In search of real Gangnam style

The Gangnam in the title of the global hit by South Korean rapper Psy is Seoul's wealthiest residential and shopping district, lined with luxury boutiques, top-end bars, night clubs and restaurants frequented by celebrities.

But even among those Koreans who live or party regularly in Gangnam, which literally and unglamorously translates as "south of the river", there is little consensus on what constitutes the district's signature style.

Translating the song's lyrics, which some see as satirising the district's self-importance and ostentatious wealth, offers little in the way of concrete insights.

In Gangnam Style Psy sings about being the "guy who downs boiling coffee in one shot" and who "goes completely crazy when the right time comes".

Kwon Yu-Bi, a 23-year-old student and Gangnam nightlife regular, said the song was less about any particular place and more about a new-found hedonism in Asia's fourth-largest economy.

"Gangnam is just a symbolic place and I think the song really reflects Korea, where young people, including myself, enjoy a hectic and crazy night out," Kwon said.

Showing off
A Gangnam residential address doesn't come cheap, with the average apartment price – even with Seoul going through an extended real estate slump – set at around $720 000.

One particular street, lined on both sides with outlets of global luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Cartier and Prada has been compared to Rodeo Drive of Beverly Hills in California.

For Kim Hoo-Yeon (23) the real Gangnam style equates to nothing more than an obsession with conspicuous consumption.

"Every time I go to Gangnam, I feel people come to show off how much money they have," she said.


"I don't even feel it's worthwhile labelling it 'Gangnam style'," agreed 29-year-old Park Seong-Jun, who said the place was simply a magnet for anyone who could afford to go on a "crazy money-spending spree".

The video that launched Psy and Gangnam Style to global fame and has notched up nearly 500-million views on YouTube certainly appears to poke fun at the district's image of idle affluence.

Superficiality
It features the rapper breezing through a world of speed boats, yoga classes and exclusive clubs – all the while performing an eccentric horse-riding dance accompanied by beautiful models.

The implied emphasis on superficiality over substance is reinforced by the fact that the real Gangnam is well-known for celebrity-frequented plastic surgery clinics.

But Kim Soo-Mi (49) who works as a pharmacist and has lived in Gangnam for 15 years, believes the image is a false one.

"It's a pity that only the negative sides of Gangnam have been known through the song, since there's so much more to the area than that," said Kim, who sees her neighbourhood as sophisticated rather than glamorous.

"When I visit other areas, that's when I really feel Gangnam is a trendsetter – not just for fashion but for lifestyle in general," she said.

And JH Lim, the owner of a high-end restaurant in the area, said Gangnam's style was one of refined taste that appealed to a mature clientele.

"If someone's looking for fast-paced fun and energy, there are other places in Seoul for that. Gangnam is more for high-profile adults, who want to enjoy the luxury and exclusivity", the 55-year-old entrepreneur said. – Sapa-AFP

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Advertising

ConCourt settles the law on the public protector and interim...

The Constitutional Court said it welcomed robust debate but criticised the populist rhetoric in the battle between Busisiwe Mkhwebane and Minister Pravin Gordhan

Small towns not ready for level 3

Officials in Beaufort West, which is on a route that links the Cape with the rest of the country, are worried relaxed lockdown regulations mean residents are now at risk of contracting Covid-19
Advertising

Press Releases

Covid-19 and Back to School Webinar

If our educators can take care of themselves, they can take care of the children they teach

5G technology is the future

Besides a healthcare problem Covid-19 is also a data issue and 5G technology, with its lightning speed, can help to curb its spread

JTI off to court for tobacco ban: Government not listening to industry or consumers

The tobacco ban places 109 000 jobs and 179 000 wholesalers and retailers at risk — including the livelihood of emerging farmers

Holistic Financial Planning for Professionals Webinar

Our lives are constantly in flux, so it makes sense that your financial planning must be reviewed frequently — preferably on an annual basis

Undeterred by Covid-19 pandemic, China and Africa hold hands, building a community of a shared future for mankind

It is clear that building a community with a shared future for all mankind has become a more pressing task than ever before

Wills, Estate Administration and Succession Planning Webinar

Capital Legacy has had no slowdown in lockdown regarding turnaround with clients, in storing or retrieving wills and in answering their questions

Call for Expression of Interest: Training supply and needs assessment to support the energy transition in South Africa

GIZ invites eligible and professional companies with local presence in South Africa to participate in this tender to support the energy transition

Obituary: Mohammed Tikly

His legacy will live on in the vision he shared for a brighter more socially just future, in which racism and discrimination are things of the past

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday