“Oppa is Gangnam style
In 2012, Psy turned into an instant YouTube sensation with the catchy song, “Gangnam Style“. And even if, very few truly understood what or what about he was singing; Gangnam would soon become Seoul’s top tourist draw. Back then, neither the beat nor lyrics particularly appealed to me and I couldn’t understand the need for the repeated attention it got. An internet search revealed the song was a parody of one of the hippest districts in Seoul.
In Psy’s words,
“People who are actually from Gangnam never proclaim that they are—it’s only the posers and wannabes that put on these airs and say that they are “Gangnam Style”—so this song is actually poking fun at those kinds of people who are trying very hard to be something that they’re not.”
While the song garnered global attention and put Gangnam on the global map; for me, it failed to draw attention to what it was trying to say and became a parody in itself. Although, I did try dancing to the steps of the song (guided by Basil’s Korean colleague) — with mismatched hand and leg movements — at a friend’s wedding. Gangnam Style, parody or not, still wasn’t happening for me.
In 2015, on my first trip to Seoul, we managed to squeeze in a visit to Gangnam — at the end of our trip. I felt it was a glitzy, busy neighbourhood with a fantastic underground shopping centre. But, I still couldn’t get what the parody was about.
A year later, we moved to Seoul. During the first few months, as we hunted for apartments, we became more aware of the famous neighbourhoods in Seoul. Gangnam with its sprawling business centers, cosmetic clinics, book stores, vegan cafes, pubs, language exchanges, and plethora of coffee shops was high on any expat’s list. Finally, Psy’s song slowly seemed to make more sense. Eventually, we chose to live on the opposite side, in a relatively quiet area, due to it’s proximity to the business district Basil’s work place was located in. Reaching Gangnam involves a 45 minute or longer subway ride for me. So, I think, I might have visited it only 4 or 5 times in the past year.
To truly get a feel for Gangnam and its much talked about style, you need to take a walk around. On a warm summer’s day with blue skies and powder puff clouds; each building facade transforms into a mirror of Gangnam’s core philosophy — upscale, modern Seoul.
The COEX, Convention and Exhibition Centre is a sprawling complex perfect for business conferences and exhibitions. Walking inside the maze of connecting floors and conference rooms can be quite intimidating. Although, it won’t be hard spotting a coffee shop — located conveniently — to take a break from all the walking.
The Hyundai Department Store can be accessed from COEX or the main street. If you’re a shopper, you’d probably enjoy window shopping or salivating at the food stores. After a point — I needed to walk outside.
The exhibits in front of the famous buildings, in Gangnam, are as eye-catching as the buildings themselves.
Bongeunsa Temple (Seoul) is not what Psy had in mind when he sang ‘Gangnam Style‘. Tucked in the jungle of steel skyscrapers and superficial vanity; it takes some effort finding this quiet temple. On my fourth visit, I had good friend, Shelley (Travel-Stained) to show me around this old gem.
Five years later, I think, I can understand what he was trying to say. I still don’t like the lyrics or the tune. But, I can safely say: I’ve got a fair idea of what Gangnam and its style is.