“PSY does something in his video that few other artists, Korean or otherwise, do: He parodies the wealthiest, most powerful neighborhood in South Korea. Sure, he uses physical humor to make it seemingly about him, a man who wants to project glamour but keeps falling short. All of his mannerisms, from the curled upper lip to a sinister neck-stretching move, come from the repertoire of a rich playboy, and in his hands, they become a little laughable. But ultimately, by declaring ‘Oppa [essentially, ‘big brother’] is Gangnam Style,’ he turns the lens on Gangnam, getting specific about power and privilege in a country where a single district has long dominated in almost every arena.”
Other writers have compared Seoul’s Gangnam district to Beverly Hills or the Upper West Side, but Hong clarifies that this is a weak parallel. “Gangnam has no real equivalent in the United States,” she writes. “The closest approximation would be Silicon Valley, Wall Street, Beverly Hills, Manhattan’s Upper East Side, and Miami Beach all rolled into one.” It’s a 15-square-mile neighborhood whose astronomically pricy real estate makes it more valuable than all of Busan, Korea’s second-largest city, put together. All of Seoul’s major transportation lines converge there. All of Korea’s biggest and most influential companies are headquartered there. All of the wealthiest scions of Korea’s superclans — the families that run the egregiously powerful conglomerates known as chaebol, which include global brands like Samsung and Hyundai — live there. And, as Hong points out, 41 percent of attendees to prestigious Seoul University come from Gangnam: “Imagine if 41 percent of Harvard University undergrads came from a single neighborhood,” she says. This, in a country with the third-highest level of income disparity among industrialized nations, according to the OECD.