Gangnam Style Goes Global

by Translation Guy on August 31, 2012

It’s Beverly Hills, South Korean-style. And the break-out hit for Korean pop maverik PSY, in the voice of a generation gone global. Korean rapper Jae-Sang Park, a/k/a PSY, yanks the chain of wannabes everywhere and comes up with some crazy cowboy moves for a single with more than  with over 50 million hits on Youtube.

“Gangnam means, it’s like Beverly Hills of Korea,” PSY told ABC News. “But the guy doesn’t look like Beverly Hills. Dance doesn’t look like Beverly Hills. … And the situation in music video doesn’t look like Beverly Hills. But he keeps saying I’m Beverly Hills style. So that’s the point. It’s sort of a twist.”

PSY has been travelling in the US, the Los Angeles Times reported, and was spotted last Monday night at a Los Angeles Dodgers baseball game.  So, they played this silly Korean rap song and the fans started dancing in the stands.

Max Fisher at The Atlantic has provided a masterful analysis of what the song really means in translation. He says it’s subversive. Subversive my eye.

Note to Max: When a pop song goes #1, it becomes co-opted and no longer counts as subversive. But aside from that single small detail, Fisher provides an insightful look at the meaning behind the translation. He draws on a detailed and thoughtful analysis of the song by blogger Jae Kim of Onsemiro who provides plenty of translator notes.

Here’s the song with her English subtitles and with accompanying notes on meaning here.  “The song is a comic satire about people who bluff, pretending to be rich and trendy,” she writes.

When PSY says he’s looking for a classy coffee-drinking lady, he’s referring to a joke about women who eat $2 ramen for lunch in order to afford a $6 Starbucks coffee in the morning.

Pudgy PSY turns out to be just a poser in the video. The exclusive beach is revealed as a city playground, the red carpet is in a parking garage, and equestrian sports end at the merry-go-round. PSY “keeps saying he lives the Gangnam style, but he’s far from it.”

“He was satirizing more than just this one neighborhood,” Jae Kim told Fisher. On her blog, she suggested the video portrayed the Gangnam area, a symbol of South Korea’s national aspirations for prosperity and status, as “nothing but materialistic and about people who are chasing rainbows.”

The PSY syndrome, which began at home, is spreading quickly, intoxicating music fans around the world with the song’s funky beat and comical dance moves, and has beat out Justin Bieber on iTunes.

The video features the maverick singer-songwriter’s trademark performance as a third-rate  lounge singer which has made him a long-time Korean favorite. The new song was also composed and written by the singer.

“My motto is ‘be funny but not stupid,'” PSY said in an interview with the Yonhap News Agency earlier this month.

“I think the humor targeted for social outsiders reflected throughout the song, dance and music video really hit the bull’s eye,” he said. This probably marks the first time a made-in-Korea meme has achieved this kind of global resonance. There is a universal language of absurdity that always seems to require no translation at all. Gagnam style! Here’s the video. I haven’t found any great covers yet, post links in comments if you see something you like.


  1. Hiya, I am really glad I’ve found this info. Nowadays bloggers publish just about gossips and internet and this is actually frustrating. A good web site with interesting content, this is what I need. Thanks for keeping this website, I will be visiting it. Do you do newsletters? Cant find it.

  2. That is one of the greatest gifs I’ve ever seen

  3. My girlfriend is Korean and she won’t stop playing this song, it’s driving me insane.

  4. Somebody beat Justin Beiber, I’m afraid to click play

    • Boss says:

      Just what the doctor oderred, thankity you!

  5. Kini Cosma says:

    I can buy the subversive angle, popularity doesn’t necessarily rob it of that.

  6. When a pop song goes #1, it becomes co-opted and no longer counts as subversive. Truer words have never been spoken.

  7. Rob says:

    I’m not sure what that was, or how I should feel about, but it was amusing.

  8. Tina says:

    I actually like it, and I haven’t liked a pop song in over a decade.

    • Ken says:

      Could you kindly post a cover featuring your dance interpretation, Tina? Thanks in advance.

  9. Funny translates into any language, and this guy is hilarious.

  10. Gaurav Sinha says:

    I’m genuinely surprised that even in this day and age, with our globalized world, that a song sung in Korean has become such a hit. Usually, and pardon the pun, these things don’t translate.

    • Ken says:

      Silly dancing is the universal language.

    • Sumah says:

      There is a universality to music, that even tghuoh we may not understand the lyrics at first listen, seeing what the lyrics represent is not a surprising discovery. We knew already it seems. What a great song.

  11. Sara Ellis says:

    The music, the dancing, the clothes…its all amzing

  12. I think everyones motto should echo PSY’s, be funny not stupid is some o the best advice ever.

  13. Elvin Capria says:

    Actually, this is a pretty bad post. Bad grammar, a lot of words are spelled wrong. Try again!

  14. Frank says:

    Google English to Arabic and Arabic to English translation rilees on proper Arabic. Not by dialects. The translation techniques used by Google rely on the statistical machine translation method. This method studies large amounts of translated texts and culture proper translation. Google used UN’s translated text archives as a source for statistical analysis.

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