Where does Gangnam Style come from?
Gangnam Style is named after Gangnam, a district of Seoul, South Korea. Gangnam means “south of the river,” and as might be expected, the neighborhood falls south of the Han river in the capital city. But Gangnam is famous for much more than its location: it’s been one of the richest and most glamorous places in Seoul. According to the Guardian in 2012, it accounts for almost 10% of the country’s land value, and is full of upmarket shops. Its status as a location for conspicuous consumption makes it a symbol of materialism for many South Koreans.
And it’s this district that Psy references in his song Gangnam Style. Released in July 15, 2012, the hit single details the singer’s search for a woman who’s his type (and why he himself is a good catch), and the chorus boasts of his association with a luxurious, fashionable Gangnam lifestyle.
The song was released with a music video featuring a distinctive dance which the artist has called the “horse dance.” It consists of shuffling the feet with the legs bowed. The hands are crossed at the wrist and flicked as if holding reins of a horse.
While only Korean music news sources were covering it right after its release, Gangnam Style and its video, had skyrocketed in popularity across the globe by the end of summer 2012, and went on to become one of the most viral videos in internet history. The song has become so popular that YouTube had to upgrade its hit counter to accommodate it in 2014. At the time of the upgrade, it had been viewed over 2,147,483,647 times—the maximum number it was possible for YouTube to register. As of 2017, the video was the most watched video on YouTube of all time, nearing three billion views.
Who uses Gangnam Style?
Gangnam Style’s popularity inspired countless parodies and imitations performed by everyone from athletes to astronauts—many of these becoming viral or spawning new memes in their own right.
The song’s lyrics have generated controversy, with some holding that they’re a criticism of Korean consumerism. However the artist Psy has said the song was just for fun. In part, due to confusion over the song’s lyric “oppan Gangnam style” (with oppan meaning “big brother” in Korean), its lyrics also generated a snowclone (a sort of phrasal template), oppan x style, where the user can insert any word they choose to create a new meaning.
The sensation’s popularity has led to the phrase the new Gangnam Style to describe a similarly popular music video. A viral music video, particularly one that has the same sense of silliness and strong musical catchiness the original does, can be called the new Gangnam Style, so synonymous has Gangnam Style become with viral content.
“"I already oopad the gangnam style" #PastTenseSongs”
Life @LifeDidThis Twitter (March 23, 2017)
“Thursday after the footy, we're Gangnam Styling it up! #9NRLFootyShow”
NRL Footy Show Facebook (March 28, 2017)
“Add nonsensical lyrics and a dance routine to a catchy beat, have it delivered by a middle-aged man in a zany outfit, and you have your next 'Gangnam Style'.”
Yusuf Huysal, “Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen is the new Gangnam Style,” Time Out (September 28, 2016)