Consuming the Korean: Memetic kitschization of unorthodox aesthetics in Gangnam style

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The purpose of this paper is to unpack an Asian-born celebrity culture in which celebrities become everyday necessities for global consumers’ identity struggle, prototypes for global branding strategy, contents for the media industry, and agents for sociocultural transformation.


In order to better elucidate such a significant phenomenon, the authors also introduce two mostly palpable and more relevant domains of celebrity culture to global consumer culture literature − politics of aesthetics and memetics − as analytical tools. Observations and publicly available narratives are also incorporated to enhance the review and critique of the global celebrification process. Psy’s Gangnam Style (GS) is chosen as an archetype, due to its exceptionally vulgar but highly replicable nature.


The specific case of GS exposes three unique qualities of kitsch − exaggeration, disconcertment, and subversive sensibility − that are substantially commensurate with prototypical characteristics of globalized online memes − ordinariness, flawed masculinity, theatricality, and ludic agency. Polysemy and optimism also facilitate the celebrification process in global participatory culture.

Research limitations/implications

The “radical intertextuality” of online memes sustains the participatory culture in which kitsch becomes a global icon through a reproductive process. Korean popular culture cultivates reverse cosmopolitanism through a nationalistic self-orientalization strategy that paradoxically indigenizes western pop-culture and transforms power relations in global pop culture.


This paper presents further elaboration of current discourses on global-celebrity culture by incorporating popular concepts and practices, such as kitsch, meme, parody, and sharing, which synergistically advance aesthetic liberation on a global scale.

Publisher's Statement

© Emerald Group Publishing Limited 2016. Publisher's version of record: http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/AAM-03-2015-0003

Publication Title

Arts and the Market