When I asked a security guy at LAX where the security gate was he busted out with, “Oppa Gangnam Style”. I got private messages, Tweets and Facebook comments asking about Gangnam Style on multiple occasions. One girl even told me that she was happy that she knew someone from the country of Gangnam Style. Psy was on an American morning show when I was in America, he got an MTV award in Frankfurt when I was in Frankfurt, and obviously he is still very popular here in Korea at the moment.


I met Seth Kugel of Frugal Traveler from the New York Times in Gangnam, to accompany him on his quest to discover what Psy’s Gangnam is all about. What is Gangnam Style? I had an opportunity to see him working, interviewing people in a café. He also asked me a few questions, and I think it’s time to share my thoughts.

How do I feel about the Gangnam Style phenomenon?

Aside from the song, I was happy to see him succeed. Psy was a successful singer/ dancer for a long time, but he was not one of the typical skinny and attractive Koreans. But he set himself apart, writing his own songs, and often using naughty slang and provocative dance moves. Somehow he still won the hearts of many fans. I think he uses humor, instead of intimidation to be so powerful.

He was involved with a fraud charge several years ago relating to a military issue. Avoiding military service is a huge problem in Korean society. Celebrities do everything they can to avoid the two years of their lives, and Psy got caught trying to evade his duty. He lost all of his credibility overnight. But he bounced back after his service. And obviously Gangnam Style was his biggest break. I was quite happy to see that he bounced back from his mistake. He is a national hero. Even if I’m not a fan of the song and the dance (I’m sorry but I can’t stand it), I was happy to see that now more people know about Korea.

Psy met President Clinton
Psy met President Clinton
Psy met Hugh Jackman
Psy met Hugh Jackman (Yes I was very jealous)

What is Gangnam?

Seth asked me to think of a few words that can describe Gangnam. These were my words:


I don’t want to live in Seoul. Not only because I don’t like big cities, but also because I don’t like constantly witnessing the changing tides of arbitrary Seoul trends. There are so many wannabe’s in this city. And frankly, it’s getting worse. It’s sad to see individuals loosing their identities. People want to follow the mainstream of the world – particularly American culture—rather than celebrate the culture we already have. They fix their nose and eyes, bleach their skin, and dye their hair to look more Caucasian.

Then, there’s the café culture. Even though we don’t grow coffee, people are madly in love with cafes because they are trendy. But people are spending money on the atmosphere, not the coffee. A small cup of coffee here is 5,000 won (about $5). For them, it doesn’t really matter if the coffee is high quality or a fair-trade product. It’s just coffee. When you go to one of the popular cafes in Gangnam, you’ll see well-dressed people. Their destination of the day is actually just a café. They literally got dressed up, and drove into Gangnam to sit in a cafe for a few hours. They like to be seen in a trendy place. To me, that’s pretentious. For that reason, Gangnam is highly overrated. It is considered ‘the’ place to go in Seoul, but I never recommend it to my friends who travel Korea. If you like to party, maybe it’s a good place to go. But because of the negative image, the more interesting aspects of Gangnam get overlooked. So, I also say it’s underrated. I don’t hangout in Gangnam, but I know it is a very old part of the city. There are many local restaurants with good food, reasonable prices, and historic places here and there. A lot of long-distance buses originate from here, and some of the old Buddhist temples are quite beautiful. And because everyone drives even in the smallest street, the place is always hectic.

Psy Performance in Seoul City Square
Psy Performance in Seoul City Square

What do I think about the song ‘Gangnam Style’?

Many people have asked me what he’s saying in the song. I think people, both who can and can’t understand the lyrics, mainly like this song because of the rhythm and dance, not because of highly poetic and moving lyrics. Plain and simple, it’s like coffee: addictive. Koreans love the lyrics because Psy sings about the enchanting aspects of Gangnam style while not so subtly making fun of them at the same time. It’s common to have hate-and-love relationship with Gangnam. It’s expensive, but people have to go because it’s the popular area to hang out. It’s hectic but people have to go to buy trendy items. It’s far but people have to go to meet other certain people. Everything Psy says in his song is true, and that’s the reason I don’t hang out there. Not that he is saying much about Gangnam (because there are not much lyrics except ‘Oppa Gangnam style’).

Photo credit: Psy Official Facebook Page

Seth Kugel of Frugal Traveler from the New York Times
Seth Kugel of Frugal Traveler from the New York Times

Thanks Seth for including me on his Gangnam project! Can’t wait to read it on Frugal Traveler.

22 thoughts on “Finding What is Gangnam Style with Frugal Traveler”

  1. Great post Juno! I like hearing your perspective on Psy and the Gangnam area. His song certainly has made me aware of a destination in Korean I had never heard of before– and that has to be a good thing for tourism 🙂 Very cool that you met the Frugal Traveler. Did he find you on Twitter? Let us know when he writes about you!

    1. I like that he became like an ambassador of Korea! What a a fun person to do the job. 🙂 Seth emailed me when he was coming to Seoul. Good to see him working in real life!

  2. I like Gangnam Style mostly because it’s good to see something from a foreign country become popular in the US. Maybe it’s just a funny song to most it has sparked the curiosity of some to learn a little bit about Korea. I don’t know what the lyrics mean but I can tell it’s sarcastic about pretentious people and I like that too.

  3. Oh man, I love listening to older people discussing this song. It is even downright embarrassing when they don’t realize that when we say “Korea” we mean South. It think it has been a wonderful movement in the fact that we are really becoming a connected world. If a song in Korean can top the charts – what next?! It is super exciting!

  4. Great post as you say it’s the catchy tune and dance that made it famous but I think it’s nice that it became so popular and didn’t just put Psy but also korea on the map.

  5. As a foreigner who lived in Yeoksam/Gangnam area for 3 years I have fond memories of it. It’s not my favourite area of Seoul to party in – that would be Jongno – but t is what it is. Pretensions? Of course it is. Overrated? Possibly, depending on who you ask. But isn’t there similiar areas in most world cities? As a Korean I feel you should be, and regardless of your thoughts on the area, be embracing the worldwide positive exposure Psy has given the area, & Korea in general, and not lambasting it.

    1. I wasn’t lambasting Psy or the culture. I clearly am happy for all the success he made all over the world, and glad to see my country’s name is out there more (just like I mentioned in the post). Just because he is doing a good job, the character of the area becomes untrue. I was describing and revealing my thoughts as a person who’s known this country for most of my life. And I don’t have to feel proud just because one person from my country become famous. Even if I do feel proud, I know I don’t have to.

  6. Having travelled through Asia so much the past couple of years, I see the huge popularity of Korean artists, especially in places like Bangkok. I think it was just a matter of time before one of them hit it big time. Great article!

  7. So cool that you were interviewed by Seth! I’ve met him at some travel events and was kind of travel-world starstruck. And I’ve got to admit… I love the song 🙂

  8. We are so out of touch when it comes to pop culture nowadays. When we were back in Canada my sister-in-law introduced us to this “song” and she was quite shocked I had not heard of it as it had a gazillion hits on YouTube. Someone had told me that the song was basically a whole mockery of American culture, I have no idea what to believe, but your interpretation seems best.

    Regardless after hearing it for that first time I’m quite happy I live the sheltered life of a travel blogger I do lead :). The unfortunate part is that now I can’t stop hearing this everywhere I go. Cool that you got to meet up with Seth.

  9. We are in Thailand right now and you CANNOT escape this song at all.
    There are t-shirts, toys, posters and all the markets have 9-10 stalls blasting this song. 🙂

    It’s great that he was able to become successful off of it……..can’t wait till the song goes away though Hahah

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