By Joeun Lee
“Can I get a grande caramel macchiato, please?” She orders a 5900 won (the currency of South Korea) Starbucks coffee, worth fourth times the price of the ramen she had for lunch today. She opens her Louis Vuitton wallet– stuffed with coupons from Coffee Beans, Caffe Bene, Angel in-us Coffee and Tom and Toms coffee shop. She hands the cashier her credit card. She takes the hot macchiato and walks up to the third floor of the three-story Starbucks.
The little college girl sits by the window through which a four-story beauty salon is seen next to a two-story skin clinic.
She takes a picture of the cooling macchiato with her pink-covered iPhone and posts it on her Facebook — “what a sweet and peaceful moment at Gangnam!”
It’s common to see girls like this during the day in the Gangnam District in Seoul, South Korea. The Gangnam District is about two-thirds the size of Manhattan. Yes, this is the same Gangnam in PSY’s “Gangnam Style,” which has become an international super hit.
Beyond the catchy beat, “Gangnam Style’s,” lyrics pinpoint Korean popular culture – what Koreans value and how they live everyday life.
Gangnam, meaning, “South of the Han River,” is an opulent district in Seoul, South Korea. It used to be a slum like any other area in Seoul until 1960s. Before that, South Korea was still struggling from economic crisis and recovering from war with North Korea.
Since the 1970s, Gangnam had been developed by bulldozing houses of the poor and replacing the area with high-story apartments.
In 10 years, Gangnam housed 5 million families. A real estate bubble was created, along with overnight fortunes and an obsession for overpriced private education in Gangnam.
“One goes to Gangnam followed by his friend.” — It’s a famous proverb in South Korea. People slam Gangnam for its predatory legacy while at the same time, they want to be part of it too.
It’s common in Gangnam to see girls who wear caps or sunglasses to hide recovering scars from multiple plastic surgeries — eyes, forehead, nose and jaw.
Gangnam is known for its big-brand companies, plastic surgery clinics and skin care shops. It’s also notorious for its prostitution business that has been implicitly accepted for the sake of its economy.
Many South Koreans want to adjust themselves into the mainstream without really knowing what it really means to be “Gangnam Style.”
This is the mentality in PSY’s “Gangnam Style.”
If you look at his music video, you may just see how PSY embodies the “Gangnam Style” stereotype. But if you listen to the lyrics, it’s more focused on girls that “the Gangnam style” “Obba”(men) like.
— “Because I’m a man of this style,so, I like this kind of girl.”
In its lyrics, this is the type of girls Gangnam Obba likes:
— “A girl who is kind and humane, and enjoy a cup of coffee in nobleness during the day,
but, changed to a hot and sexy girl at night.”
–“A girl who is a traditional church girl, but knows how to be a party girl, when is perfect time to lay down her hair (considered a sensual moment for a man) and who looks more sensual with her body not exposed out so much.”
What’s such a big deal about a girl drinking a cup of coffee?
South Koreans have not grown with a culture of coffee but instead with a society with hard-working families. Having time for a cup of coffee used to be considered luxurious.
It’s been only about a decade since South Koreans started sipping coffee, since Starbucks introduced espresso in South Korea in 1999. Coffee stores are gathered near houses in western countries so that people don’t have to brew coffee in their home. Coffee stores in South Korea are located in popular places to meet — where expensive imported brand stores are located — and of course, in Gangnam.
Now, about 42 percent of big-brand coffee stores in Seoul are densely located in Gangnam.
It is phenomenal.
Young ladies mostly occupy two or three- story expensive brand coffee stores, not even finishing their coffee. Honestly, coffee itself was never an addictive or enjoyable thing for them. A phenomenal phrase referring to ladies appeared in Seoul: ladies who dare pay for a cup of coffee while she eats a meal at half price of her coffee.
What is it about sipping a cup of coffee for ladies? – “I’m financially free so I’m enjoying the nobleness of sipping a cup of coffee in my leisure time, isn’t that fancy?”
Enjoying a coffee is harmonized well with a traditional “meek” lady because they care about what they are expected to care about as a girl with leisure time for coffee– a chat with girl friends about make-up brands, how to care for facial skins and skinny body-shape, as they hold a cup of coffee in their hands.
But it’s contradicting.
The traditional meek lady can never be a party girl with the Confucian morality that most South Korean ladies grew up with.
Many girls lie to their parents in order to go to clubs that they would come home late from.
In modern South Korean families, girls are also taught to be active and independent. Yet, parents stereotypically frown upon a lady who actively dashes to a man, talks too much or dances very well, as the ladies themselves do.
The coexistence of these two contradicting moralities appears in the music video — PSY does a horse dance in front of a set of two old-fashioned grandfathers playing a traditional game and with a middle-aged woman on a tourist bus.
There is not an appropriate concept of being an urban and modern girl, yet.
PSY said in an appearance on the Ellen DeGeneres show while teaching the horse dance, “Dress classy, act cheesy.”
It’s a hollow duality. It’s hollow like a young girl who has no more fun than drinking a cup of coffee and carrying an empty Gucci bag. It’s duality like a girl who lies to their parents to go clubbing while trying to be a “gentle” party girl in clubs.
But, nothing is bluffed in this music video – a raw scene of Seoul subway, women, not men, doing Yoga and jogging in front of the Han River by Gangnam’s overpriced apartment village.
PSY wanted to play in the face of reality.
What are we following so badly? Seriously.
We are confused. Let’s just run, like a horse.