppression in North Korea. Gangnam Style here is a platform for greater global awareness.
In addition to the cultural impact of this video, it is important to look at the economic context of South Koren Music industry (as this NPR podcast nicely does).
Now to the original context of the video. PSY’s continual reference to Gangnam, is important: it’s an affluent neighborhood in Seoul, South Korea. The entire video can be seen as mocking reference to the disproportionate social influence that the neighborhood has in South Korea. The infographic below notes that Gangnam a neighborhood of only 15 square miles, accounts for 7% of the NATIONAL economy. The most elite university in South Korea, Seoul University has 41% of its students coming from Gangnam. Major corporations such as Samsung, LG and Hyundai are headquartered there. An article in the Atlantic also examined the subtext within this video. Does this change geographic context change our interpretation of Gangnam Style and the intention of PSY’s work?
For additional context, here is the full infographic.