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K-Pop’s latest video with Psy and Snoop Dogg is pretty sobering

June 9, 2014
June 9, 2014

Waking up in a trashed apartment, throwing up in a toilet bowl, eating instant noodles at a convenience store—these are the highlights of the boozy “life of a superstar” according to Psy’s latest single, “Hangover,” a K-pop-meets-hip-hop collaboration with Snoop Dogg, released on June 8.

It seems pretty obvious the Korean rapper’s new song is meant to be another underhanded satire of consumer culture in South Korea. This time, instead of prancing around the wealthy Seoul neighborhood of Gangnam, Psy and Snoop skip and dance obliviously through an alcohol-soaked evening, ogling frumpy women and starting a bar fight that ends in multi-car pile-up and total mayhem in the street. Snoop raps serenely, “Whipping and dripping a drink on the floor; this is the only way that I was taught a long time ago.”

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If the emergence of ironic K-pop is a statement about South Korea’s economic development, as Quartz has reported previously, an intense drinking culture is another. Between 1985 and 1995, a decade where South Korea saw some of its fastest economic growth, real household spending on alcohol grew 156% (pdf. p. 8).

Today, South Koreans drink an average of 13.7 shots of liquor a week—twice as much as Russians and over four times as much as Americans—the most in the world. Hard-core drinking begins with university and continues through working life, where it’s seen as an important way to build camaraderie and sidestep workplace hierarchy. The country’s notoriously long working hours are thought to be one reason. Strict drinking customs also mean people have to drink if someone older or senior asks them to, a practice some trace back to Korean military culture.

The consequences of all this alcohol consumption are serious, and the video’s slow motion shots of cars colliding may be no accident. According to the World Health Organization, 22 men and seven women per 100,000 South Koreans die from alcohol-caused car accidents, a rate that’s over three times as much as in Japan. Brawls and violence against police have been so bad that the government’s launched campaigns against heavy drinking.

Response to the video in South Korea was mixed with some calling song immature and unrepresentative of the country. “This music video makes South Korea culture nothing else but just a mindless, childish drinking land,” one viewer commented on an online forum, according to the newspaper Munhwa Ilbo (link in Korean.)

For others, the video hit a little too close to home. One commentator said, “Gangnam style actually was fun, but this music video makes me turn away from the screen in shame. I do not want my culture to be reflected like this.”

Jihye Lee contributed additional reporting.

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