Over the past year, I’ve started to gain a lot of interest in Korean pop music. It’s completely different from what we listen to here in North America in more ways than just the language. For anyone not too familiar with the world of K-pop, Psy’s “Gangnam Style” will probably come to mind, but this is far from what is generally popular in his home country. While Psy is more the Jack Black-type of South Korea, a typical musical group will be made up of 4-9 males or females who have been scouted, made-up and trained in singing,rapping, modeling and dancing by a music company for years before even releasing a song. It’s all very planned out and doesn’t always give the artists a lot of room for creativity but somehow, it works. Although I was initially attracted to the genre by impressive dance choreographies (and I do mean impressive), I’ve always been curious as to how the K-pop system works so efficiently.
One of Korea’s most popular boy bands EXO is managed by the SM Entertainment label. The group currently has 10 members who perform both in Korean and Chinese. Known for their sharp dance moves and impressive vocals, the group has over 400+ million views on their music videos on YouTube.
On a trip to the local library, I stumbled upon The Birth of Korean Cool by Euny Hong and I couldn’t help but pick it up. Maybe this would give me some insight into a culture that is so foreign from my own. Written from the point of view of a Korean-American who made the move to Seoul from Chicago at the age of 12, this book explores how South Korea has grown and evolved between Korea’s devastating losses in the Korean War and the Korea of today. It especially focuses on the last 2 decades, during which the Korean government has made the development of pop culture a top priority; investing billions into building their entertainment (especially K-pop) and technology industries, a very risky move which most developing countries would never dream of making. However, Korea’s determination and “accept no failure” attitude has launched the country skywards.
Though Samsung is now a well-loved brand around the world, only a few decades ago not even Koreans wanted their products. Hong explains the rise of the technology giant in the chapter Samsung: The Company Formerly Known as Samsuck.
Just as American pop culture spanned the globe in the 20th century, Korea is looking to bring the world’s attention to its food, music, movies, T.V., videogames and technology. This movement is being called the Hallyu Wave and slowly but surely, it is making its way into every home. Hong explains the growing popularity of Korean culture in both developed and developing countries. Korean fusion cuisine popping up in the form of food trucks in the United States, increased demand for Korean television dramas in the Middle East, exponential increases in Korean entries at international film festivals, K-pop concerts being held in London and Paris, and of course, Samsung’s world domination through cellphones.
Historical costume drama The Jewel in the Palace became so popular in Iran that Iranians have reportedly begun to organize their mealtimes around the broadcasting time of the show. Read more about K-Drama’s widespread popularity in the chapter K-Drama: Television and Origins of Hallyu.
Hong takes a thorough look into the Korean way of life to discover how the country has been able to come so far in such short time. She looks at historical moments that have changed the way that Koreans eat, sleep and work, as well as the Confucian teachings that affect Korean life thousands of years after they were first taught. The book talks of how the Japanese invasion of the early 20th century and the Asian economic crash at the end of the century continually motivate the Korean population to work hard and improve upon themselves. It also talks of the daily paranoia that comes with sharing boarders with the world’s most unpredictable dictatorship, North Korea.
Videogames play a large role in the advancement of the Hallyu Wave. Korea is an immense exporter of online games and has a very strong gaming culture where professional gamers are treated like celebrities. Online games account for 58 percent of Korea’s pop culture export revenue: about $2.38 billion in revenue in 2012
Through all its hard work, Korea has learned the secret to exporting their pop culture. This book follows Euny Hong on her quest to rediscover her country and sheds some light on what kind of world we might expect to see in the near future, with non-American, non-European superstars, more subtitles in movie theatres and kimchi on more menus. Great non-fiction read for the summer, easy to read and very interesting! Find the book on Amazon for as little as $10.87 here.
Lauren Ibbott is a second year University of Ottawa student, blogger and freelance writer. She frequently writes for DownshiftingPRO. Please follow her on Instagram @Lauren_Patii All opinions are her own. You can read more of her post below: