Park Jae-Sang, a.k.a. Psy (short for Psycho), the moderately plump 34-year-old rapper behind the massive international hit Gangnam Style, is not your average South Korean pop star. Not only because he “isn’t very good-looking,” says 24-year-old Canadian-Korean pop fan Leslie Yun, but because “he’s the antithesis of what is popular in Korean pop music right now.” Unlike the perfectly coiffed boy and girl groups topping Korea’s charts, Psy is a master of satire. The subject at the heart of Gangnam Style—which has over 274 million views—is mass consumption in the nouveau riche Seoul neighbourhood of Gangnam where Psy grew up. The average South Korean has five credit cards; by 2010, Korean household debt had reached a staggering 155 per cent of disposable income—higher even than the U.S. just before the subprime crisis. In the music video, Psy does his famous horse dance (which he’s been doing at sports events and award shows ever since) and mocks the phony opulence of his old neighbourhood, replacing confetti with bits of garbage and partying in a parking garage. “Korean culture has always been about saving face,” says Yun, “especially in Gangnam.” Whether a man and his invisible horse will change that, remains to be seen.
Gangnam style debt
Despite the riches seen in the viral video, South Korea has a spending problem