Gangnam Style hits 90m views: Understanding the viral phenomenon

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I was amazed the first time I read a post on Facebook from a friend back home in South Africa spreading the viral video that has become Gangnam Style. At first I thought that the Psy’s Gangnam Style was just another Korean Pop (K-Pop) one hit wonder in South Korea. The catchy song is a satire concerning current Korean consumerism and has soared past the 90-million views mark on YouTube.

K-Pop is part of Korea’s much sought after K-Pop soft-power image which is one of the reasons Psy’s song has been able to stand out from the rest. At first the song struck me as strange because it stood out from the rest of Korea’s K-Pop trend. The artist, Park Jaesang (A.K.A Psy), is overweight and does not represent the slim and beautiful K-Pop stars roaming the Korean charts month after month. He has been busted for marijuana and has avoided the Korean’s mandatory military service.

The song is also about people pursuing this luxurious lifestyle as the scenes in the video suggest. It shows Psy as a hotshot in a number of seemingly exuberant and luxurious settings only to find out that the scene is pretty mundane when the camera pans out.

The artist is himself a parody of 21st century Culture in Korea. It has become characterized by its people’s beauty and its consumerist lifestyle. Through the overwhelming advertisements promoting youth and beauty to the smartphone crowds obsessed with their appearances as they groom themselves using their phones as mirrors in the subways. Park’s satirical song points at these features and uses the Gangnam area as the pinnacle of Korea’s current trends.

Gangnam is a wealthy area of Seoul known for its luxurious crowds concerned with shopping, slim girls and coffee shops. South Korea has become the world’s 11th largest coffee market as the number of coffee shops increased more than 50% between 2011 and 2012. Park refers to this in his song when he says “A classy girl who know how to enjoy the freedom of a cup of coffee” (Translated). He pokes fun at the women who would rather pay a couple bucks for a cheap meal in order to enjoy the conspicuous luxuries available such as Starbucks coffees. These women are known as “doenjangnyeo”, a term used to describe people blindly pursuing brand names and luxuries.

As the usual viral effects ripple through the web, so Gangnam Style has seen its fair share of parodies. Each parody concerned with its local area or town. Song titles have been sprouting up, going as far as Nerdy Style and Hongdae Style which is an area known for its urban and nightlife culture. These parodies have created a stir in and of themselves.

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