What exactly IS the message of PSY's "Gangnam Style" and what does it say about gender or dating? 싸이의 강남 스타일은 젠더나 데이트문화에 대해 어떤 메시지를 전달하려고 하고있습니까?

싸이의 강남스타일 본후에 젠더에 대해 얘기합시다. 

The hit music video has shown all over the world, and is a consistent chart topper in Korea. Given the choice of ironic settings for scenes in the music video (kids pool playground, public exercise areas, underground parking lot) and some of the lyrics (downing coffee in "one shot") PSY seems to be playing on stereotypes of the idealized Gangnam Oppa. His message seems to be, even a guy like me can represent all the fun and great qualities you are looking for when dating a Gangnam Oppa. He highlights comedian Grasshopper and generally pokes fun at the Gangnam life and dating scene.

싸이가 강남의 데이트문화에 대해 얘기하며 남성의 성격와 성역할을 평하했다. 
Evaluating the dating scene, PSY has this to say about dating and expecations of men:

"나는 사나이 I’m a guy
점잖아 보이지만 놀 땐 노는 사나이 A guy who seems calm but plays when he plays
때가 되면 완전 미쳐버리는 사나이 A guy who goes completely crazy when the right time comes
근육보다 사상이 울퉁불퉁한 사나이 A guy who has bulging ideas rather than muscles
그런 사나이 That kind of guy"

남성들의 힘보다는 성격와 인식의 중요성을 강조했는 것 같다. 
The main point seems to be that the personality/mind should count rather than muscles, a boyfriend should be calm but fun, and smart.

여자는? 어떻게 평가했다? 
So, is his message about women as ironic?
It is unclear, although the representations of stereotypical men and men's lifestyle seem to be teasing or turn on their heads, women in the video tend to be back-up dancers.Aside from backup dancers, most women in the video are active in exercise, jogging outdoors, doing yoga outdoors, or participating in a tour.
At 1:39 PSY dances amidst a group of women doing yoga outdoors, their Cat-Cow poses are synced to pop to the beat, it could be poking fun at the popularity of yoga and weight loss, but it could just be sexualization of exercising women.

The next scene, opening from 1:41 is the popular dance-off with Grasshopper, but these lyrics immediately follow the yoga scene:

정숙해 보이지만 놀 땐 노는 여자 A girl who looks quiet but plays when she plays
이때다 싶으면 묶었던 머리 푸는 여자 A girl who puts her hair down when the right time comes
가렸지만 웬만한 노출보다 야한 여자 A girl who covers herself but is more sexy than a girl who bares it all
그런 감각적인 여자 A sensible girl like that

여성들의 정숙하고 감각적인 성격의 중요성을 강조했는 것 같다. 하지만 다른 한편으로 뮤직 비디오에서 보여준 여성들 다 운동했하면 지하철에서 김현아의 섹시 댄스하는 걸 반어적인 논평일까? 남자들의 행동은 반어적인 논평인 것 같지만 여성의 행동은 어떻개 이해할 수 있을까? 이해 안 됬다. 이해하려고 9월에 김현아의 응답하는 노래를 보고싶다. 

LA Times coveragage puts their translation of the lyrics in the following context:
"A lady who looks conservative, but knows when to play hard, a lady who knows when to let her hair down, a lady who seems fragile, but sexy at the same time. I am a man's man, I may be conservative, yet I know when to have fun and play hard. A man who can go crazy when the time is right, a man who is bulging with social life instead of bulging with muscles. I am the man. You are beautiful, lovable, yes, you." And so on...
Essentially, the song is about finding the perfect girlfriend who knows when to be refined and when to get wild."
The core message seems to be that sensible personality and (muted? covered?) sex appeal should count rather baring all, a girlfriend should be quiet but able to let loose and be sexy, and sensible. These lyrics don't seem ironic in the context of the video. Rather, they conform very well to gendered expectations of women.

On the other hand, 4Minute's Hyuna dances in the subway adding to the irony of setting (see behavior of women on the subway criticized in the media here). In 2010, Hyuna experienced some controversy in the media when her dances were deemed inappropriate for minors.

Better yet, in mid-September it seems there will be a sequel video and song from Hyuna's point of view, perhaps this will give us an opportunity to see what the message about women and dating will be.

2012.08.10 Update: I came across an interesting alternative idea that I had not yet considered. Is PSY's ironic portrayal of Gangnam Oppa also criticizing (the stereotypical Gangnam Oppa's) view of women and contradictory standards that women are held to when dating (to be covered up and sexy, to be quiet and wild)? This could be another possibility to evaluate the lyrics, particularly the set I quoted above, but I am still eager to see they Hyuna follow-up video from her perspective.

싸이의 강남 스타일은 젠더나 데이트문화에 대해 어떤 메시지를 전달하려고 하고있습니까? 
What do you think Gangnam Style says about gender or dating? 


  1. Isn't it always easier to change someone else than to change yourself?? Gagnam Oppa suggests to girls that they are missing out on great guys like him because he doesn't tick a checklist of a Gagnam Oppa. By using humour and imaginative dance routines, he demonstrates just how fun he is and how useless that checklist we women supposedly use because all we end up with is muscles.

    This does not however imply that men do not have checklists or that they do not use them. Gagnam Oppa doesn't ask us to rip up the checklists...he just wants his 'specs' added onto it.

    For me, that's the whole point. Of course the girls are not supposed to change. Of course the girls are supposed to stay sexy and sensible. Of course!!! This Oppa has just spent a music video about how much he wants a girl like that...the video has gone viral...for him, it's time to collect the rewards - in the form of sexy sensible girls (maybe even more sexy than sensible for this occasion). How dreadful would it be if the gamble doesn't pay off and he doesn't get a date out of all this with a sexy Gagnam Nuna?

    1. @ Tamara, thanks for pointing out the issue of 'specs' in Korean dating. This is another really good way to think about what the message is, and I agree with you, basically Psy's lyrics say that a guy like him doesn't fit the ideal 'specs' but should be able to date a girl that fits the ideal 'specs' like Hyun-a. He is worthwhile as a dating partner, but as you point out 'of course' he appears with only incredibly attractive high 'spec' women on his arm throughout the video. I think you make a convincing point for why the attitude toward women isn't ironic or subverting gender roles, but rather a average guy wants a high 'spec' woman.

      Also makes me wonder what kind of 'specs' the women in the video are conforming to. I read a post on The Grand Narrative which shared a poster (or image of some kind) from the Korea Slut Walk campaign discussing the 'specs' women and men are judged by for marriage. Here is the link: http://thegrandnarrative.com/2012/07/31/korean-marriage-specs/