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Guide to “Gangnam Style”

Okay, so we’ve all heard it. It’s been on the radio, DT while partying at Flashbacks, on busses from class, on Ellen, the Today show and SNL. Korean rap (known lovingly as just K-rap) is taking over the American airwaves one silly hip thrust and horsey gallop at a time.

And as Americans, most of us don’t know nearly as much about Asian culture as we’d like, and while more than enough frat boys sing sounds that sound like the lyrics to Gangnam Style, they probably don’t know what it means. That’s why it’s time we started to explain what you’re singing (or attempting to sing) and the culture that goes along with it.

I’m not trying to claim that I’m an expert, but I like to imagine that the years I’ve spent listening to K-pop, J-rock and watching K-dramas, I understand a bit more than the average American. And I’ll admit, google has helped me out quite a bit with figuring this stuff out. But here it is, your guide to PSY’s “Gangnam Style”.

What is Gangnam?

Gangnam is a district in Seoul, South Korea known as the most affluent area in Seoul. PSY’s described it to be like our Beverly Hills, where the people are just too fabulous for words. So naturally, Gangnam Style is this refined, lavish lifestyle but these people know how to party when it’s time. Think Gossip Girl – they’ve got American Gangnam Style.

Who is PSY, really?

He’s a South Korean rap star who’s been doing this sort of music for a while now – humorous songs with silly dance moves is nothing new for him. He’s been on the scene since his debut in 2001 with his album PSY… From the Psycho World. “Gangnam Style” is off of his newest and sixth album and now he’s known as a star around the world.

What’s the song about?

“Oppan Gangnam style” translates to “Oppa has Gangnam style” and the song is about how PSY has Gangnam style and likes girls with that same style. “A girl who’s warm during the day/ a classy girl who knows how to enjoy the freedom of a cup of coffee/ a girl who’s heart gets hotter when night comes/ a girl with that kind of twist” is the sort he’s looking for because he’s “a guy who’s warm during the day/ a guy who one-shots his coffee before it even cools down/a guy whose heart bursts when night comes”. My favorite line though, is that he’s a guy bulging with ideas rather than muscles – that’s a good guy to be around.

That dance — what’s it about?

On the Ellen Degeneres show, PSY explains that purpose of the dance is to dress classy and dance silly. So when you’re rocking out to “Gangnam Style” make sure that you are in your finery.


What is Oppa?

Oppa is a term of endearment that younger girls use for older guys. It’s typically translated as “Big brother” but it’s not used only for big brothers but for close friends and sometimes even boyfriends. Being Oppa for a girl is a big deal – it means she thinks you’re amazing, pretty much.

That little kid is so cute!! Is he PSY’s little brother?

The night before filming the MV (music video) for “Gangnam Style” PSY had been watching Korea’s Got Talent and this kid was on the show dancing. Everyone loved his dancing skills so much that PSY called the kid’s parents and asked if he would be in the video. Amazingly enough, he made it to the shoot the next day and has become one of the best parts of the music video.

And what about this new Gangnam Style with the girl?

On August 14, a song called “Oppa is Just My Style” has been released with a female artist singing along with PSY, this performer is Hyuna from the K-pop group 4Minute and a former member of the Wonder Girls. The reviews for this version are mixed on youtube, but you have to realize that Hyuna is a giant star in Korea and she was in the original music video dancing. This new version sports Hyuna making fun of the way the girls in the Gangnam area speak, so before you go to watch the video and join the legions of people complaining about the way she sounds, know that it’s a joke – just like the song’s original video and pretty much everything about this song.

Hopefully this helps to make more sense of the song that’s sweeping across the Binghamton campus like wildfire and hopefully when you go out and sing the sounds, you’re a little more educated about the random syllables coming from your mouths. So have fun, Binghamton, and remember — oppan Gangnam style!

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Carmen Rey


Born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1991, Carmen Rey moved to Akron, Ohio as a kid and attended Our Lady of the Elms High School, a small all-girls high school in Akron. After graduating with a class of 28, Carmen attended Kent State University for a year before doing the National Student Exchange program to Binghamton University where she transferred the following year. While at Binghamton, she found a place at the Binghamton Her Campus Branch as a contributing writer. The following year she became Profiles Editor and spent a semester studying abroad in London through Binghamton University's Semester-in-London program. Now she's a senior and the Campus Correspondent of the Binghamton University Branch, majoring in English Literature and Rhetoric as well as blogging on BU's admissions blog.
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