What’s an Oppa? – My Interpretation of Gangnam Style

As someone who lives in Korea and speaks Korean, I have found it fascinating to see how wildly popular Gangnam Style has become all over the world, especially since the vast majority of the people listening to it have no idea what it is saying beyond “Gangnam Style …something, something … hey, sexy lady … something, something.”

In Korea, it is very popular too, although here it seems to fit better: after all, here it is just the latest in a line of many very popular Korean songs. It is still novel, but a little more normal than it is in other countries.

although parts are bizarre in any country.

although parts are bizarre in any country.

I am sure there are tons of places online where you can find translations of the lyrics and explanations, but here is my version. First though, there are two words that are important to know.

1. Oppa – This word has a lot packed into it. Literally, it means “older brother of a female”. However, it’s also something that girls call older guys of their generation, as well as their boyfriends. Since it’s possible in Korean to refer to oneself in the 3rd person, the singer (Psy) is calling himself this while talking to a girl. “Oppa Gangnam Style” here means “I am/have Gangnam style”

Interestingly enough, in the companion song to this 오빤 딱 내 스타일 (Oppan Ddak Nae Style) “You are Exactly My Style”, Hyun-Ah, the girl is singing, so when she uses the word oppa, it means “you”. Gotta love Korean. Context is everything.

2. Gangnam – You may have heard that Gangnam is a bit like Beverly Hills, which is true. It’s an area in Seoul and the name literally means “south of the river” which is where it is. It has a lot of tall buildings and expensive shops and is also known for its good schools. Because education is so prized here, parents sacrifice a lot to be able to live within the Gangnam school district. One difference between Gangnam and Beverly Hills is that here, everyone wants to live in an apartment, not a house. So in Gangnam, there are towering palatial apartment buildings, but almost no houses at all.

gangnam style

Gangnam Style

Verse 1

낮에는 따사로운 인간적인 여자

(A woman who is warm and human during the day)

커피 한잔의 여유를 아는 품격 있는 여자

(A woman who knows the proper way to drink a cup of coffee)

밤이 오면 심장이 뜨거워지는 여자

(A woman who heats up when night comes)

그런 반전 있는 여자

(That kind of two-sided woman)

나는 사나이

(I’m a man)

낮에는 너만큼 따사로운 그런 사나이

(A man who, during the day, is just as warm as you)

커피 식기도 전에 원샷 때리는 사나이

(A man who drinks coffee in one shot before it even cools)

밤이 오면 심장이 터져버리는 사나이

(A man whose heart breaks open (comes to light) at night)

그런 사나이

(That kind of man)


아름다워 사랑스러워

(Beautiful, lovely)

그래 너 (hey) 그래 바로 너 (hey)

(That’s you (hey), that’s exactly you (hey))


지금부터 갈 데까지 가볼까

(From now on let’s go to the extreme)

오빤 강남 스타일 [x5]

(Oppa Gangnam style)

Eh – Sexy lady

오빤 강남 스타일

(Oppa Gangnam style)

Eh – Sexy lady


(Eh eh eh eh eh)

Verse 2

정숙해 보이지만 놀 때 노는 여자

(A woman who seems modest but plays when it’s time to play)

이때다 싶으면 묶었던 머리 푸는 여자

(A woman who lets down her hair when she wants)

가렸지만 웬만한 노출보다 야한 여자

(A woman who covers up, but is wilder than if she showed a lot of skin)

그런 감각적인 여자

(That kind of sensuous woman)

나는 사나이

(I’m a man)

점잖아 보이지만 놀 때 노는 사나이

(A man who seems like a gentleman but plays when it’s time to play)

때가 되면 완전 미쳐버리는 사나이

(A man who goes totally crazy when the time comes)

근육보다 사상이 울퉁불퉁한 사나이

(A man who, more than muscles, has a rugged way of thinking)

그런 사나이

(That kind of man)


뛰는 놈 그 위에 나는 놈

(Leaping guy, a guy who’s flying overhead)

baby baby

나는 뭘 좀 아는 놈

(I’m a guy who knows a little something)


You know what I’m saying

오빤 강남 스타일

(Oppa Gangnam style)

Eh – Sexy lady

오빤 강남 스타일

(Oppa Gangnam style)


blowing up old men? Sure, why not?

Blowing up old men? Sure, why not?

So, this is basically a song about a guy trying to pick up a girl by showing that he is the new type of the Korean man, the “Gangnam” Korean. The problem is that there is not a lot attractive (or at least sexy) about modern society. Korean men work very long hours and just like anywhere, office workers are not as strong and fit as men who work outdoors (note the line: “A man who, more than muscles, has a rugged way of thinking”). This song is all about dual roles: one way during the day, another way at night. Modern society is pulling us different ways and this song embraces that.

Of course, this is also satire. Psy is poking fun at a lot of aspects of modern society. For instance, the references to coffee. Coffee is a fairly recent fad in Korean and is still somewhat of a luxury item (it’s not uncommon for a regular latte to cost $5-6 at a coffee shop). Also, it is strictly a social drink, not something people usually drink in the mornings at home. Psy is joking that a real man pounds coffee, just like shots of soju with his friends.

It’s also just a fun song.

About David Stewart

I am a writer of anything quirky and weird. I love most genres of fiction and in each there are stories that I would consider "my kind of story". View all posts by David Stewart

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