The ‘HallyuWave’

The more astute amongst you will have noticed that my name is HallyuNoona.

If you have REALLY been paying attention, you may have noticed the term HallyuWave also gets bandied about quite a bit. What you might not have thought much about is exactly what the Hallyu Wave refers to. There is a reason for that, it refers to a lot of different things. So let’s break it down here, shall we?

So let’s start general. The HallyuWave refers to the proliferation of Korean culture throughout the world and it’s a hot topic. The Korean Culture Society and Tourism Korea invest a lot of time and money in trying to get Korean culture ‘out there’ in part to better Korea’s world image and, therefore, its tourism, and get more money flowing in. While debate reigns as to whether the spread is speeding up, slowing down or is constant, it’s generally agreed a pretty good job is being done, with some areas having serious room for improvement.

You’ve probably heard the term HallyuWave and known roughly what it refers to. Some of you probably find yourself reading stories claiming the wave is on the rise or fall in bemusement when you think of your own country.

That’s probably the first point really – when we talk I-fans, we have this habit of meaning the west. While it’s true that south-east Asian fans probably share more cultural similarities with Korean people, they aren’t actually Korean… No matter how much some people insist on trying to ignore this. When we talk about the HallyuWave, it includes the proliferation of Korean culture to other south east Asian countries.

Hallyu stuff has been big in some south-east Asian countries for longer than it has been big enough to be of note in the west and often when the HallyuWave is being reported on, it’s the effect in these countries being used – as the larger fan base means more potential money. That isn’t always the case of course, but it goes some way to explain why what you read in those stories may not match what you see around you!

So now we have addressed the ‘where’, let’s address the ‘what’. The HallyuWave is now pretty synonymous with this:

But while Psy may have had some pretty mainstream breaking success the world over, he is far from the first and will not be the last act pushing for international recognition. Perhaps the most obvious incarnation of this is the artists who are ‘big in Japan’. Japan has a large music market and is culturally and geographically not all that far detached from Korea, so makes sense as a secondary market for Kpop artists. Some of the most prominent examples include Kara, SNSD, TVXQ, Big Bang and SHINee. In recent years though, artists are beginning to look west, with Wondergirls having tried it, complete with a made for nickelodeon film, SNSD appearing on Letterman, Spica soft debuting for Kcon and most recently CL building hype for her US debut. On top of this, the success of Kcon only adds to the evidence that headway is being made and it isn’t just America. BTS had a successful visit to Europe and F(x) will be appearing in Trafalgar Square, London in August. The Kpop wave is spreading, aided by South Korea becoming more open, and an increase in English speaking due to ESL programs in Korea and the internet making global distances far more trivial than ever before. ESL programs in Korea have meant that the Idols coming through now are starting to have studied English since kindergarten and so therefore are more able to communicate with global audiences without music labels having to provide specific language classes for them.

Kpop, however, is not the only aspect of the wave. “Kdramas!”, I hear you cry and this is true. Kdramas aim at a difference target market to Kpop and have been making slow moves across the world for a long time. There hasn’t been a viral level jump like with Psy, but rather a steadier move across the world. Popular in much of south-east Asia for some time, dramas have been slowly permeating into countries with large Korean expat communities and to countries who have cultures that already enjoy similar dramas. Particular examples of this are the melodramas and romance stories that are already popular in Latin cultures, allowing a commonality for dramas to edge in on.

But that’s not it for the HallyuWave and while these might not be the things we think of first, the rest of things in this post are arguably the most successful, as most of them have become permanent features of mainstream culture around the world.

So first up is movies. Korean movies in their raw form still fall in the ‘international’ film category of film stores, but Korean films have been remade for western audiences with mixed levels of success. The Lake House is a remake of Il Mare and is an example of a successful remake. In contrast, it will come as no shock that the 2008 remake of My Sassy Girl was a direct-to-DVD job.

One of the exports Korea is proudest of, and one of the most evident growing in my home country of England is the food. When I first got into Korean culture, there were no restaurants within travelling distance of my town, one small shop two hours away if I wanted groceries and not a lot else. Since then, there has been an explosion of restaurants and even the BBC have had Korean food featured on Radio 2! Korean food, or variations thereof, are growing in much of Europe and have been popular in the US for some time. I think food is the most successful Hallyu Wave contestant at the moment, especially when you consider how it isn’t being sold on novelty value. I do sometimes wonder how the World Institute of Kimchi would feel about it being a bit of a novelty joke in the west. (I love kimchi for the record!)

Tae Kwon Do is the sneaky member of the HallyuWave family… Often forgotten, Tae Kwon Do is popular in much of the world with children and adults alike taking classes as part of the martial arts trend. Those who indulge in Tae Kwon Do often also get a little Korean language in their life, as many of the commands are in Korean.

Korean fashion is the up and comer of the HallyuWave, with Korean fashion being a real trendsetting market. How long this will be successful for is up for debate, simply down to the noticeably transient character of fashion trends. For now, however, enjoy Korean stars (and stars with connections to Korea) gracing fashion articles. Recently, of course, we have the many photos of CL with BFF Jeremy Scott and Ex-EXO member Kris (yes I know he isn’t Korean, but the connection is there) being snapped dressing snazzily at the Met Gala. K-stars are another level when it comes to “airport fashion” and are often featured on blogs dedicated to this, as well as a growing interest in Seoul Fashion Week each year. All of this is not forgetting the Korean celebrities tackling fashion themselves with Taeyang and GD of Big Bang appearing at Paris Fashion Week and Ex-SNSD member Jessica founding her own label, Blanc and Eclare.

Last up for me is the Korean language. It’s a bit of a symbiotic cultural aspect whose growth is fairly directly linked to the rise of other cultural aspects. As many Kpop and Kdrama fans will bemoan, being able to immerse yourself in your faves is made much easier by knowing some of the language and I can’t help but feel this must (at least in part) be a cause for the rise in Korean language learning resources online. Korean language is a subject dear to my heart and one I hope to address a little in future posts!

So that’s the ‘what’ (or most of it) of the HallyuWave. Looking at all these things, do you think the HallyuWave is growing, shrinking or stagnant where you are? While Korea certainly aims to spread its culture, there are certainly still a lot of barriers to people accessing it, be it no resources in your languages, difficulty in legally accessing media or finding communities to share it with. In your country what are the main barriers to accessing the HallyuWave?

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