The music video “Gangnam Style” is mesmerizing and addictive. It has lots of color, action, comedy and scene changes. It is entertaining even if you do not speak or understand Korean.
Psy’s video has drawn mass attention by Americans and those in the Western world. “Gangnam Style” has hit No. 2 on the U.S. Billboard chart. It now holds the Guinness World Record for “most liked” video.
Psy (Park Jae-sang) has been singing and performing for the past 11 years without any attention outside of Korea.
He has been well received in Korea since 2001, but in 2012 he has broken out in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Germany, Ireland, Norway, Switzerland, United Kingdom and the United States.
He has appeared on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” “Today” and “Saturday Night Live” among others. He performs live concerts all over Korea.
So many are asking the question, “Why all the crazy attraction now?”
Surely the music is upbeat; it’s good to dance and exercise to. The video is entertaining and theatrical.
However, there is something more that draws people to hear and watch “Gangnam Style” – and it may be the message within in the song.
What Psy does so cleverly in the fast-paced, entertaining song and music video is provide a socioeconomic representation of rich people’s lifestyle in Gangnam, Korea.
I would say it is the subversive message of the song that keeps people watching, dancing, singing, reflecting and writing.
Gangnam is a large, affluent district in Seoul, South Korea. It’s smaller, relatively, than Manhattan, but larger than “midtown Manhattan.”
Thirty years ago, it was the least developed part of Seoul. Now it is the most highly developed part of the city.
Gangnam, a neighborhood south of the river in Seoul, has skyrocketed in the number of rich people residing there.
People in Gangnam live an opulent, over-the-top lifestyle. They dress in designer clothes, wear designer shoes and carry name-brand handbags.
The women tend to look similar with their surgically enhanced faces and bodies. They drive expensive cars. Gangnam has become the most coveted address among Koreans as they strive for this affluence.
And Gangnam has become a microcosm for the rest of the world to examine, critique and evaluate. People around the world have seen what it means to live richly, and they secretly desire a piece of that pie.
The media has led them to believe that living that lifestyle will be fulfilling and enriching because it appears so for those who appear in advertising.
However, Psy’s video plays on the artificiality of this image. Psy ends up lying on a beach chair, which is actually in a kid’s playground. He doesn’t ride real horses; he rides on a merry-go-round. When he walks with two beautiful women, they’re not walking the red carpet; they’re bombarded by trash.
Almost every scene is a critique of the lifestyle being celebrated in Gangnam. It isn’t as wonderful and sumptuous as it is made out to be. Rather, it may be lonely, meaningless, worthless.
Psy even says in an interview about the making of his music video that it is all “hollow.”
What Psy is doing in this video is similar to what some theologians have been proclaiming for the past 20 years.
Theologians have been arguing that our consumerist and over-consuming lifestyle is empty and unfulfilling. We have made consumerism our new religion.
We tithe at the mall and perform the weekly liturgy of “retail therapy.” What seemed like an exciting thing to do has become a mechanical response. Filling our lives with material goods does not fulfill us or enrich us.
Psy delivers a socioeconomic critique and does so in a catchy, playful way through “Gangnam Style.” He does it with an infectious aesthetic that draws people’s attention and makes them rethink their lives.
Perhaps theologians and pastors can learn from him and find different ways to reach out to the masses with the message to turn from our consumerist lifestyle to a lifestyle that seeks the Creator, not the created.
Grace Ji-Sun Kim is associate professor of doctrinal theology at Moravian Theological Seminary.