Korea's Most Famous Entertainer Is Now Its Most Infamous Landlord : Parallels Seoul artists are taking on the rapper PSY in a real estate rift pitting creative types against commercial interests. The man known for Gangnam Style "is not a good building owner," one artist says.
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Korea's Most Famous Entertainer Is Now Its Most Infamous Landlord

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Korea's Most Famous Entertainer Is Now Its Most Infamous Landlord

Korea's Most Famous Entertainer Is Now Its Most Infamous Landlord

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Good morning, I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GANGNAM STYLE")

PSY: (Singing) Hey, sexy lady.

INSKEEP: The South Korean star who made this hit...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GANGNAM STYLE")

PSY: (Singing in Korean).

INSKEEP: Is in the middle of a real estate fight in Seoul, South Korea. Here's NPR's Elise Hu.

ELISE HU, BYLINE: You probably know Psy as the breakout Korean success with a few song sensations and famous sunglasses. But to one culturally minded cafe in Psy's native Seoul, he's the angry landlord.

CHOI SOYEON: (Through interpreter) The owner of the building is, as everyone knows, Psy. At least to me, he's not a good building owner.

HU: That's the tenant, Choi Soyeon. She and two other artists founded this airy, open space called Takeout Drawing nearly 10 years ago.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (Through interpreter) Takeout Drawing is a cultural space and an art gallery. It's about 20 footsteps wide and two stories tall.

HU: Inside, you can find a coffee bar and seating lining the perimeter. But stretching across the center of the space is an exhibition. Right now, it's rare books from dozens of different Korean publishers splayed out on custom shelves.

It looks very different than a Starbucks.

SOYEON: (Through interpreter) I like Starbucks, too, but it would be good to have different types of cafes, some cafes that manage the space like ours.

HU: The topic of a mass-market coffee chain came up because Choi claims the current landlord, Psy, wants Takeout Drawing to go so he can put in franchise businesses instead. But ask Psy's lawyer, K.S. Chong.

K.S. CHONG: They are illegal.

HU: He says it's Psy's building, and he can do with it what he wants. He further can't understand why the artists are refusing to leave even though they agreed with the previous building owner they'd move out by 2013.

CHONG: Psy wanted them to leave very peacefully. And he offered some money to compensate for their moving, but they denied. He was very, very frustrated.

HU: The tussle over Takeout Drawing has turned to the courts and turned ugly.

(SOUNDBITE OF RALLY)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) Stop Psy. Stop Psy.

HU: The artists staged rallies to save their space. Psy's attorney filed a defamation suit, and now the artists have countersued to try and stay. They say they're trying to make a larger point about creatives getting priced out or pushed out across the city. Takeout Drawing founder, Choi.

SOYEON: (Through interpreter) We thought that it was necessary to confront this issue and face it.

HU: What she's talking about, of course, is gentrification. Take a walk around Takeout Drawing's neighborhood of Hannamdong.

LEO SONG: This area is changing.

HU: And realtor Leo Song details the change by the numbers. A shabby storefront now commands about three times the rent it could three years ago.

SONG: New restaurants and cafes and clothes coming to this area.

HU: But for now, the neighborhood is still a lot more like an artist enclave than, say, the gaudier Seoul district called Gangnam.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GANGNAM STYLE")

PSY: (Singing in Korean).

HU: That's the neighborhood whose name made Psy an international name. With struggles like Takeout Drawing's playing out across the city, the face of Seoul, like so many other places, is morphing into something else. Takeout Drawing owner, Choi.

SOYEON: (Through interpreter) Some people call this phenomenon the evaporation of culture. Gentrification replaces the independent businesses with wealthier franchises. The visitors tend to be wealthier and well off. But culture diminishes, and businesses increase.

HU: The culture versus commerce questions continue. But this standoff will soon come to an end. A judge is set to make a final decision on Takeout Drawing's future November 3. Elise Hu, NPR News, Seoul.

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