Two weeks a go, my adrenaline was pumping as I was listening to Psy’s “Gangnam Style” with 20,000 other runners at the starting line of Chicago’s Half Marathon. “It’s been over a year since the song came out… Give me a break,” I thought to myself as I was stretching my legs. It hit me then that the viral sensation of the song had impacted so many of us to the point where it was just another pump-up song that 20,000 Chicagoians were all listening to without any notion of confusion. How many of the 20,000 runners that morning knew what Gangnam is?
The Han river runs through the middle of Seoul and divides the city into north and south. River in Korean is gang (강) and south in Korean is nam (남). Hence, Gangnam refers to the general area of the north of the Han river in Seoul. There is also a specific area that is referred to as Gangnam-gu (there are 25 “gu”s that form Seoul) , along with its Gangnam subway station next to a shopping district. There is a general notion, a stereotype per-se, in Korea that the people in Gangnam are rich and well-off. The lyrics of the song portrays a man from Gangnam who is trying to seduce ladies by showing off his wealth by stating that he is “Gangnam style”. The song is a satire that criticizes the gap between the rich and the poor in Seoul.
When Psy was invited to speak at Harvard University (click here to watch the video), he explained that his intentions for writing the song and making a comical music video were to give the Korean audience laughters during the financial crisis that was happening in Korea at the time. He did not see the viral sensation coming at all. Yet, soon he was contacted by an agent in U.S (Scooter, Justin Bieber’s agent) to perform in U.S. as the song quickly caught people’s attention from all over the world. After their conversations about how the song should be approached to the U.S audience, they decided to maintain the Korean lyrics and to not bother translating it into English. The agent believed that the Korean lyrics of the song brought uniqueness and freshness to the U.S audience’s ears. That is how the 20,000 runners that morning listened to “Gangnam Style” without really knowing what Gangnam is.
I finished running 13.1 miles in 2 hr 28 min that day. They say that 14 million people viewed the “Gangnam Style” music video a day in average during July, 2012. That means that during the amount of time it took me to run a half marathon, 1.45 million people could have been listening to a song about where I am from. The number of viewers overwhelms me. It is a hard concept for me to grasp that people from all over the world have heard the word “Gangnam,” without having any clue about what it is. How many times a day do we let media consume us like that? How many times a day do we not ask questions about what we are encountering?