The Rise of Korean Pop Culture

There is a term for the phenomenon of the Korean wave, it is known as ‘Hallyu’. This term relates to the popularity of Korean culture, namely through: television dramas, fashion, food and music. Korean pop culture (K-pop) is what this article will be focusing on, but it is important to note that the power of Korean culture is that everything connects to ‘Hallyu’. In 2012 PSY released the song Gangnam Style and the video became the most viewed video on YouTube until 2017, reaching over three billion views. Social media has been instrumental in introducing K-pop to many countries all over the world. Tumblr, Instagram and Twitter are major reasons as to why South Korean bands such as BTS, Girls Generation, EXO, SHINee, BIGBANG and (G)I-DLE are known globally. This is evident in BTS winning the ‘Top Social Artist’ at the Billboard Music Awards in 2017 and 2018, surpassing the likes of Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande. The exposure social media affords South Korean pop idols allows people all over the world to see the talent that South Korean pop idols have to offer.

The South Korean music industry is a 5-billion-dollar industry because the music culture is taken incredibly seriously. Before idols are put into groups and debut, they must make it through training camp. Aspiring artists audition at the major entertainment agencies such as YG Entertainment or SM Entertainment, and if one has a successful audition, one becomes a trainee at the respective agency. Being a trainee does not guarantee becoming an idol, trainees must work hard on their vocals, choreography, acting, language skills and appearance in order to debut in a group. There is a huge emphasis on hard work and perfection in this industry, which stems from a generally principled and result-driven society. The result of these intense training camps is world-class vocals, style, visuals and choreography. Not only are K-pop idols dedicated to delivering excellent music, in many cases they record albums in more than one language, to cater to a larger audience. EXO sings in Korean, Mandarin and Japanese, this has allowed them to be one of the biggest K-pop groups in the world. Similarly, BTS have Korean and Japanese versions of their albums. However, for potential fans that don’t speak any of these languages, K-pop bands, together with their agencies, provide subtitles and translations in many languages including English to make K-pop universally accessible.

As previously mentioned, different Korean cultural aspects link to K-pop. Idols are usually on television in Korean dramas or variety shows.  Many people outside of South Korea have been introduced to K-pop through K-dramas such as Hwarang which has Choi Min-ho (member of SHINee), Park Hyung-Sik (member of ZE:A) and Kim Tae-Hyung (V from BTS) in their cast. G-Dragon from BIGBANG is known for being a fashion icon outside of being a K-pop idol. So, K-dramas and fashion have allowed a variety of audiences to connect with K-pop idols and listen to their music.

For the past 10 years, K-pop has been evolving and becoming a worldwide sensation. The hard work and dedication that is put into making K-pop, together with social media and other creative influences, has put K-pop on the map. Democracy in South Korea has allowed the liberalization of South Korean media and the opportunity for Korean music groups to reach fans in countries all over the world, leading to collaborations with mainstream Western celebrities such as Steve Aoki and the Chainsmokers (in the case of BTS). I believe that K-pop is only going to get bigger and better, so do yourself a favour and listen to some of the groups mentioned in this article.