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Hallyu 101: Lesson 1 – The Korean Wave

By Staff Writer | May 05, 2013 01:04 PM EDT

Hallyu - The Korean Wave
(Photo : @korean_wave1 Twitter)

Okay, so you know how to dance "Gangnam Style." You remember Stephen Colbert's feud with Rain. You watched Girls' Generation on The Late Show with David Letterman. And you are interested in knowing more about K-Pop and Korean pop culture. You've come to the right place.

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Hallyu 101 is a beginner's guide to all things related to the global phenomenon that is K-Pop. It is meant as a reference guide for old and new fans so that they may more easily enjoy Korean music, movies, and television.

Lesson 1: Just what is "hallyu" and the Korean wave?

Hallyu is a Korean word that represents the idea of Korean culture spreading around the world. It is a combination of two words, 'han,' the quality of being Korean, and 'ryu' which means "to flow." Put them together and you have what is more commonly known as the "Korean Wave."

There are several elements involved in the Korean Wave including music (K-Pop), fashion, movies, animation, television (K-drama and variety shows), as well as language and food.

Author and scholar Mark Ravina described 'hallyu' as "a surge in the international visibility of Korean culture" in his Introduction: Conceptualizing the Korean Wave.

When the Korean wave really started to kick off in the late 1990's, Korean entertainment and culture primarily spread to other parts of Asia. However, in the last five years or so, it has seen a greater presence in other parts of the world as well.

After the 1997 Asian financial crisis, the economy of South Korea began to move away from manufacturing and placed a lot more emphasis on the entertainment industries. A year later, the restriction on cultural imports from Japan was lifted, and worried about Japanese media flooding South Korea, the Ministry of Culture increased the budget for cultural industry departments in universities throughout the nation.

This elaborate system directly led to the thriving cultural technology industry of South Korea which today exports media and entertainment globally at an alarming rate.

During the 2000s, Korean television series began to fill the Asian markets and by the end of the decade K-Pop had pretty much dominated the Asian music scene.

The Korean Wave began to spread outside of Asia in 2009, thanks in large part to YouTube. Korean artists saw a huge rise in their international popularity through the release of their music videos on the popular website.

By the end of 2011, K-Pop videos on YouTube had amassed more than two billion views, and a year later the world was introduced to perhaps the most recognizable example of the hallyu wave, Psy's "Gangnam Style." Not only was it the first video to receive more than a billion online views, but "Gangnam Style" thrust the Korean Wave into the previously impenetrable American market.

In February 2000, Korean boy band H.O.T became the first modern K-Pop artist to perform overseas and held a sold-out concert in Beijing. Since then, there has been a steady increase in international concerts by Korean singers, and in the past two years there have been some major milestones in this aspect.

In 2011 the European market began to take notice of the Korean Wave. SM Entertainment, one of the biggest record labels in South Korea, held the first large-scale K-Pop concert in France and the event was attended by fans from all across Europe. Later that year the group Big Bang won an MTV Europe Music Award, the first major European music award given to an artist from South Korea.

And just this year, dance-pop group Super Junior became the first to hold a concert tour across South America for sold out shows in Brazil, Argentina, Peru, and Chile.

As more and more Korean artists focus their promotional activities overseas, recognition in world markets increases. The South Korean government recognizes the power of the Korean Wave in spreading other exports from the country as well.

Earlier this year, the Export-Import Bank of Korea made an astonishing decision to increase loans an credit guarantees worth over $900 million in the next few years to further spread the Korean Wave internationally. A spokesperson for the bank said that K-Pop, K-dramas, and Korean cuisine have huge growth potential worldwide and more investment and financial support was needed.

Hallyu has also contributed to the increase in tourism to South Korea.

While it seems that the Korean Wave is spreading like wild fire for the time being, some scholars have noted that it may be a short-lived fad. According to an international survey that asked people across Asia, Europe and the Americas about the future Korean culture's popularity in the world, over 66% of respondents believe that the Korean Wave will "subside in the next four years."

The US market remains the toughest for the Korean entertainment industry to crack. The popularity of K-Pop and Korean television and movies, for the time being, remains confined to large cities with thriving immigrant populations such as New York City and Los Angeles.

One American music executive suggested K-Pop will never truly succeed in the United States because music fans "would just be too critical about the lyrics and the acts' accents when singing in English."

Whatever the future of the Korean Wave may be, it is for certain that at the moment hallyu stars are rising to fame and recognition all around the world.   

 

 

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