- ‘Dae Jang Geum’, the drama that was set in Korea in the 1940s and 1950s was exported to 87 countries around the world and earned approximately 13 billion KRW. The immense popularity of this drama led to a greater spread of Korean culture worldwide, such as an increased interest in tourism, cuisine and fashion.
- ‘Gangnam Style’s’ music video became the first YouTube video to reach 1 billion views, with more than 3.9 billion views as of February 2021. In 2019 alone, K-Pop industry exports generated 6.6 trillion won, accounting for 5.3% of Korea’s total content revenue.
- The outbreak of the pandemic in early 2020 was a critical obstacle for Korean music industry, but technological development and an active social media culture gave the K-Pop industry a new approach to business. The entertainment companies are hosting ‘online virtual concerts’ and celebrities are meeting their fans through constant ‘live chats’ on platforms like Instagram or V-Live.
In 2020, Korea was in the limelight of the international entertainment industry, especially with the outstanding records made by the Korean film ‘Parasite’ and K-pop boy band BTS. Indeed, ‘Parasite’ won four awards at the 92nd Academy Awards in February 2020, following the Palme d’Or in May 2019. BTS also made history by reaching the two top spots on Billboard Hot 100, topping the Billboard Artist 100 for 15 weeks in a row.
The Korean Wave, or ‘Hallyu‘, refers to the spread of Korean entertainment, including dramas, movies, TV shows, K-Pop and games. What is the origin of the K-wave and how did it become a worldwide phenomenon?
The term was first used in the mid-90s, but it gained its global popularity in the 2000s after some Korean dramas became mega hits. In particular, ‘Winter Sonata’, which aired on KBS in 2002, marked a milestone in the global expansion of Korean entertainment industry, especially in Japan. Due to the overwhelming demands from the public, the Japanese broadcasting company had to re-air the drama, which became the starting point of the global impact of Korean Wave.
The success of ‘Winter Sonata’ was followed by the success of ‘Dae Jang Geum’, the drama that was set in Korea in the 1940s and 1950s. Aired between 2003 and 2004, the drama was exported to 87 countries around the world, including countries like Iran, and earned approximately 13 billion KRW. The immense popularity of this drama led to a greater spread of Korean culture worldwide, such as an increased interest in tourism, cuisine and fashion. More specifically, as the leading role of the drama is the King’s cook and first female physician, the drama kindled the public interest in Korean traditional cuisine culture. “Dae Jang Geum”-oriented tourism also started a new trend where foreign fans visited the outdoor sets built for the shootings of the drama.
Korean Music Industry, K-Pop
The absolute turning point for K-Pop was a song released in 2012, ‘Gangnam Style‘, whose name refers to the most posh district in Seoul. Topping the music charts of more than 30 countries, its music video became the first YouTube video to reach 1 billion views, with more than 3.9 billion views as of February 2021. Furthermore, choreography the song was not only popular among K-Pop fans, but was attempted by many political leaders such as former British Prime Minister David Cameron and former U.S. President Barack Obama. The tremendous popularity of ‘Gangnam Style’ led to the ongoing success of Korean music industry worldwide.
In 2019 alone, K-Pop industry exports generated 6.6 trillion won, accounting for 5.3% of Korea’s total content revenue. Consequently, main entertainment companies in Korea started to operate as celebrity agencies, music production companies and record labels all at once, with years of experience of producing the ‘boy group’/’girl group’ stars in Korean music industry. The celebrities became a global K-Pop phenomenon with the efforts of Top 4 companies, SM Entertainment, YG Entertainment, JYP Entertainment and Bit Hit Entertainment, which recently gained the spotlight thanks to the growing success of BTS.
How social media contribute to K-wave diffusion
The constant development of social media platforms such as YouTube, Instagram and Facebook contributed to the increasing popularity of Korean Wave. Online content sharing platforms allow foreign fans to be exposed to Korean diverse cultural contents, keeping themselves interested. Celebrities also use multiple social media platforms to actively interact with fans from different parts of the world. Korean dramas are dubbed or aired with subtitles, and are shared online to reach the audience of overseas countries. Data on K-Pop popularity based on YouTube views revealed that only 10.1% of the total views of K-Pop content came from South Korea. Recent popularity of the K-Pop market is mostly led by BTS, Blackpink and TWICE, with the audience share coming from Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, the United States and more. Europe is not an exception to the K-wave either. In fact, surveys show an increasing number of teenagers interested in visiting or moving to Korea in the future, as a result of the influence of K-pop and K-drama.
Korean Wave in Post-Pandemic Period
The outbreak of the pandemic in early 2020 was a critical obstacle for Korean music industry with cancellation of world-tours and fan meetings. It is obvious that the epidemic caused a massive economic loss to entertainment companies, but technological development and an active social media culture gave the K-Pop industry a new approach to business.
The entertainment companies are hosting ‘online virtual concerts’ and celebrities are meeting their fans through constant ‘live chats’ on platforms like Instagram or V-Live. These kinds of experiences are meant to be fully immersive. Thus, the online concerts or online fan meetings have stages with hundreds of screens for the live participants, allowing singers to feel surrounded by the audience. These attempts are also made for overseas fans. The new initiatives allow a greater number of participants to have access to online concerts, and offer them a feeling of having travelled through virtual meetups, which would otherwise take longer and cost more.
Despite the setbacks created by the pandemic, the popularity of K-pop and Korean dramas have ensured that the fans remain connected and come back for more. ‘Hallyu’ continues to blaze through the world in full force.