I didn't realize HOW popular this song was until Psy was on the Ellen show with Britney Spears. (That was weird). Anyway, the song is really subversive and is actually poking fun at some pretty ingrained parts of Korean culture. Being perfect, beautiful, "seen" is rather like Hollywood, I suppose, but in a tiny country like the ROK, with a Confucian tradition and a whole lot of group think, the pressure to be perfect, beautiful, and seen is more intense.
The Kpop "wave" has been led predominantly by Big Bang and Girls' Generation. They are both groups that follow Korean kpop formula (perfect and beautiful with specific "roles" for each member of the group) and that are pretty strongly led by the nose by their companies. They also are about as exciting as wonder white bread. For the record, I do really like Big Bang. I don't know whether they have better folks working with them or they are pushier about being more creative but they do have something the other bands don't - that "thing" that stars have.
Back to the song... Gangnam is the expensive part of Korea. It is like Beverly Hills - many of the Hallyu stars live there, it's the priciest real estate in the country, drinks can be up to $30 a pop at the club. There is a VVIP room everywhere. People go there to be seen. They spend all their money on Louis Vuitton bags and have cheap underclothes. They spend $7 or $8 on a cup of coffee in the right place and live on rice and kimchi. The song itself is poking fun at these kinds of people. Psy is dressed to kill, but where is he? It looks like he's at the sauna where big wigs do business deals, but he's there with a couple of mobsters (the tattoos give it away). He's supposed to be at the beach but he's really at a playground. He is around horses, but what does he ride? The Merry-Go-Round. This is what makes it so subversive and fabulous. It's just not DONE to say anything negative about the ROK and it's just not DONE to make fun of your "betters" (and that's how wealthy people are seen). The fact that this older, imperfect, unattractive, and fat man is the face of Korea to the world is a just icing on the subversive cake. (by the way, I think he's fabulous and attractive and NOT fat.... Koreans don't think that though.)
Thought you'd want a little background on this fabulous song. Maybe Psy is the Bob Dylan / John Lennon of Korea? Maybe Korea will actually break out of its plastic shell? Maybe the ROK will realize that perfect is perfectly boring. Maybe people will discover creativity here in the Land of the Morning Calm?
Time will tell.
(Photo from Han Cinema)