I first heard the coined term on an article about f(x) being the first K-pop act to perform at Texas’s SXSW South By Southwest.
I know you’re wondering why I suddenly have this inspiration to create an article about the Korean Wave. Well, the other day (as in last week), I was watching Crayon Pop’s song “Uh-ee” and “Bar Bar Bar” when I heard the news that Lady Gaga wants to have Crayon Pop open for her Live Concert Tour. If anyone knows Crayon Pop, they are an all-female K-pop group that went viral awhile back due to their quirky dance moves, bike helmets, and wholesome attire entirely. They are definitely unique, and they seem like they would be Lady Gaga’s taste.
But just hearing how even Lady Gaga is into Korean pop music got me thinking: Just how many people listen to K-pop?
So, I did some research on this subject.
The “Korean Wave” reminds me of the Tulip Era in Turkey in the 18th Century…for all of you historians who are interested…
What is the Korean Wave?
It is a sudden “wave” of interest in South Korean “pop” culture. Yes, not just any Korean culture, but “modern” and “popular” Korean culture. And it has developed into a sub-culture with some cult followers in the mix…
The term “Korean Wave”, also called Hallyu, was said to have been coined by Beijing journalists who noticed a growing interest in South Korean culture in China. More and more Chinese people were exporting Korean merchandise, and supporting Korean music and film.
The Korean Wave shows a huge thrust toward entertainment media mostly, but many foreigners are more aware of the lifestyle in Korea as a result, such as the food (I learned about Kimchi), fashion, language, and even literature. The only thing excluded from this category is history, but that may come soon with the rising popularity of Korean dramas.
Due to increase internet availability and usage around the world, and the Technological Revolution of the early 21st Century, K-pop and Korean dramas are more available to people all over the world! So, Korean pop culture is spreading quicker and easier.
The Korean government hopes they can use this “wave” of interest to gain “soft power”. Not the kind of power where you take over other nations, but the kind that introduces Korean beauty, culture, and art to the rest of the world. They hope to make peace through this “wave”.
Where Did the Korean Wave Come From?
After World War II, Japan put a limit on entertainment that came in and out of the country. Once Japan lifted restrictions on international imports (and exports) in the 1980’s, entertainment could be distributed more freely worldwide. This brought about a “Japanese Wave” that was at a much smaller scale than the Korean Wave (mostly due to the fact that internet was a newer concept and not available everywhere around the world), but still, relatively large.
With the “Japanese Wave” came an increased interest in Japanese animation and comics called mangas. Japanese cartoons were fed to children in the 1990’s (I was one of those children). My first Japanese anime cartoon was Sailor Moon. Every day before school, I watched this show! Of course, at that time, the show was butchered so much because they wanted the animes to “relate to American children”. Later, Cartoon Network’s popularity increased as more and more people had access to cable channels in the late 1990’s.
Then came the Pokemon phenomenon, the first major Japanese animation to make millions in the West. It even had a very successful theatrical release! Pokemon is still being aired today.
Cartoon Network began to band together with the popular American animation company Funimation, a company that translated Japanese anime to make it more understandable to American audiences. Toonami, a segment of the day that mostly aired anime, was born afterwards. My next favorite anime to watch on that segment was Dragon Ball Z. This was the start of Japanese influence seeping into the minds of children.
There was also an increased interest in Japanese role-playing games. Sony, a Japanese company, made Playstation and Playstation 2, which made characters come alive on the television screen. The graphics were more real-looking than they had ever been before on any console, controls were easy to use, and Japanese game-makers began to sell their games to the world using this console.
Square-Enix was one such company. They are known for making the popular Final Fantasy series as well as the phenomenon Kingdom Hearts.
Japanese anime brought a wave of interest from the generation exposed to it. Interest in animes like Inuyasha and video games like Kingdom Hearts led to a growing interest in J-pop music (as you can hear an artist at the end of every anime or video game, particularly the legend Ayumi Hamasaki), Japanese food (teriyaki and goyza), Japanese language (Kawaii, Sugoi), fashion (cosplays and lolita came out of this wave), holidays, festivals (like Hinamatsuri), and destinations (like Osaka and Tokyo).
An interest in Japanese culture, thus, led to an interest in all modern Asian culture.
This is where Korea comes in.
Korean Dramas and Manga
Korean film producers banked on this rising interest in Mangas and Animes. Korean drama adaptations of these animes spurred a fascination for Korean dramas in general. One of the biggest dramas a part of the “Korean Wave” is the drama Boys Over Flowers, based off of the popular Japanese manga series Hana Yori Dango. Meteor Garden, a Chinese version made in Taiwan in 1999, was the first live adaptation of the popular manga series. It was big in all of Asia. Since most southeastern Asian countries speak Chinese, other people were exposed to the drama. The Korean Boys Over Flowers had come out a decade later in 2009, updating the original adaptation and giving a modern feeling. Other Asian countries remembered Meteor Garden and heard about the new adaptation, which exposed many people to Korean culture.
Winter Sonata was Korea’s own major masterpiece, and it equaled the success of Meteor Garden. This drama was said to have been the drama that launched the “Korean Wave”.
These Korean dramas were popular because of two factors as quoted from Wikipedia:
- Emotional engagement of the audience with particular emphasis on forging an emotional bond with the protagonist
- Explicit attention to female sexual desires — Departing from conventional dramas that tend to eroticize the female body, these dramas market the sexual attraction of the male actors, giving women a certain freedom of sexual expression.
“Powerhouse” label SM Entertainment brought Korean music to the world for the first time. H.O.T. was the first all-boy Korean group to perform a sold-out Concert outside of Korea. This group particularly targeted teenagers and were the first of their kind. They were the pioneers of what we know as the “idol group trend”. They were meant to bring K-pop to the younger generation. Their debut was in 1996.
Then came BoA Kwon, the reigning Princess of K-Pop. BoA was the first Korean artist to sell over a million copies of her albums outside of Korea. She was Korea’s first international superstar. She was an extremely young artist, and the youngest artist to debut at the time of her debut (2000 at age 14).
My first taste of K-pop was also through BoA. I was first introduced to BoA after my favorite doll brand, Bratz, did a collaboration with BoA and Howie D (Backstreet Boys) back in 2003. It was my second taste of foreign music (my first was Utada Hikaru from the Kingdom Hearts series, but she sounded so “American”, I didn’t realize she was a Japanese superstar at the time).
I started looking up more about BoA. That’s when I found out she sang the ending song to the popular anime, Inuyasha, which also made BoA more popular. That’s when I realized just how popular BoA was in Japan.
Then I found out she wasn’t Japanese. Little did I know, at the time, I was a part of a movement that shaped the next generation.
She is still the only Korean artist to have six consecutive hits in Japan, and is considered a household name in many Asian countries.
Soon, other K-pop artists from SM began to pop their way to stardom.
The groups I remember distinctly popping up was TVXQ (DBSK), Super Junior, SHINee, and Girls’ Generation. With the Youtube phenomenon, these groups spread Korean pop music internationally. Many of those groups had international members in them. The male groups broke Asian stereotypes around the world, and gave Asian men a “beautiful face” in the Western world.
At the time, SHINee was the most unique. SHINee embraced their more “feminine features” and made it more attractive to girls! They also started the new generation of dance-pop music with complex dance moves. After their debut, the other artists started imitating their style. Originally K-pop boys showed more edge, but SHINee softened their blows, wearing eyeliner, long hair, and shaking their butts in “Ring ding dong”.
Girls Generation brought Asian beauties to international audiences, and paved the way for the female “idol group” trend.
My biggest sweep into the Korean Wave was with the group f(x). Amber was Korea’s first androgynous pop star! Ever since, I’ve been an adamant follower of K-pop “idol groups” rather than Japanese, and recently, C-pop (Chinese pop). I’m just so darn addicted to that group! Once you get swept into the ocean of K-pop, with your favorite K-pop artist, it’s hard to swim back to shore…rather, it’s hard to want to.
The rising popularity of these groups contributed to the “group” trend that is known in Korea today…
Adding these idols to K-dramas spreads Hallyu further.
Psy and Gangnam Style
Psy made K-pop a global phenomenon in 2012 to 2013 with his smash Youtube hit “Gangnam Style”, an upbeat, electro-dance pop/rap song, put to funny, satirical lyrics, and choreographed with humorous “galloping” dance moves. Psy made a statement in Korea, and brought Korea to everyone’s backyard. He was the first viral artist to have over a billion views! He broke a world record!
Unlike most idols, he wasn’t slim-trim, with a “Justin Bieber” haircut, skinny jeans, and hot dance moves. He was an “average” guy. His music also made a statement. He pointed out satirically about the lavish lifestyle in Gangnam, a district in Seoul, Korea, the center of Korean pop culture. This appealed to audiences worldwide.
Psy also put his label, YG, on the map. Korea hopes to use his fandom as a sign of diplomacy.
What Makes the Korean Wave Unique from other “Asian Waves”?
The Korean phenomenon wasn’t the first international fascination with Asian culture. Asian persuasion has been around since the growing popularity of Kung Fu films in the 1970’s and 1980’s, which put Chinese cinema on the map and popularized Chinese culture and history in many parts of the world. The growing popularity of Japanese culture dominated the 1990’s.
But what makes the “Korean Wave” unique is that it is getting popular in an era that is influenced by the “Digital Revolution”. It is spreading at a much faster rate and on a more universal scale than the other two phenomenons.
It’s also unique in the fact that Koreans are popular for their “modern” culture, and not stereotyped, historical depictions of them that may no longer ring true (like all Asian men learning martial arts). Koreans are looked at as more of an advancing society, as their modern culture is more popular than their ancient one, and that’s what makes this “wave” special.
Finally, what makes the “Korean Wave” unique from the other two “Waves” is the fact that the “Korean Wave” shows a huge support from the female audience. Kung Fu movies and the “Japanese Wave” mostly had male audiences wrapped around their fingers. Though, as a female, I’ve been into all the waves at one time…
This also helps to change the world’s views on Asian culture. It helps to diminish biases, prejudices, and stereotypes. It creates mutual understanding and peace between nations.
What are characteristics of those involved with the Korean Wave?
1) Lots and Lots of fan girls-Because of the increased female fan-base, men are more objectified in K-pop and K-dramas, and female sexuality is highlighted. This makes Asian men more desirable to women.
2) K-pop Group biases and fan wars-With the rising popularity of K-pop groups, you find tons of fans defending their favorite “idol” groups. My favorite is f(x) recently. They helped sweep me into this “Korean Wave”. But I hate fan wars.
3) K-Drama discussions-K-dramas can be so dramatic, you will find tons of message boards about them. Prepare to cry.
4) Eclectic clothing-Korean clothing can be trendy and sometimes downright eccentric.
5) A bunch of young college kids-While you might think mostly teenagers are into this wave, sources show that the biggest support comes from young adults in their 20’s. So, this is what the college kids are into. I sort…of…um…am apart of that demographic. :3
Well, that’s all for now folks! Leave me a comment let me know what you think about Korea’s growing popularity!