Folk and Popular Music in Korea

By Arnav Saxena and Kishan Anwary

Korean Folk Song, or Arirang, is the most prominent and memorable song in Korea

Korean Folk Song Origin and Diffusion

No one knows the true creator(s) of Arirang, but it has been sung for over 600 years. Arirang was sung at first by workers. Workers from Gangwon province were constructing a palace in Seoul. On their way to Seoul, and while they worked, the men sang Arirang. Eventually, the people of Seoul took this song and made it their own, as well so the rest of the country as an unspoken national song. Arirang began as the song of ladies who had to send their husband away, but grew in popularity in the 20th century as Japan took over. There are many variations of the song, each with their own respective origin.

Arirang, Arirang, Arariyo... Arirang gogaero neomeoganda. Nareul beorigo gashineun nimeun Shimrido motgaseo balbyeongnanda.

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- Arirang is an ancient native Korean word, with no solid modern meaning. Ari can mean aridawn, or beautiful; rang can be translated to nim, or dear. Many different translations of the song exist. Both arirang and arariyo have no complete English translation.

- "Arirang gogaero neomeoganda.” Crossing over arirang pass- this line is often interpreted as going over a hill, crossing a mountain, etc. There is a real “Arirang Pass”, a mountain pass just outside the East Gate of Seoul, South Korea’s capital. This may refer to passing over metaphorically, i.e growing up, dying, etc.

- “Nareul beorigo gashineun nimeun.” means "dear who abandoned me [here]" “Dear” can have multiple meanings: it can mean a spouse, one’s country, or even a very close friend. This line may represent being abandoned, or someone close to you move on without you.

- “Shimrido motgaseo balbyeongnanda.” Shall not walk ten li before his/her feet hurt. This line refers back to the previous line, saying that the person who abandoned you will not be able to move on for very long without feeling guilty. Li is a unit of Chinese measurement, similar to a mile. This line is showing that someone who was close to you that abandons you will not be able to continue very far without repercussions.

Gangnam Style went viral in 2012 on YouTube. It has been seen over 2 billion times, and also is popular for its dance.

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Gangnam Style Origin and Diffusion

  • Dance found in carvings on a Buddhist temple in South Korea

  • PSY wrote and recorded Gangnam Style in 2011 to 2012 in Seoul, South Korea, and the song was published to YouTube

  • The song went viral, and spread across the whole globe (contagious diffusion) through YouTube and sharing through social media.

  • It is the most viewed video ever, with 2.4 billion views, almost double the second most viewed video.

  • It is also the most liked video, with over 10 million likes.


Oppan Gangnam Style- "Oppan" is a term for an man older than a woman, and is used lovingly. Gangnam is a rich city in South Korea, so "Gangnam Style" refers to PSY's rich and classy lifestyle.

Najeneun ddasarowun in-ganjeogin yeoja, Keopi hanjaneui yeoyureul aneun pumgyeok ittneun yeoja, Bami omyeon shimjangi ddeugeowojineun yeoja Geureon banjeon ittneun yeoja- PSY describes a perfect, hot girl. He also mentions coffee, which is a sign of wealth in Korea.

Naneun sanai, Najeneun neomankeum ddasarowun geureon sanai, Keopi shik-gido jeone One Shot ddaerineun sanai, Bami omyeon shimjangi teojyeobeorineun sanai Geureon sanai- He describes himself as a loving, rich guy.

Aremdawo sarangseurowo, Geurae neo hey, geurae baro neo hey, Areumdawo sarangseurowo, Geurae neo hey, geurae baro neo hey, Jigeumbuteo gal ddaekkaji gabolkka- He calls to the girl.

Eh~ Sexy Lady- The girl is attractive to him.

Jeongsokhae bo-ijiman nol ddaen noneun yeoja, Iddaeda shipeumyeon mukkeottdeon meori puneun yeoja, Garyeottjiman wenmanhan nochulboda yahan yeoja, Geureon gangjakjeogin yeoja- He describes a sensible and smart girl.

Naneun sanai, Jeonjanha bo-ijiman nol ddaen noneun sanai, Ddaega dweimyeon wanjeon michyeobeorineun sanai, Geun-yukboda sasangi ultungbultung han sanai
Geureon sanai- He describes himself as smart and sensible

Ttwineun nom geu wi-e naneun nom, baby baby, Naneun mwol jom aneun nom- He says he is better than most men, not because of looks, but because of smarts and sensibility.