Lyrics and meaning of Psy's Gangnam Style (강남스타일)

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Most people living in Korea or with any interest in Korean pop culture will have already heard this song a few times: it's a song called Gangnam Style by a singer named Psy, a singer who has just put out his sixth album. Psy has never been my kind of music (see the label Korean through music for some of the Korean music I prefer) but this song is simply too much fun to dislike. Gangnam (lit. south river) is the well off region south of the Han River in Seoul, which is famous for being trendy (or arrogant) and fashionable (or expensive) - most people either love or hate it.

For the sake of those that want to know the lyrics I'll start with the video and the lyrics, then add some more on the region below. As always I aim for a somewhat literal translation. This video has just about reached 15 million hits and has been seen on CNN and a few other places in the US, and the great thing about it is that it was made by a singer who had no intention of being known in the US - compare this to groups made by JYP who do great at home but get a somewhat muted reaction in the US for the amount of time and effort put into PR there.

Note: I've also included the hanja (Chinese characters) for any words that have such an origin for the sake of anyone who can read hanja, Japanese or Chinese. You won't see any such hanja in regular usage though - they appear from time to time in newspapers and documents where they help to clarify the meaning of a word but not very much otherwise.

Note 2: added a bit of transliteration using Google Translate, and changing it a bit here and there when it came out weird. Korean transliteration is terrible and anyone interested in the language should simply learn the alphabet - it only takes a few days to learn to read the basics, and a few weeks to get used to some of the odd parts (not pronouncing ㅎ in some places, consonant changes after certain other consonants like ㄱ before ㄹ in words like 폭력, etc.).



오빤 강남스타일 (oppan gangnamseutail) -- Oppa's Gangnam style. Oppa = older brother as said by women, a word that men love to be called by. There is a lot of referring to oneself in the third person in Korean, and this is one example of it. The ㄴ below 오빠 is an abbreviated 는 (particle making him the subject - 'as for oppa, he's Gangnam style'). 강남 = 江南.

강남스타일 -- Gangnam style

낮에는 따사로운 인간적인 여자 (naj-eneun ddasaroun inganjeog-in yeoja) -- A woman who is warm and humane/ethical during the day. 낮에는 -- during the day. 따사롭다 -- warm (literal and figurative). 인간적인(人間的인) -- ethical, humane.  여자 = 女子.

커피 한잔의 여유를 아는 품격 있는 여자 (keopi hanjan-ui yeoyuleul aneun pumgyeok inneun yeoja) -- A woman who is classy (enough) to know the leisure of having a cup of coffee. 한잔(한盞) -- one cup. 여유(餘裕)를 알다 = lit. to know leisure, meaning a person that appreciates the finer, more leisurely things in life. The 는 affixes the verb 알다 to the noun (여자), but before that we are ascribing one more quality to her: 품격(品格) 있는, from 품격 있다 (lit. to have a quality, or to be classy). At the very end comes the noun. You can use as many adjectives as you like with 는 in such a sentence, and the noun you're describing still won't appear until the end.

밤이 오면 심장이 뜨거워지는 여자 (bam-i omyeon shimjang-i ddeugeowojineun yeoja)-- A woman whose heart heats up at night. i.e. a girl that gets wild when the sun goes down. 밤 = evening, night. 심장 (心臟) 뜨겁다 = hot, 뜨거워지다 = to become hot. Then put a 는 here and attach 여자 to the end, as above.

그런 반전 있는 여자 (geureon banjeon inneun yeoja) -- A woman with that kind of twist / dual nature. 그런 = that kind of. 반전(反轉) means turnaround, a word you'll see a lot in sports when one team is about to lose but pulls off a win. Here it is slightly different in that it refers to this woman's personality: prim and proper during the day, then suddenly switches at night.

나는 사나이 (naneun sanai) -- I'm a man. The regular word for man is 남자(男子) but 사나이 is a more manly kind of man. You'll notice he pronounces it more like 사나애, nothing out of the ordinary because another way to write the word is 사내. 아이 (child) becoming 애, 이야기 (story) becoming 얘기 are two other good examples of vowels joining together.

낮에는 너만큼 따사로운 그런 사나이 (naj-eneun neomankeum ddasaloun geureon sanai) -- I'm a man who is just as kind/warm as you during the day. Very similar to the sentence above except that 너만큼 (as much as you) has been added.

커피 식기도 전에 원샷 때리는 사나이 (keopi shikkido jeon-e wonshat ddaerineun sanai) -- I'm a man who polishes off a cup of coffee right away before it gets cold. i.e. I'm cultured enough to drink my coffee hot in the same way the woman above enjoys her coffee. 식다 = get cold, 식기전에 = before (it) gets cold, 식기도 전에 - before it even gets cold. 원샷 때리다 = to drink right away. The word 원샷 is from English 'one shot' but means 'bottoms up' or to drink something right away, and 때리다, which literally means to beat, is kind of a slang way to say drink or eat or smoke, or finish a movie or some other task...pretty much the same as polish off.

밤이 오면 심장이 터져버리는 사나이 (bam-i omyeon shimjang-i teojeobeorineun sanai) -- A man whose heart gets hot at night. Lit. a man whose heart bursts/explodes at night, so a man who is extremely passionate. 터지다 -- to burst, 터져버리다 -- more emphatic way to say the same thing. 버리다 literally means to throw out.

그런 사나이 (geureon sanai) -- That kind of man

아름다워 사랑스러워 (areumdawo sarangseureowo) -- beautiful, lovely. No surprises here.

그래 너 hey 그래 바로 너 hey  (geurae neo geurae baro neo) -- Yeah you (hey), yeah exactly you (hey). (You're exactly those things)

(repeat)

지금부터 갈 데까지 가볼까 (jigeumbuteo gal dekkaji gabolkka) -- Now how about we go all the way? 지금(只今)부터 -- from now. 가다 -- to go. 데 -- a place. 까지 -- up to. Put those together and you get 갈 데까지 -- to the place (it'll) go, or the place that is as far as something will/can go. Then you add 가다 + 보다 and ㄹ까, to make 가볼까 -- shall we go / shall we try going.

오빤 강남스타일 -- Oppa's Gangnam style

강남스타일 -- Gangnam style

(repeat)

Eh- Sexy Lady -- This part's English.

(some more repetition)

정숙해 보이지만 놀 땐 노는 여자 (jeongsukhae boijiman nol ddaen noneun yeoja) -- A woman that looks modest/virtuous but likes to have fun when it's time to have fun. The word 놀다 literally means to play, but depending on the context it can mean to hang out, or more lewdly to drink and carouse, etc. Here, as above, it's used in contrast to looking innocent during the day and implies hanging out at nightclubs and such places. 정숙(貞淑)하다 -- modest, virtuous. 정숙해 보이다 -- to look modest, virtuous. Add 지만 (however), and then finish with 놀 땐 노는 여자 (a woman who hangs out when it's time to hang out). 놀 땐 = 놀 때는 (when it's time to hang out/have fun).

이때다 싶으면 묶었던 머리 푸는 여자 (ittaeda ship-eumyeon mukkeoddeon meori puneun yeoja) -- A woman who lets her hair down when it's the right time. 이때 -- this time. 다 -- it is (the verb to be). 싶다 means it seems, and 싶으면 means 'if it seems'. Put those three together and you have "when it seems that it's time", i.e. when it's time to hang out. 묶었던 머리 -- tied up hair, the hair that was tied up. 묶다 -- to tie up, and 었던 shows that this happened in the past (the hair that was tied up). 머리 -- hair, but also head, so watch the context. It's actually the word for head (머리카락 is technically the word for hair) but 머리 means hair just as often. 풀다 -- to release, let down. 머리(를) 푸는 여자 -- a woman that lets down her hair.

가렸지만 웬만한 노출보다 야한 여자 (garyeojjiman wenmanhan nochulboda yahan yeoja) -- A woman who has covered up but is more sexy than one that hasn't. Here he's talking about a woman that has all the main parts covered up (maybe has a t-shirt and jogging pants or something), but looks sexier than a woman that has exposed more skin. 가리다 -- to hide, cover up. 가렸지만 -- covered up, but... 웬만한 노출 -- a fair amount of exposure. 웬만하다 -- a fair amount of, 노출(露出) -- exposure. Can also mean a leak or exposure (exposure to radiation for example) but here means exposing skin. 야(冶)한 -- sexy, erotic, risque.

그런 감각적인 여자 (geureon gamgakjeog-in yeoja) -- That kind of sensual woman. 감각(感覺)적이다 -- sensual. Same derivation as English where 감각 means a sense (taste, smell, etc.) and the adjective comes from it.

나는 사나이 -- I'm a man


점잖아 보이지만 놀 땐 노는 사나이 (jeomjan-a boijiman nol ddaen noneun sanai) -- A man who looks gentle but knows how to have fun when it's time to have fun. 점잖다 -- sensitive.

때가 되면 완전 미쳐버리는 사나이 (ddaega doemyeon wanjeon micheobeorineun sanai) -- A man that goes totally crazy when it's time. 때가 되면 is grammatically easier than 이때다 싶으면, simply using 때 (time) plus the particle 가 and the verb 되다 (to become). 완전(完全) -- complete(ly). 미치다 -- to go crazy, and as above it has 버리다 (to throw away) on the end for emphasis.

근육보다 사상이 울퉁불퉁한 사나이 (geun-yukboda sasang-i ultungbultunghan sanai) --  A man with more bulging ideas than muscles. 근육(筋肉) -- muscles. 보다 -- than. 사상(思想) -- ideas. 울퉁불퉁하다 -- bumpy, uneven. Often refers to well-shaped muscles though as they also look bumpy. 사상이 울퉁불퉁하다 is not an existing phrase (lit. bumpy ideas) but here it's easy to understand: he's a man who is well cultured and smart.

그런 사나이 -- That kind of man.

After that there's a lot of repetition of the lines above:

아름다워 사랑스러워
그래 너 hey 그래 바로 너 hey


아름다워 사랑스러워
그래 너 hey 그래 바로 너 hey


지금부터 갈 데까지 가볼까


오빤 강남스타일


강남스타일


오빤 강남스타일


강남스타일


오빤 강남스타일


Eh- Sexy Lady
오빤 강남스타일


Eh- Sexy Lady
오오오오


And then two new lines:


뛰는 놈 그 위에 나는 놈  (ddwineun nom geu wie naneun nom) -- This is actually a proverb: lit. above a running guy is a flying guy. Meaning: there is always something better. 뛰다 -- to run. 놈 -- guy. 그 위에 -- above that. 날다 -- to fly.


baby baby
나는 뭘 좀 아는 놈 (naneun mwol jom aneun nom) -- I'm a guy that knows a thing or two. Lit. I'm a guy that knows what. 뭘 is short for 무엇을.


뛰는 놈 그 위에 나는 놈
baby baby
나는 뭘 좀 아는 놈


You know what I’m saying


오빤 강남스타일


Eh- Sexy Lady
오빤 강남스타일


Eh- Sexy Lady
오빤 강남스타일

...and that's the song.


Here it is live:



And a video showing the making of the video. You might have noticed some people like 노홍철 in the elevator and 유재석 in the yellow suit in the original video.



So where's a good place to start in Google Street view if you want to see some of this affluence Gangnam is known/liked/hated for? Maybe this intersection with an Infiniti, BMW and a few other dealerships, plus a Starbucks in sight.


View Larger Map

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