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The Soft Power of the Korean Wave in 2020
by Woo Hyuk Byun | 승인 2021.02.27 12:30|(267호)

Throughout 2020, and continuing today, the world has been plagued by the Covid-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, in 2020, Korean soft power reached new heights in the world. At the beginning of the year, movie director Bong Joon Ho’s film Parasite won awards in four categories at the 92nd Academy Awards. During the summer, the Korean idol groups BTS and Blackpink performed magnificently on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart, letting people know how powerful Korean music is. Moreover, Korean dramas such as Kingdom and Crash Landing on You were introduced to foreign viewers by Netflix. In former days, Korea was a small, uninfluential country simply located between China and Japan. But today, thanks to its popular culture, it has become a well-known country. Furthermore, there is a term, Hallyu (Korean wave), which refers to the strong soft power of Korea. In this Culture Sketch, we will learn about when the Korean wave started and how it has influenced so many foreigners.

The Korean wave started in the late 1990s. From that time, Korean popular culture was exported and well known around Japan and Chinese speaking countries like Taiwan and Singapore. The idol group H.O.T. and the solo artist BoA introduced Korean music to the world, especially Asia, where the reaction was very positive.
In the early 2000s, the actor Bae Yong Joon, known as Yon-sama in Japan, achieved tremendous popularity in Japan because of the drama Winter CULTURE SKETCH 27 by Woo Hyuk Byun, Culture Reporter Sonata. Following this drama, many Korean dramas were shown in foreign countries, recording high viewing rates. Among Asian countries, Korean dramas gained popularity. Dae Jang Geum and Jumong are Korean historical dramas, but they were popular in Iran, Zimbabwe, and Turkey. Korean movies were also well acknowledged around the world, especially Park Chan Wook’s Old Boy, which was awarded at the Cannes Film Festival.
In the late 2000s, Korean pop idol groups such as the Wonder Girls and Girl’s Generation became known in the American music industry. In the 2010s, some Korean comedies like Infinite Challenge and Running Man were also shown in foreign countries. During this time, Korean music enjoyed great success. Gangnam Style by PSY was viewed more than 300 million times on YouTube, and PSY became the first Korean artist to release a second album on the Billboard Chart. The Korean lyrics of Gangnam Style cannot be understood by most non-Koreans, but its addictive melody and engrossing music video made Gangnam Style the world’s most famous song. The success of Gangnam Style changed the world’s perception of Korean music. Formerly, Korean music was popular only among Asian countries, but many people in North America, South America, and Europe have started to listen to Korean music. After PSY, the Korean idol group BTS became the most popular entertainers in the world.


Today, Korean music’s influence is greater than in the past. Movies and dramas have also had remarkable success. After the introduction of Netflix in Korea in 2016, various Korean shows can be enjoyed by foreigners. One drama that has received particularly positive reviews is Kingdom. It is a Korean historical drama involving a zombie apocalypse. It is expected that Korean dramas will spread widely in the 2020s and that more and more people will visit Korea after the pandemic to experience Korean culture.
The reason the Korean wave is so strong is Korean content is so unique and appealing to foreigners. For example, the theme of the Nextflix drama Kingdom is a zombie apocalypse, which is also the theme in many U.S. films and shows, but the background is the Joseon Dynasty in the 17th century. Due to this drama, many viewers have expressed an interest in Korean traditional costumes called Hanbok. With its fascinating background and actors’ brilliant performances, Kingdom became a famous Korean drama on Netflix.


Another reason is that online platforms are fully developed. Korea is a country in which internet services and social media are widely used. Most Koreans enjoy YouTube and social media services like Instagram and Facebook. Furthermore, using a smartphone anyone can access the internet at any time. Thanks to these well-developed internet services, Korean culture has easily spread overseas. That is why the Korean wave has rapidly set a trend in the world. For example, Gangnam Style was not that popular in Korea at first, but it became the world’s most popular song after being posted on YouTube, with more than 3 billion views. Now, the new album by BTS is widely available to the public on global online streaming services, not only through domestic broadcasting companies. This is because of the outstanding ability of internet sites to spread their Korean cultural content around the world.
It is too early to say that the Korean wave has become mainstream. Moreover, some people would not agree that the Korean wave has achieved great success. However, many people are certainly starting to enjoy Korean culture contents, which will continue for the foreseeable future.

 

by Woo Hyuk Byun  news@cnu.ac.kr

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