Korean Wave Hits the West

By Dyondra Wilson

In the past five years, Korean pop music, soap operas and movies have been spreading worldwide, reaching the shores of such distant places as New York and Mexico.

This past April, K-pop groups such as “Infinite” accompanied Korean President Park Geun-hye on a visit to Mexico for the event “K-Soul in Mexico.” The purpose was to promote Korean culture, from K-pop to martial art Tae-kwon-do.

Fans have dubbed such culture imports the “Korean Wave.” And it is growing ever more popular worldwide.
For instance, remember the catchy lyrics of Psy “Gangnam Style?” The main chorus and dance moves are still widely mimicked today at many parties. Young and old jump in line with the words “Op, op, op, op, Oppa Gangnam Style!”

Billboard.com counted a 67% increase in the number of Korean pop artists performing on the world stage, with them performaning 82 percent more concerts outside of Korea.

The U.S. is no exception to this trend. A growing number of citizens are singing upbeat Korean songs from such popular groups as “Big Bang,” and “2NE1.”

Photo by Taylor Ha

Paper cutouts of characters from “Non-Summit,” a South Korean television program, smile at tourists in JTBC’s headquarters. JTBC is a popular South Korean nationwide general cable TV network and broadcasting company featuring many shows that contribute to the “Korean wave.Photo by Taylor Ha

Paper cutouts of characters from “Non-Summit,” a South Korean television program, smile at tourists in JTBC’s headquarters. JTBC is a popular South Korean nationwide general cable TV network and broadcasting company featuring many shows that contribute to the “Korean wave

Take girl group “2NE1.” Its 2011 hit song “I AM THE BEST” was featured in the 2013 Microsoft Surface Pro commercial and played on such big U.S. radio stations such as New York’s WBMP.

I myself have been getting more immersed in the “Korean Wave,” watching new Korean dramas such as “She was Pretty” and “Oh my Venus.” These shows display meaningful lessons and soap opera drama that keep the watcher immersed till the very end.

Korean dramas, though, differ from their American counterparts in more than just language and culture. Korean dramas feature less sex. They are also more innocent. American dramas are sometimes filled with sexual undertones of some sort, varying from PG-13 to extra explicit.

Popular Korean reality TV shows have also caught on worldwide. Take “Running Man,” which has gained online popularity and has been translated into over five languages including English, Spanish and Japanese.

Why is the so called Korean Wave winning fans worldwide? Korean TV Producer Minkuen Choi tried to explain recently at a lecture to students at Dongguk University in Seoul. Choi is the producer of such big South Korea hits such as “Running Man” and “Real Man.” Both shows have been recently exported to China.

Choi says that the appeal of Korean entertainment is twofold. One, the shows place“great importance on all the details.” Two, the shows try to “Make viewers laugh by any means.” He demonstrated this by showing a funny clip with CG animation that included a man’s head spinning out laughing. Students in the lecture hall laughed at the clip.

In his own shows, Choi, focuses on subtitles such as English and Chinese, making the shows accessible to viewers outside of Korea.

Through an English translator, Choi spoke passionately about his career as a top producer who wasn’t always at the top. His first and 12th shows flopped, but now he has two hits in his recent two such “Running Man” and “Radio Star.”

Producing a hit show is no small thing in Korea. Like the U.S., a show’s ratings are all important. And a show must fare well with both young and old audiences. A successful show often kills off its competitors, as in the U.S. market. Show business is a cutthroat business, says Choi, adding “These kind programs can lead to the collapse of other competitors.”

What has made him so successful, says Choi, is his ability in “reading the trends and knowing what the viewers want,”

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