The Korean wave (“Hallyu” in Chinese) — a reference to Korean popular entertainment mainly in the form of K-Pop music, TV dramas, and movies — was first used in 2000 to describe Chinese fans’ enthusiasm for K-pop boy band H.O.T. Hallyu began before that with acclaimed films and pop groups, mostly confined to Korea, in the 1990s and grew in the 2000s when Korean television dramas found a receptive audience in Japan, China and Southeast Asia. It then gained momentum when K-Pop music began to really take hold in Asia in the late 2000s and spread its tentacles around the world in the 2010s, when it Korean popular music, television and film all have carved out large audience for themselves in the international market and sold a lot products associated with them.

Edward Davies and Lee Jun-goo of Reuters wrote: The surge in interest in Korean culture started in the late 1990s, led by the popularity of Korean actor-turned-pop star Ahn Jae-wook in China and the release of movies such as "Swiri" and "Joint Security Area." The success of "Winter Sonata," released in Korea in early 2002, and other such dramas has sustained the buzz. [Source: Edward Davies and Lee Jun-goo, Reuters, October 11, 2004]

The success of the Korean Wave is at least partly attributed to the development of social networking services and online video sharing platforms such as YouTube, which have allowed the Korean entertainment industry to reach a sizable overseas audience. Use of these media in facilitating promotion, distribution and consumption of various forms of Korean entertainment has contributed to their surge in worldwide popularity since the mid-2000s. [Source: Wikipedia]

Hallyu evolved from a regional development into a global phenomenon, carried by the Internet and social media and the proliferation of K-pop music videos on YouTube and Korean dramas picked up by television networks all over the world. Since the early 2000s, South Korea has been as a major exporter of popular culture and recipient of pop culture tourism, with the Korean Wave now accounting for a significant portion of the Korean economy.

Korean Pop Culture Breaks Out of South Korea

The "Korean wave" began in the late 1990s, when South Korean TV dramas became big hits in China and Taiwan. The 1997-1998 Asian Financial Crisis led to heavy losses in the manufacturing sector, prompting a handful of businesses to turn to the entertainment sector. According to The New York Times, South Korea began to lift restrictions on cultural imports from Japan in 1998. With an aim of tackling an impending "onslaught" of Japanese movies, anime, manga, and J-pop, the South Korean Ministry of Culture made a request for a substantial budget increase, which allowed the creation of 300 cultural industry departments in colleges and universities nationwide. Around the same time an effort was made to export South Korean entertainment. [Source: Wikipedia]

Dani Madrid-Morales of City University of Hong Kong wrote:““Investment to increase their quality became especially prominent when new commercial TV stations opened in Korea in the 1990s. The battle for audience brought a “drama war” characterized by an increased number of productions, theme diversification, fresher scripts, and improved overall entertainment quality. The phenomenon soon spread and, in 1997, the broadcast in China Central Television (CCTV) of Sarangi Mwogillae/What is love about (Aiqing shi shenme in Chinese) sparked one of the first massive K-drama fandom waves overseas (Leung, 2008). [Source: Dani Madrid-Morales, ‘Transatlantic connection’: K-pop and K-drama fandom in Spain and Latin America,” City University of Hong Kong, 2014]

“From then on, many Korean dramas have had high ratings in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and especially Vietnam, where K-drama accounted for over 56 percent of all foreign programing in 1998 (KCTPI 2005). This upward trend is mirrored in the statistics of exports and imports of Korean television, which show that exports increased from 6 million US dollars in 1996 to 187 million dollars in 2010. In the same period imports were reduced from 63.9 to 10.4 million US dollars (Yang, 2012). Shim (2008) notes how some analysts have suggested that the Korean Wave initially took off not because of the developmental strategy of governments or broadcasters, but that, Korean television dramas improved due to internal competition and favourable conditions in international markets. In Taiwan, for example, as the popularity of Japanese TV dramas began to weaken in the late 1990s, Korean dramas were imported at significantly cheaper price to fill the gap

Korean Pop Culture Begins to Takes Over Asia in the Late 1990s and Early 2000s

Hallyu emerged when the Korean drama “What Is Love About?” was shown for the first time on Chinese Central Television (CCTV) in 1997 or 1998. It was one the first times a Korean drama was shown on a non-Korean television network. The drama was spectacular success. It recorded the second-highest ratings ever in the history of Chinese television (Heo, 2002). Hallyu then spread in neighboring countries. Other South Korean dramas in the late 1990s and early 2000s were very successful and boosted the entertainment industry in South Korea. The export of television program from South Korea increased to 27.4 times from 5.5 million in 1995 to 150.9 million in 2007. [Source: Emergence of the “Korean Wave” and Its Influence on Bangladesh by Shally Shahina Akter, Master’s Thesis, March 2019]

Soon after Korean dramas were introduced in China, Korean music was broadcast on the Beijing-based radio show named as “Seoul Music Studio”. This music also became popular. In November 1999, the Chinese state-controlled newspapers, the Beijing Youth Daily, published an article describing the "zeal of Chinese audiences for Korean TV dramas and pop songs". In February 2000, the S.M. Entertainment's boy-band H.O.T. became the first modern K-pop artist to give an overseas performance, with a sold-out concert in Beijing. As the amount of Korean cultural imports rapidly increased, the Beijing government responded by limiting the number of Korean TV dramas shown to Chinese audiences. In June 2001, Shinhwa's fourth album Hey, Come On! Was a big was a big success in Asia, particularly in China and Taiwan.

During the late 1990s and the early 2000s the Korean wave caught on in the East Asian countries like Vietnam, Taiwan and China, aided by and aiding cable TV and satellite networks that broadcast South Korean drama, music and movies. Two influential dramas in the early 2000s — “Winter Sonata” and “Jewel in the Palace — were immensely popular not only in East Asia regions but also in South Asia, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Africa’

In February 1999, the first local big-budget film, Shiri, was released and became a major commercial success. It grossed over US$11 million, surpassing the Hollywood blockbuster “Titanic. “My Sassy Girl” (2001) was a major international breakthrough for Korean films. It became a box office hit across East Asia, and its DVD release also drew a large cult following across Southeast Asia and parts of South Asia. It also spawned a number of international remakes, including a Hollywood remake and several Asian film remakes, as well as television adaptations and a sequel. There was talk that Steven Spielberg would do a Hollywood version of the film.

By the mid 2010s a survey by Japanese ad agency Hakuhodo shows the popularity of South Korean entertainment was very high in major Asian cities such as Hong Kong, Taipei, Singapore, Manila and Jakarta. In Shanghai, South Korean music and TV shows were more popular than rival offerings from the West. [Source: Koichi Kato and Ken Moriyasu, Nikkei, January 8, 2015]

Why Korean Dramas Are More Popular in Asia Than Japan Dramas

Korean dramas are more popular in Asia than Japanese dramas. On why this is so, Melissa Kok wrote in The Straits Times, “Boys Over Flowers is a popular Japanese manga series that started in 1992 which got overshadowed in East Asia, first by the Taiwanese TV adaptation of it in 2001 (Meteor Garden), and in 2009 by the Korean TV series also called Boys Over Flowers. Sandwiched between these two versions was the Japanese TV series which never achieved the same level of interest in Singapore. [Source: Melissa Kok, Asia News Network (The Straits Times), April 26 2012]

Industry veterans say there is another reason why the Korean Wave eclipsed the Japanese mania in the early to mid-2000s: the high cost of bringing Japanese content into Singapore. When Man Shu Sum was the executive director of the Taiwan office of Television Corporation of Singapore (now MediaCorp), he brought in Korean dramas for local television in the late 1990s because they were a cheaper alternative to titles from Japan.According to him, Korean drama serials back then cost around US$800 an episode compared to up to US$15,000 an episode for a Japanese drama. "We decided to acquire Korean drama, which looked very primitive in production value but the faces were refreshing and the story lines were quite engaging," he says.

“It worked. Singaporeans became hooked on K-drama. Popular shows would easily attract a viewership of more than 200,000, notes Man, who is now managing director of Raintree Pictures. Some of the memorable Korean dramas that emerged from that time include the love story Winter Sonata (2002), which starred Korean television heart-throb Bae, and the weepie TV series Autumn In My Heart (2001). Currently, at least 24 Korean dramas are airing weekly in Singapore on several cable TV channels such as VV Drama, KBS World, ONE, E City and tvN.

“Liew says of the appeal of Korean dramas to Singaporeans: "With the melodramatic family-friendly scripts in both historical and contemporary soap operas, K-dramas seem to be more universally appealing to local audiences. J-dramas, on the other hand, are more realistic of the portrayal of small family households, and in recent years, seemed to place less emphasis on historical dramas that regional audiences enjoy watching."

“Marketing communications staff Leow Si Wan, 30, says: "Japanese dramas are too subtle in the way emotions are expressed and the plot development can be slow. K-drama is more dramatic and allows you to immerse yourself in a make-believe world. "Also, for the series Boys Over Flowers, the Korean version of the four guys is also definitely better looking than the cast in the Japanese version."

“Assistant professor Liew Kai Khiun of Nanyang Technological University, whose research areas include television dramas and popular music in Southeast Asia, partly attributes the Hallyu revolution to the Korean government's push to promote all things Korean abroad.He says: "Unlike their Japanese counterparts, the Korean government and the media industry invest significantly in promoting the K-wave in the world as part of the efforts in strengthening the republic's soft power." In Singapore, the Korean government has previously organized and co-funded Korean pop concerts, and has supported the Korean Film Festival, which has been held here annually for the last five years. In 2006, a website was even set up by the Korea Tourism Organization which combined cast details of popular Korean dramas with information about filming locations to attract visitors.

Korean Dramas Become Big in Japan and Asia in the Early 2000s

South Korean television dramas became very popular in Japan in the early and mid 2000s (and still are popular today). It all started in 2003, following the end of the decades-long embargo on media between Japan and South Korea, when the South Korean soap opera “Winter Sonata” premiered on Japanese TV and became a runaway hit. The drama was so popular that it spawned fanzines, websites and tours to places in South Korea where scenes from the drama were shot. It drew huge rating and an unprecedented number of calls, e-mails and letters. DVDs and almost any kind of merchandise associated with the show sold well.

Euny Hong wrote in Quartz: The plot of “Winter Sonata” centers around an architect recovering from amnesia and re-discovering his childhood sweetheart. Its male star, the unassuming, bespectacled Bae Yong-joon, was subsequently credited with the US$2.3 billion rise in trade between Japan and South Korea between 2003 and 2004, including tourist revenue arising from tours to the fictitious character’s hometown. In August 2004, then-Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said during elections for the upper house of Parliament, “I will make great efforts so that I will be as popular as Yon-sama.” (Bae’s honorific nickname in Japan). [Source: Euny Hong, Quartz, November 16, 2012]

Other popular South Korean dramas in Japan included “All In” and “Beautiful Days. The stories in these and Winter Sonata revolved around a virtuous but misunderstood young women and and the men in their lives. The dramas were also big hits in Taiwan, Thailand and other countries in Asia. The Korean period costume drama Kyutei Jokan Changumu no Chikai — Jewel in the Palace — about a woman doctor named Chan Gum who rose to a position of considerable influence in the 17th century Korean royal court — was also very popular. It starred South Korea actress Lee Young Ae in the title role and was surprisingly popular with Japanese men. The show was very popular in South Korea where it earned rating in excess of 57 percent and triggered a boom in the cooking of court cuisine.

Meanwhile, in 2002, BoA's album “Listen to My Heart” became the first album by a Korean musician to sell a million copies in Japan. Following this success, other K-pop artists began setting their sights on the Japanese music industry as well. .BoA is South Korean who started performing when she was a young teenager and has been called the Britney Spears of Asia. BoA, who made the cover of the French Le Monde in July 2002 as an icon of cultural exchange between Korea and Japan, was invited to the two countries’ summit conference in June 2003 in Tokyo.

Large numbers of Japanese watch South Korean dramas on satellite station that specialize in them. The sales of niche magazines that are oriented towards South Korean drama watchers sell well. The popularity of the satellite station is so high that Japanese television stations are losing viewers to them in significant numbers. It took a while though for the dramas to go mainstream. In April 2010, a South Korean drama was aired for the first time in prime time on a major Japanese network. The drama — a spy series called IRIS with Lee Byung Hun — was aired by TBS on Wednesday night at 9: 00pm.

The first South Korean entertainment boom was put on pause due to soured ties between Tokyo and Seoul and other reasons. Then K-pop fever flared up mainly among teens in the 2010s.

See Separate Article KOREAN DRAMAS IN JAPAN factsanddetails.com

Government Assistance and Promotion of Korean Dramas

The Asahi Shimbun reported: “Various forms of assistance for the digital content industry are offered, greatly contributing to the remarkable achievements of pop culture from South Korea. Good examples of successful cases is the global popularity of K-pop singing group BTS and the “Parasite” film, which was recently chosen as the best picture in the Academy Awards. There appear to be no limitations to the spread of South Korean pop culture. Masaki Tsuchida, a film producer living in South Korea, noted that those achievements can be attributed to Seoul’s “nationwide efforts to nurture drama, movie and other industries while regarding them as important export businesses.” [Source: Asahi Shimbun, July 5, 2020]

“When he took office in 1998 in the wake of the Asian currency crisis, then-South Korean President Kim Dae-jung declared himself the “president of culture.” As Hollywood movies dominated the box-office lists throughout the world at the time, Seoul started financing content industries — including films and TV dramas — and developed legal systems to promote exports as part of its economic recovery strategy. Before that, TV plays from South Korea had already been widely accepted among broadcasters in Taiwan and Southeast Asia since the first half of the 1990s, because they were “much cheaper than their Japanese counterparts and comprised many installments.”

“Cashing in on the trend, the South Korean government strengthened promotion, leading to a further expanded market of dramas outside the nation. This also resulted in higher broadcasting rights fees and production budgets. Guaranteed salaries for new actors and scriptwriters rose as a result, attracting fresh new talent to the entertainment industry. In 2009, the South Korean government set up the Korea Creative Content Agency (KOCCA) to select online animated works and other creations popular among young consumers to be made into dramas and other adaptations.

“The KOCCA currently has locations in eight regions overseas, including fast-growing Indonesia, the United Arab Emirates, where South Korean products have exploded in popularity, and the United States. Through the establishments, it is attempting to sell titles suitable for markets through business discussions with the makers of video games, animations and dramas in the countries. Hwang Seon-hye, director of the KOCCA Japan Center, said “various kinds of content from South Korea” are now available. According to an estimate by the KOCCA, exports of dramas, films, video games and other such services totaled 1.056 trillion yen (US$9.6 billion) in 2018, double the figure for 2012.

Korean Dramas Fuel Demand for K-Pop in Japan in the Mid 2000s

in 2005, Mikiko Miyakawa wrote in the Daily Yomiuri: “The craze for South Korean popular culture that has been sweeping Japan continues to gather strength and the growing craze is no longer confined to the field of TV dramas. Now attention is turning to the pop music of South Korea, creating hordes of enthusiastic "K-pop" lovers. About 2,000 fans of South Korean singer Pi packed the Kosei Nenkin Kaikan hall in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, last week for a concert marking the official launch of Pi's Japanese fan club, "Cloud Japan." Pi, whose name literally means "rain" in Korean, made his debut in Japan in February with the album It's Raining. The release reached No. 11 on Oricon's daily chart and has sold about 50,000 copies, according to King Records. "It's Raining," the upbeat title track of the album, proved to be the highlight of the show given by Pi. [Source: Mikiko Miyakawa, Daily Yomiuri, April 7, 2005]

“Fan club members attended the concert for free, although the free tickets had to be distributed by a drawing due to the large demand. Some lucky members of the audience were also given the chance to enjoy games with their beloved star. Near the end of the event, which lasted more than two hours, Pi read out a message for his fans in halting Japanese, saying he would try his best to make his fans proud of him.

“Having trained under well-known South Korean producer and singer J.Y. Park, Pi has garnered a reputation as the No. 1 R&B singer in his country. When he made his debut in 2002, he won almost all the major rookie awards that year. Last year, he won the KBS Music Award out of a field of 25 nominees. But the 186-centimeter star initially became popular as an actor in Japan, through a TV drama titled Sang Doo! Let's Go to School!, according to Yusuke Kitabayashi, a freelance writer specializing in K-pop.

“Many people in this country initially became interested in K-pop through South Korean TV dramas and films, Kitabayashi said. For many, this phenomenon started with Ryu, whose songs were used for the wildly popular South Korean soap opera Winter Sonata. South Korean dramas are having a huge influence on the popularity of South Korean singers in this country, and some actors have turned out to be as popular as singers as they are as actors in Japan, according to Kitabayashi. Park Yong Ha, who was in Winter Sonata, and Ryu Si Won proved to be quite successful in Japan though not so much attention has been paid to them as singers back in South Korea, Kitabayashi said.

Korea Overtake Japan in the Pop Culture Wars

Euny Hong wrote in Quartz: “Once, Japanese movies, videogames, and pop music were all the rage. But now, the epicenter of Asian pop culture has moved 700 miles (1000km) westward, from Japan to Korea. And no, it didn’t start with Gangnam Style. Check out this Google Trends chart, which shows the number of Google user searches for the term “K-pop” versus searches for “J-pop”, from 2004 to the present. K-pop searches began to skyrocket fully two years before Gangnam Style’s July 2012 debut: As for music revenue, South Korea’s upswing goes against the negative trends in Japan and the world as a whole: [Source: Euny Hong, Quartz, November 16, 2012]

“Furthermore, from 2010 to 2011, South Korea’s videogame exports increased 37,7 percent, according to Korea.net, and foreign rights for Korean films increased 14 percent, according to the Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism. Not too shabby, considering that South Korea’s per capita GDP as of 2011 (US$22,424) is less than half that of Japan (US$45,870).

“Japan’s pop-culture dominance is hurting, and not just in music. Sanrio, the Japanese company that invented Hello Kitty, had a sales slump from 1999 to 2010 and is trying to bring in new characters to reduce its reliance on Hello Kitty. The Japanese film industry suffered greatly from the decline of Anime. As for the once dominant videogaming industry–well, it’s not a good sign when one of Japan’s top game designers (Keiji Inafune, creator of Mega Man) announces, “Our game industry is finished.”

One reason for South Korea’s success and Japan’s decline is “Japanese are nutty for Korean pop culture, and have pretty much voluntarily ceded the tastemaker role to South Korea. An important reason behind K-pop’s success, even in Japan’s home turf, is that Korean music labels embrace YouTube as a way of popularizing their songs. By contrast, in the words of a Japan Today article, “Unlike their Korean pop equivalents, most Japanese labels are allergic to promoting their artists’ work abroad.” South Korea, meanwhile, has seized upon music marketing over the Internet (aided by the world’s fastest broadband.)”

Why it Was So Easy for Korea to Overtake Japan in the Pop Culture Wars

Euny Hong wrote in Quartz: “Why is Japan’s cultural influence waning? Reason 1: These days, Japan makes stuff mostly for Japan. Japanese pop culture, like the Japanese archipelago itself, is too isolated from the rest of the world to have remained a sustainable global influence. This is evidenced by the neologism “Japan Galapagos Syndrome,” which compares Japan to the South American island that has its own species and ecology. In 2010, Japanese electronics company Sharp launched a tablet in Japan that was initially sold nowhere else in the world, appropriately called the Galapagos tablet. Similarly, many of Japan’s videogames are for the Japanese market only. [Source: Euny Hong, Quartz, November 16, 2012]

“Some say the problem is Japan’s reluctance to learn English and its negative population growth. Others point out that Japan, whose population is 127.8 million, is a huge enough consumer market as it is, and Japanese retailers don’t feel the need to take the huge risk of launching an overseas marketing campaign. (South Korea’s population is less than half that, at 49.8 million). Ironic, given that it was Korea, not Japan, that was once dubbed “the Hermit Kingdom” by frustrated Western conquistadors in days of yore.

“Reason 2: Korean culture is puritanical–and for global spread, that’s a good thing. Despite what you see in Korean movies, sexual repression in everyday South Korea is enforced to an annoying degree. A female Korean-American friend of mind recalls not being allowed to attend slumber parties as a child, because, “You don’t sleep at another person’s house until you are married.” When I’m with my parents, who live in Seoul, I am still expected to walk out of the room if we’re watching a movie with a sex scene, even though I’ve been an adult for quite a long time. They still won’t let me take taxis at night because they’re worried I’ll be kidnapped.

“Weirdly, a lot of Western parents can relate to, and even envy, such concerns. If a somewhat conventional culture like the U.S. is going to accept a foreign pop trend, it has to have palatable morals, and overprotectiveness is an appealing one. Japan is a different story. It, too, is sexually repressed, but it’s not puritanical. Take the J-pop band AKB48 (so named because the band has 48 members). They frequently wear school uniforms while performing, and their songs have lyrics like “My school uniform is getting in the way.” A song like that would be banned in Korea. In Korea, by contrast, schoolgirl uniforms are only worn… for school. And they have much longer skirts than do their Japanese counterparts. Japanese girl idols are expected to publish photobooks, consisting of pin-up style pictures. The Guardian wrote that such books “will invariably feature a selection of bikini shots shot on beaches in Hawaii…Sales of photobooks are so brisk that they have their own charts.”

“Meanwhile, Korean culture protects childhood innocence at any price. Which means that even if the K-pop idols are of age, they can’t appear in a spread that would be inappropriate for their child fans. Patrick St. Michel noted in our sister publication the Atlantic that K-pop bands “aren’t glimmering examples of feminism, but at least they look and act like grown women.” An example of a somewhat grown-up K-pop girl band is the nine-member Girls’ Generation, recently featured in The New Yorker. And for what it’s worth, the K-pop boy acts (Rain, Super Junior, Big Bang) were popular exports before the girl bands ever were. I hope this means that the popularity of K-pop has to do with general appeal and not just some submissive fantasy of Asian women.

“Reason 3: Because Americans are seen as the heroes of the Korean War, South Korea has been closely influenced by US pop culture. Japan, less so. Despite some grumbling, South Korea still sees the U.S. as its protectors during the Korean War (1950-1953). The U.S. continues to maintain an enormous military presence in South Korea–some 30,000 –and this has had a powerful effect on South Korean music tastes. Several generations of South Koreans grew up hearing American pop on American Forces Network television and radio, and US soldiers’ tastes created the demand for American music to be sold in shops and played in night clubs. Perhaps this is why the K-pop sound is much more US-influenced than J-pop is, particularly with the K-pop’s predilection for R and B, hip-hop, and rap. The K-pop sound, therefore, has a familiar ring to a worldwide audience raised on American pop.

China Become Enraptured with K-Pop Culture in the Mid 2000s

Reporting from Beijing, Norimitsu Onishi wrote in the New York Times: “At Korea City, on the top floor of the Xidan Shopping Center, a warren of tiny shops sell hip-hop clothes, movies, music, cosmetics and other offerings in the South Korean style. To young Chinese shoppers, it seemed not to matter that some of the products, like New York Yankees caps or Japan's Astro Boy dolls, clearly have little to do with South Korea. Or that most items originated, in fact, in Chinese factories. "We know that the products at Korea City are made in China," said Wang Ying, 28, who works for the local branch of an American company. "But to many young people, 'Korea' stands for fashionable or stylish. So they copy the Korean style." [Source: Norimitsu Onishi, New York Times, January 2, 2006]

“From clothes to hairstyle, music to television dramas, South Korea has been defining the tastes of many Chinese and other Asians for the past half decade. As part of the Korean Wave,a television drama about a royal cook, "The Jewel in the Palace," is garnering record ratings throughout Asia, and Rain, a 23-year-old singer from Seoul, drew more than 40,000 fans to a sold-out concert at a sports stadium here.

“For a country that has been influenced by other cultures, especially China but also Japan and America, South Korea finds itself at a turning point in its new role as exporter. South Korean movies and dramas about urban professionals in Seoul, though not overtly political, present images of modern lives centering on individual happiness and sophisticated consumerism. They also show enduring Confucian-rooted values in their emphasis on family relations, offering to Chinese both a reminder of what was lost during the Cultural Revolution and an example of an Asian country that has modernized and retained its traditions. "Three Guys and Three Girls" and "Three Friends" are South Korea's homegrown version of the American TV show "Friends." As for "Sex and the City," its South Korean twin, "The Marrying Type," a sitcom about three single professional women in their 30's looking for love in Seoul, was so popular in China that episodes were illegally downloaded or sold on pirated DVD's.

“"We feel that we can see a modern lifestyle in those shows," said Qu Yuan, 23, a student at Tsinghua University here. "American dramas also show the same kind of lifestyle. We know that South Korea and America have similar political systems and economies. But it's easier to accept that lifestyle from South Koreans because they are culturally closer to us. We feel we can live like them in a few years." "They seem to have similar lifestyles," Ms. Qu said. "They have friends and go to bars. They have good mobile phones and good cars and lead comfortable lives." Her classmate, Huo Kan, 23, said, "American dramas are too modern....Something like 'Sex and the City' is too alien to us." Jin Yaxi, 25, a graduate student at Beijing University, said, "We like American culture, but we can't accept it directly." "And there is no obstacle to our accepting South Korean culture, unlike Japanese culture," said Ms. Jin, who has studied both Korean and Japanese. "Because of the history between China and Japan, if a young person here likes Japanese culture, the parents will get angry."

“Politics also seems to underlie the Chinese preference for South Korean-filtered American hip-hop culture. Messages about rebelliousness, teenage angst and freedom appear more palatable to Chinese in their Koreanized versions. Kwon Ki Joon, 22, a South Korean who attends Beijing University and graduated from a Chinese high school here, said his male Chinese friends were fans of South Korea hip-hop bands, like H.O.T., and its song "We Are the Future." A sample of the song's lyrics translate roughly as: "We are still under the shadows of adults/Still not Free/To go through the day with all sorts of interferences is tiring." To Mr. Kwon, there is no mystery about the band's appeal. "It's about wanting a more open world, about rebelliousness," he said. "Korean hip-hop is basically trying to adapt American hip-hop."

“Here, at a computer center on a recent evening, young Chinese could be seen playing South Korean online games. Cyworld, the largest online community service in South Korea, is announcing its arrival in China by plastering ads on city buses. Thanks to the Korean Wave and South Korea's new image, being Korean helps business. "I'm sure there is a connection, though we don't have exact figures," Jim Sohn, the chief executive of LG Electronics China, said in an interview inside the company's brand new US$400 million headquarters here. Another company that has benefited from the Korean Wave's "positive effect" is Hyundai, said Um Kwang Heum, president of its Chinese division. Though a latecomer to China, Hyundai signed a joint venture agreement with Beijing Automotive Industry Holdings in 2002 and has already become No. 2 in sales among automakers in China.

Korean Dramas in Southeast Asia

Edward Davies and Lee Jun-goo of Reuters wrote: After a long love affair with all things Japanese, Singaporeans have their eye on Korea. Several Korean dramas have recently been launched on prime-time television. Young Singaporeans have been snatching up merchandise emblazoned with images of Korean stars and the city-state is seeing its own version of Japan's "Yong-sama" craze. "I never paid attention to Korean pop-culture until I watched 'Winter Sonata.' From there I started to look out for Korean music and actors," said Wong Kah Wai, a 26-year-old teacher. [Source: Edward Davies and Lee Jun-goo, Reuters, October 11, 2004]

“In Thailand, Korean soaps are dubbed into Thai and run in prime slots. South Korean media reports said golfer Tiger Woods had even tried to arrange a meeting with Korean actor Song Seung-heon, who stars in "Autumn in my Heart," on behalf of his Thai mother. Woods is due to visit South Korea and Japan later in the year and his mother is apparently a big fan of Song.

Shim Doobo wrote in the Kyoto Review: After Korean Wave began with the showing of Korean drama “What is Love About?” in China in 1998, “Korean television dramas have rapidly taken up airtime on television channels in countries such as Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia which saw media liberalization beginning in the 1990s. In addition, the Asian economic crisis in the late 1990s brought about a situation where Asian buyers preferred the cheaper Korean programming; Korean television dramas were a quarter of the price of Japanese ones, and a tenth of the price of Hong Kong television dramas as of 2000 (Lee, 2003). [Source: Shim Doobo, Kyoto Review, Sungshin Women’s University, 2009]

Korean Dramas Trigger Hallyu in Southeast Asia

Shim Doobo wrote in the Kyoto Review: Films and songs from Korea also accompanied the popularity of Korean television dramas across Asia. For example, the boy band H.O.T. found itself topping the pop charts in China and Taiwan in 1998... The songs and dance moves of Korean girl bands such as Wonder Girls and Girls’ Generation” became “so popular in Cambodia and Thailand” that a lot of fans and local singers there” were “imitating them. From the late 1990s, Korean films have also received critical acclaim and drawn large audiences across Asia. [Source: Shim Doobo, Kyoto Review, Sungshin Women’s University, 2009]

“Against this backdrop, Korean stars have made a big impact on the consumer culture, including food, fashion, make-up trends, and even plastic surgery. It is not uncommon to find Asian youth decorating their backpacks, notebooks, and rooms with photographs of Korean stars. So popular are Korean actresses Lee Young-ae, Song Hae Gyo, Kim Hee Sun and Jeon Ji-hyun that it has been reported that their wanna-bes in Taiwan and China request for their facial features when going for cosmetic surgery (Joins.com, 2001; Straits Times, 2002a and 2002b). With the report that several Korean actress have had their faces ‘enhanced’, women from China, Vietnam and Singapore are flocking to Korea to have their faces cosmeticized by the Korean surgeons. It is now called the Korean Wave in plastic surgery (Kim Chul-joong, 2009).”

“Given their infatuation with Korean culture, the overseas fans are eager to learn the Korean language and travel to Korea. For example, the number of the Test of Proficiency in Korean (TOPIK) takers around the world have increased to 189,320 in 2009 from 2,692 in 1997 largely because of the interest generated by Korean television dramas (Yi, 2009). Travel agencies around Southeast Asia sell television drama-themed group tours to Korea. Thanks to the Korean Wave, the Korea National Tourism Organization (KNTO) has been planning to develop travel programs in order to have more inbound tourists.

“The growing popularity of Korean pop culture has more implications than simply earning foreign currency, especially considering that the country has had some diplomatic friction with its neighbours in the past decades. The Vietnamese still vividly remember that Korean soldiers fought against their Liberation Army during the Vietnam War. The Taiwanese have felt betrayed by Korea ever since Seoul suddenly severed its diplomatic relations with Taipei in order to establish new ties with Beijing in 1992. In this vein, Korean pop stars have contributed to improving Korea’s foreign relations. In one instance, Korean actor Jang Dong-gun and actress Kim Nam-ju enjoyed such popularity in Vietnam that the Vietnamese even labelled them their ‘national’ stars. The then Korean President, Kim Dae Jung, even invited the pair to the dinner he hosted for Vietnamese President Tran Duc Luong when the latter visited Korea on 23 August 2001 (Australian, 2002).

Korean Dramas Find Global Audiences, Rival Telenovelas

In 2007, Elisa Santafe of AFP wrote: “South Korean soap operas are winning global audiences and have become major rivals to Latin America's racier telenovelas, participants at an industry conference held in Spain said. Jordanian television distributor Media Marketing and Production started buying the rights to air South Korean serials in the Arab world last year since they cause less headaches with censors, its manager Firas Al-Homoud said. [Source: Elisa Santafe, AFP, October 6, 2007]

“Telenovelas, as soap operas are called in South America, feature scenes that depict sex or deal with topics like homosexuality that need to be edited out by Arab television channels or else they cannot be broadcast, he said. "For this reason we are trying South Korean dramas, they cause us less trouble," he said on Friday on the last day of the two-day World Summit of the Telenovela and Fiction Industry held in Barcelona. They usually deal with family intrigue, class differences and love triangles and tend to have less violence and sex than their Latin American or US counterparts. One of South Korea's most popular soap operas, "Dae Jang Geum," or "Jewel in the Palace," depicts a female doctor attending the royal court in the days when Korea was unified.

“Over the past three years South Korean serials have surpassed Latin American ones in popularity in the Asian nation's neighbours like Malaysia and the Philippines, said the organiser of the conference, Amanda Ospina. "They want to reach not only the Asian market but the whole world," said Ospina, who is the editor of industry magazine TVMas.

“Some smaller national channels as well as regional stations in Latin America have begun airing South Korean serial dramas. The trend began two years ago when a regional station in Mexico aired a dubbed drama. There are currently three South Korean soap operas airing at the moment in Mexico, Bolivia and Colombia.

Cultural difference appear not to be a barrier to audiences. "Through their soap operas we are discovering the similarities that exist between Latin America and Asia, we are all Third World countries," said Ospina. The South Korean soap operas that have aired in Latin America however tend to be given to producers at low cost to stations that could otherwise not afford them in an effort to open up new markets. "It is unfair competition because who is behind these productions is the (South Korean) government," said the head of Israeli-Argentine distributor Dorimedia, Jose Escalante.

Korean Pop Culture Big in Remote Indian State of Manipur

When separatist rebels in the remote Indian state of Manipur banned Hindi movies in 2000 who would have ever thought it would trigger a cultural invasion from South Korea. AFP reported: “But when Bollywood was forced out, the Koreans moved in. In the markets of the state capital Imphal, shops are packed with DVDs of South Korean films and television soap operas, as well as CDs of Korean pop stars, with a particular focus on preening boy bands. Hairdressing salons are covered with head shots of Korean celebrities and offer a wide range of spiky, “Korean-style” cuts which are hugely popular with young Manipuris of both sexes. Teenagers also trawl through Gambhir Market, a three-story warren of tiny boutiques, for skinny jeans and other clothing trends inspired by Korean television shows. [Source: AFP, May 9, 2011]

“Even the language has made inroads, with Korean phrases like annyeong-haseyo (hello), kamsahamnida (thank you) and sarang-haeyo (I love you) peppering conversations in schoolyards and market-places. “When we're back at boarding school, my friends and I practice our few phrases of Korean and often talk about what it would be like growing up in Korea,” said female student Akshaya Longjam, 14. “It just seems so much fun and everybody is good-looking; the girls are pretty and the boys are so cute,” said Longjam, a dedicated fan of the Korean boy band Big Bang and its star singer G-Dragon.

“At first glance, Manipur would seem the unlikeliest of takers for the so-called “Korean Wave” of pop culture that swept over China, Japan and much of Southeast Asia at the beginning of the last decade. Tiny, landlocked and with a population of less than three million, Manipur borders Myanmar and is one of India's “Seven Sisters” – seven northeastern states connected to the rest of India by a sliver of land that arches over Bangladesh. In the 1970s, 80s and 90s, entertainment for Manipuris was largely supplied by India's dominant cultural force, Bollywood.

“But then in 2000, a number of the multiple armed secessionist groups that have been active in Manipur since the 1960s ordered a ban on Hindi movies and Hindi satellite TV channels, in a professed bid to “protect” Manipuri culture. Backed by threats to bomb recalcitrant cinemas and cable operators, the ban was extremely effective and remains in force today. Desperate to fill the vacuum, cable operators experimented with whatever came to hand, including Arirang TV, a 24-hour, English-language network based in Seoul that began beaming in a diet of dramas and cultural features.

“Korea's KBS World followed with its own stable of subtitled soap operas and, within a few months, Manipur was hooked. “Watching Korean soaps and films takes me away from the realities of daily life in Manipur,” said 19-year-old college student Soma Lhishram. “We have a problem with water, electricity, roads... you name it. But everything looks so perfect in Korea. It's like a fantasy world.” The attraction is partly a cultural one. The Mongol roots of ethnic Manipuris mean their physical features are far closer to those of Koreans than other Indians.

“The family-oriented soap operas resonate strongly in what is a socially conservative state, while teen romance dramas have a mass following among the young. Lhishram, a part-time actress, is a particular fan of the high school drama “Boys Over Flowers” and one of its heartthrob stars, Lee Min-Hoo. “It's a big dream of mine to travel to Korea and to work on a film there,”she said during a break in shooting for a Manipuri language music video in the grounds of a local college.

“Endless repeat viewings of all shows are also available thanks to thousands of English-subtitled DVDs – many of them pirated – which are smuggled in from Myanmar and retail in Imphal markets for less than a dollar. Otojit Kshetrimayum, a research scholar in sociology at Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University, has written an academic paper on the phenomenal popularity of all things Korean in Manipur. “The key factor is cultural proximity, both in appearance and values,”Kshetrimayum said. “The themes and characters that the Korean movies and dramas depict strike a chord with both the younger and older generations in Manipur.”

Chinese and Southeast Asians Go Nuts for “Descendants of the Sun”

In 2016, AFP reported: “Millions across Asia will sit down this week for the finale of a hit South Korean drama series that has triggered relationship health warnings in China, a thumbs-up review from Thailand’s junta chief and a trans-regional passion for its two young stars. “Descendants of the Sun” tells the story of an army captain sent on a peacekeeping mission to a fictional war-torn country, Uruk, where he meets and falls in love with a surgeon working with a medical NGO. The 16-episode show has garnered impressive domestic ratings for broadcaster KBS, but its real success has been overseas and the series has been hailed for reviving the so-called “Hallyu” (Korean wave) of K-pop and K-drama that started spreading across Asia in the early 2000s. [Source: AFP, April 12, 2016]

“It has proved particularly popular in China, where it has been simulcast on the video-streaming site iQiyi.com and has notched up more than 2 billion accumulated views, while becoming one of the top-ranked search and discussion topics on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter. “Will I be able to find an acceptable husband if I keep watching K-dramas?” said one Weibo user, describing herself as “totally in love” with lead actor Song Joong-ki’s character. Such obsessive yearnings triggered a tongue-in-cheek warning from China’s Public Security Ministry about thousands of women who were suffering from “Song Joong-ki sickness.” “When chasing male or female stars, do not become too infatuated with them, because sometimes your casual words could end up hurting those who really care for you,” the ministry advised on its own Weibo account.

“And it is not just China. In Singapore, advertising executive Jamayne Lam, who described Song as “every girl’s dream,” confessed to getting hooked on the drama after just 10 minutes and binge-watching all 11 available episodes in two days. In Hong Kong, where it’s shown on Viu TV — a free-to-air channel that also has an online portal — the series is popular with commuters who like to view it on their smartphones while traveling to and from work. “After watching the first episode, I could not help but chase it,” said Susan Yuen, a 30-year-old clerk, adding that waiting for the latest episode upload has become a weekly routine for her and many colleagues in her office.

“In Thailand, former army chief-turned-Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha praised the series for its sense of sacrifice, obedience and duty. “So please watch it and if anyone wants to make such a drama I will financially sponsor it to make people love government officials,” Prayuth told delegates at a government function in Bangkok. His only criticism was that Song is possibly too young and handsome. “In real life a captain must shoulder a lot of burden and would look older,” he suggested.”

New Wave of Korean Dramas Helped by Netflix Hits

The Asahi Shimbun reported: “Even a beloved Japanese TV celebrity such as Tetsuko Kuroyanagi could be swept up in the new Korean Wave bringing TV dramas and other entertainment products to foreign shores. She commented on Instagram on the "interesting" South Korean TV drama "Crash Landing on You" while confessing that she "binge-watched all the episodes without stopping." Led by the popularity of “Crash Landing on You” and “Itaewon Class,” both distributed by Netflix, titles from the country are reigniting the Japanese people’s interest in South Korean pop culture. [Source: Asahi Shimbun, July 5, 2020]

“They are being highly watched not only in Japan but also the Middle East, Southeast Asia and elsewhere in the world, partly due to their depiction of modern women, the national promotional campaign by Seoul, and stories that can be easily localized. Many posts praising the two South Korean dramas are uploaded every day on Twitter, describing them as “the only touch of color added to my self-isolated life,” while another Twitter user said the person has “watched it five times.”

“In “Crash Landing on You,” a South Korean woman from a financial conglomerate family crash-lands on North Korea in a paraglider accident, and falls in love with a commissioned officer of the reclusive state’s military. The work is filled with such factors as a huge industrial group, family feuds and other elements often featured in South Korean titles. Humor related to the clash of cultures and an emotional roller-coaster from the heart-tugging romance leave viewers spellbound and sets it apart. A star from “Winter Sonata,” a pioneering drama released in 2002 to crack open Japan’s entertainment market, makes an appearance in “Crash Landing on You” as well, adding to its appeal.

“Meanwhile, the protagonist of “Itaewon Class” is a young man whose life was ruined by a powerful family, and he challenges a huge restaurant chain with his friends. The drama adaptation of a popular online comic portrays a strong revenge motivation for his actions. When both titles were put out all over the world on the Netflix video streaming platform following their airing in South Korea, they quickly became two of the most popular works in the service’s ranking. After “Crash Landing on You” and “Itaewon Class” were successively introduced by the mass media in the Middle East, Southeast Asia and other regions, they made waves across the globe.

““Crash Landing on You,” “Parasite” and other titles set in situations peculiar to South Korea have proven popular abroad in some instances. But such dramas as “Itaewon Class,” which portrays young people combating economic disparity, are especially promising, because the localized versions of stories themed on universal issues can easily be created outside South Korea. The “Good Doctor” drama series released in Japan following the global hit of its U.S. version, as well as the “Signal” and “Voice” drama series aired in Japan, are all based on stories made in South Korea.”

Korean Dramas Popular the Middle East

In article on the Korean Wave in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Donya Saberi wrote in The Diplomat: “Global streaming services, such as Netflix, have led to the establishment of locally based businesses in the Middle East that are committed to bringing South Korea to the region or franchising Korean brands locally.

“Korean pop culture might be making hits on global charts, but what is noteworthy in the United Arab Emirates is the popularity of K-dramas on streaming services like Netflix. As of 2019, 30 percent of Netflix subscribers are from Middle East, Africa, and Europe; the UAE alone has over 300,000 subscribers as of the first quarter of 2020. Although this number is not high among global rates, the revenue that Netflix has predicted it will gain from its UAE streams has increased from less than US$1 million in 2017 to US$6.03 million in 2020. [Source: Donya Saberi, The Diplomat, October 5, 2020, Donya Saberi is a Dubai based social science researcher, who is currently a research Fellow and lecturer at Middlesex University, Dubai. She is interested in analyzing the social changes in the Middle East caused by political reforms and its global impacts.

“K-dramas are a contributing factor to Netflix’s overall success in the UAE, as Korean series continue to be in the top 10 most viewed shows in the country. Some of the most streamed series in the UAE include “Itaewon Class,” “Crash Landing on You,” and “Guardian: The Lonely and Great God” to name a few. The demand for Korean movies and series is evident. For example, local newspapers have published articles presenting the top Korean shows to watch on Netflix. The reasons behind this phenomenon are many, including South Korea’s soft power plan aimed at making Korean culture prominent globally and also the success of award winning movies such as “Parasite,” which has attracted new riders to the Hallyu wave. At the moment, Korean series are being promoted as “feel good” series that can distract viewers from the pandemic. Korean series are known for their unique takes on love, representation of romance in non-sexual contexts and having women leads.

“With the continued success of K-dramas, Netflix has recognized the genre’s potential and has been investing in producing more. Netflix released its first K-drama, “Kingdom,” in January 2019. In August 2020 alone, Netflix announced the release of three shows – “Start-up,” “Alive,” and “The School Nurse” – and confirmed the production of three new original series – “Hellbound,” “Move to Heaven,” and “Deserter Pursuit” directed by award winning director Han Jun-hee.

D. M. Park wrote in Korea Bizwire: “The Korea Communications Commission has announced the results of an Internet survey conducted last year to look into the response to Korean dramas in Turkey and three other countries in the Middle East – Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. The study was based on 27 Korean dramas and analyzed public opinion, news articles and videos. According to the analysis, the response of Turkish netizens reached a total of 9,746 cases and there were 15 news articles. There were also 852 videos, which were viewed 38,795 times in total. Turkish netizens were more active in the comments section of videos rather than on SNS. [Source: Korea Bizwire, January 18, 2019]

‘My Only One’ received the most comments and ‘100 Days My Prince’ had the most viewed videos and was mentioned most in the articles. On the other hand, ‘The Rich Son’ had the most videos. Meanwhile, the responses among netizens in the three Middle Eastern countries totaled 13,391, and there were 188 news articles. The number of videos clocked in at 720, and they were viewed 861,410 times in total. ‘The Guest’ received the most comments and ‘Devilish Charm’ was most mentioned in the articles.

Popular Korean Dramas Help Sell Products in the Middle East

Donya Saberi wrote in The Diplomat: ““The attraction to K-dramas has not only increased tourism to South Korea, but it has also encouraged the opening of several local businesses based on the concept of bringing Korean pop culture to the UAE. An example of this is an e-commerce website called K Girls Closet, where you can find clothes and beauty products straight from South Korea. The website states: “They say K-Wave – so called ‘Hallyu; Korean Wave’ is so strong these days. It could be with Korean Drama where good-looking ‘Oppa’ and ‘Unni’ tell their romances, or with extremely spicy ‘Samyang’ Chicken Ramyon. All it funnels down to; Yeah, Korean Stuff.” [Source: Donya Saberi, The Diplomat, October 5, 2020]

“A similar company, Chicsta, claims to cater to “the K-community in UAE, who binge watch K-Series, are loyal fans of K-Dramas, & lets not forget religious Korean Skincare followers!” The founders of Chicsta explained that once in Seoul, they understood that Hallyu was fun. All the drama and individuality was present in the food, merchandise, and skincare products and they needed to bring it to the UAE.

“In addition to the several e-commerce websites that are dedicated to Korean products, there are Korean restaurants run by Korean families residing in the UAE. South Korean fried chicken franchise NeNe Chicken opened its first store in the UAE. I recently interviewed Kelly Frost, the director of NeNe Chicken Middle East and asked what attracted them to open up a branch in the UAE. She said that “NeNe Chicken is growing worldwide and now is in seven countries through Asia Pacific; the plan for 2020/2021 is to open in China, Canada, and the UK.” She added that the “opportunity to come into the Middle East market in UAE and specifically Dubai” came about “as it is a foodie city that needed Korean Fried Chicken.”

“Frost also responded that there has been positive feedback so far. “All customers love NeNe Chicken. The crunchiness, juicy chicken and the different flavors is an attraction, and it is different than conventional fried chicken as the Korean fried chicken is unique Some customers have tried NeNe in South Korea or on their travels through [the] Asia-Pacific so they are familiar; for others it’s a brand new experience.”

“I asked her whether there is any relation between the success of NeNe Chicken and the increased popularity of Korean culture overall in the UAE. She responded that “Korean fried chicken is one of the most popular Korean foods. Korean fried chicken is growing worldwide with K-drama, K-movies and K-pop bringing awareness in UAE. NeNe Chicken as an authentic popular Korean fried chicken brand now in the UAE is gaining popularity as people have either heard about it already, they have already had it before, or want to try it.” The Korean brand is not stopping at Dubai, either. Frost said that “We have plans to expand into the other Gulf countries as soon as we can.”

Popular Korean Dramas in Latin America

Dani Madrid-Morales of City University of Hong Kong wrote:“Ratings of South Korean dramas in places like Ecuador and Chile are also increasing and some manage to attract more viewership during prime time than local telenovelas (Granic, 2013). In Colombia, for example, Cheon-guk eui Gyedan/Stairway to Heaven (Escalera al cielo in Spanish) was the most watched afternoon program in 2013. [Source: Dani Madrid-Morales, ‘Transatlantic connection’: K-pop and K-drama fandom in Spain and Latin America,” City University of Hong Kong, 2014]

“While in the late 1990s the Korean Wave rose somewhat ‘spontaneously’” in Asia, “a more calculated process has taken place in Latin America, where Korean institutions have used popular culture as a tool for promotion. In 2008, the Korea Creative Content Agency (KOCCA) was created to help the promotion of television content, video games and other cultural industries. KOCCA’s foundational goals were to turn Korea into a global cultural superpower (Chun, 2011). In Central and Latin America a more direct approach was taken by another agency, the Korea Foundation

“Under its guidance, Korea’s top rated shows, such as Gyeoul Yeonga/Winter Sonata (Sonata de Invierno) or Dae Jang Geum/Jewel in the Palace (Una joya en el palacio), have been dubbed into Spanish and distributed locally. This has translated into a massive disembarking of dramas on television channels across Central and South America. Except for Spain and Argentina, all Latin American countries studied in this article have had K-drama broadcast on national or local television stations

“A careful look at the dates of broadcasting of K-drama in Latin America reveals different stages of arrival. They were initially sponsored by South Korean government agencies, but now, there is also an active participation of broadcasters. Each episode of Cheon-guk eui Gyedan/Stairway to Heaven is said to have been sold to Puerto Rico’s Public Broadcasting Company in 2006 for one US dollar. This compares much favourably in terms of prices to Mexican telenovelas, which can cost between 5,000 and 12,000 U.S. dollars per episode (López Tejeda, 2011). This kind of accessibility of Cheon-guk eui Gyedan/Stairway to Heaven certainly contributed to its popularity, especially in Ecuador and Colombia, where it achieved some of the highest ratings (Yonhap, 2013; RCN Television, 2013). More recently, Korean broadcasters, knowing about the high popularity of their productions, have signed agreements with local television channels and have taken a more proactive stance in the global distribution. For example, the sales of MBC, Korea’s major broadcaster, at an annual TV contents market held in the United States, totalled 103,450 US dollars, surpassing by far the previous year’s sales record of 70,000 US dollars (Lee, 2013)

Korean Drama Fans in Latin America

Dani Madrid-Morales of City University of Hong Kong wrote: The core of the article is the reporting of results from an online survey distributed to over 500 Latin American and Spanish fans in 12 countries . The demographic portrait of K-pop and K-drama fans in Spanish-speaking countries that comes out of our survey confirms that the vast majority of fans are female (94.5 percent) and that male account for a small fraction (5,4 percent). The average age is 21.41 (21.42 for female and 21.48 for male), the youngest respondent being 11 and the oldest 56. The largest group is that of 18 to 25 years olds (54.8 percent), followed by those under 18 (27.7 percent) and then the 26 to 35 years old group (14 percent). The young age of most of respondents seems to determine other demographic variables. [Source: Dani Madrid-Morales, ‘Transatlantic connection’: K-pop and K-drama fandom in Spain and Latin America,” City University of Hong Kong, 2014]

“A large majority are single (93 percent), are currently studying (70.7 percent), live with their family (90.6 percent) and have a monthly income of 300 euros or less (66.2 percent). In terms of racial composition, fans surveyed report being predominantly Hispanic (74.4 percent) or Caucasian (14.4 percent), and only residual figures were recorded for Asian (1.5 percent), Black (1.7 percent) and other groups (7.7 percent). This internal demographic homogeneity occurs despite the fact that there is considerable geographic dispersion, with 23 countries accounted for when participants were asked about their nationality, Mexico is the most populated country in Latin America and also accounts for the highest number of people surveyed (17.3 percent, n = 94). Argentina and Venezuela come second (11.6 percent, n = 63)

“In terms of cultural consumption habits, in 95 percent of the cases (n = 515) respondents report to have consumed K-pop regularly in the previous month. The value is lower for K-drama (85.1 percent, n = 461) and slightly smaller for those who say to have consumed both (80.1 percent, n = 434). The preference for Asian cultural artefacts – particularly visual culture – over those coming from other countries is confirmed when looking at other responses. Those surveyed say to have watched Korean cinema (44.3 percent) or other Asian dramas (29.7 percent) over the course of the previous month, both of which are higher values than those reported for American (25.8 percent), Spanish (6.3 percent) and Latin American (14.9 percent) television shows, including soap operas. Not only do respondents seem fond of Korean contemporary popular culture, but also they show interest in learning the language and visiting the country. One third of those surveyed say to be studying Korean (30.8 percent) and 65.1 percent chose Korean as the first language they would study if they could pick one. Only a very small fraction say to have visited South Korea (3.3 percent) but a large majority say they would like to visit (71.8 percent)

“In general terms, those surveyed appear to be heavy consumers of K-drama. Over 40 percent claim to watch six or more episodes of K-drama every week and the percentage is just slightly higher for those who report watching between two and five. Users tend to watch K-drama alone (74.8 percent) and, if they are to watch it with somebody else, this is more likely to be a family member (29.1 percent) than friends (20.6 percent). The most common way used to watch K-drama amongst those surveyed is to stream videos online (87 percent), which appears to be more popular than video downloads (31.9 percent)

“Another possible point of access is television (28.4 percent), which has a slightly higher value than rented or purchased DVD’s (23 percent). Those who reported watching K-drama on television were more likely to do so accompanied by family members (χ² = 11.51, n = 131, p ≤ .001), than those who watch it online. Despite the fact that watching K-drama seems to occur mostly online, the reason that more respondents reported as the trigger for their current interest is having first watched an episode on television (46.2 percent). Other reasons given were: previous interest in K-pop (40.6 percent), a friend’s recommendation (36.9 percent) and because of an interest about Korea (33 percent). The survey allowed multiple answers in these last three questions. For those who gave only one reason (n = 205), the prime trigger was also having watched K-drama on TV. The preferred genres are equally romance and comedy (76.8 percent)

“In RQ2 we asked about the needs for which K-drama and K-pop fans seek gratification. In a scale from 1 (totally disagree) to 5 (totally agree), the prompt that respondents were more comfortable with was “I watch K-drama because it entertains me and helps me relax” (M = 4.80), followed by “I watch K-drama because I want to learn about Asian cultures, and particularly Korean culture” (M = 4.54). We consider the latter to be an example of a cognitive need, while the former as an example of a need to escape. When comparing aggregates of the five categories of needs that we measured, the highest values are for cognitive (M = 8.94), escape (M = 8.76) and affective (M = 8.49). A comparison of age groups reveals one major difference: respondents of 35 and above do not consider K-drama as a potential gratifier of social or integrative needs When comparing mean scores for aggregate values between those over 35 (M = 4.14) and all other groups (M = 6.70), significant differences were found. A similar question was posed to Kpop consumers. The two dominant needs were escape (M = 9.12) and affective (M = 9.00)

“We presented respondents with two lists of activities and asked them to select all those in which they had been involved in the previous 12 months. For K-drama, while 91.3 percent reported having searched online about a show and 89.2 percent having listened to a soundtrack, only 8.7 percent said to have helped create fansubs, 4.1 percent uploaded an episode online and 3.3 percent created their own video. For K-pop consumers, engagement levels seemed to be higher

“Reception and cultural decoding For an analysis of how fans decode and interpret K-drama and K-pop we presented them with a list of statements and asked them to rate their agreement on a scale from 1 (totally disagree) to 5 (totally agree). The measurements about how K-drama is decoded disclose a blurrier picture. Both at the denotative and connotative levels, following Ang’s concepts, audiences report some remoteness in the shows they are watching. They generally disagree with the statement “I think Korean culture is similar to mine” (M = 2.15) and, to a lesser extent, with the sentence “I think Koreans are similar to me” (M = 2.55). Nonetheless, the foreignness of the shows, in other words, the fact that South Korea is seen as not culturally proximate, does not constitute an impediment to them watching. At the connotative level, we found that those surveyed perceive the stories and the relationships in them as somewhat distant. They partially agree that family relationships (M = 3.38) and love relationships (M = 3.51) are not similar to their own, and they partially disagree with the statement that “In my life I have experienced similar things to those I see on the show.” (M = 2.76). The paradox is that despite all of these, the majority of respondents (60.5 percent) agreed that they would like to see their life mirror that of the last drama they had watched

Male Hallyu Fans in Latin America

Dani Madrid-Morales of City University of Hong Kong wrote: As we have shown, the majority of K-pop and K-drama consumers are women. That is the reason why most works tend to concentrate on female identities. Males are either completely absent from the discourse or touched upon only marginally. However, fandom cannot be fully understood without understanding the full spectrum of the audience demography. The number of respondents is small (n = 29), but we nonetheless consider their responses to be illustrative examples of transnational – probably global – trends, which should be taken into account. For example, despite a high geographical dispersion of respondents (12 countries), there are still notable similarities between them: they are mostly single; they are younger than 25 and have a monthly available income of 100 euros or less. Further similarities come to light as our focus shifts from statistical to textual analysis. This section, that is, the analysis of self-narratives, is divided into three parts: perceptions about South Korean culture, social acceptance of Hallyu, and issues of gender and sexuality [Source: Dani Madrid-Morales, ‘Transatlantic connection’: K-pop and K-drama fandom in Spain and Latin America,” City University of Hong Kong, 2014]

“We begin with the examination of perceptions about South Korean culture. In their narratives, male respondents tend to idealize Korean culture and declare its ethical dominance. It is important to note here that despite their strong attitudes, none of the respondents has ever visited South Korea. Nonetheless, their praise often highlights Korean morality and, especially, a perceived general respect for elders. One respondent from Spain describes his love for South Korea by elaborating on what first triggered his interest: From 2001, I started to look into Asian countries and South Korea was the one that inspired me the most. The landscapes, the history and morality of people all got me addicted. Me, myself being Christian… here, the respect and the morality are being lost “It is a pity. I don’t know... It is a country that increasingly attracts me. I feel I am half Korean

“In addition, many stress Korea’s rich tradition, history, and good manners. One respondent illustrates this by saying how it strikes him that ‘they (Koreans) are so polite towards elderly people,’ while another respondent praises Korean society by saying that it is ‘superior to ours.’ In terms of social acceptance of Hallyu, fans we examined seem to have divided views. A majority feels that the rest of society looks down upon them, that they are judged for emulating Korean styles and criticized by their environment. However, most of the respondents show confidence in their own preferences and do not seem to be overly concerned about a perceived social awkwardness

“As far as the issues of gender and sexuality go, male respondents seem to be concerned with the fact that their liking for K-pop or K-drama are sometimes mistaken with their sexual preferences Namely, they report that individuals from their immediate environment often stigmatize and label them as ‘gay’ because they enjoy K-pop. One of them writes: ‘they are always criticizing me for listening to Chinese music. Koreans tend to have very feminine looks and my brother, who is very homophobic, is always telling me: “there you are, watching your Chinese gays.”’ Another respondent describes a similar experience by saying that ‘they think that Koreans are gay and presume that I am gay too.’ The issue of homosexuality also came up in discussing Hallyu fashion. One of the participants from Chile describes how Koreans have much higher beauty standards and compares that to his own culture: ‘in Chile, if you worry too much about your skin, your physical appearance or your clothing, they call you gay.’ He goes on to conclude that Chile has a long way to go but that it will eventually adapt and come closer to the standards of South Korea

“Conversely, it seems that some of the fans are attracted to Hallyu precisely because it is far less sexualized than similar products from the ‘West’. One respondent complains that K-pop is demeaned because ‘nowadays people only want sex and more sex. They don’t leave time for romance.’ Two other respondents voice a similar longing for the platonic love depicted in South Korean dramas. Their nostalgia corresponds, to some extent, to the sentiments voiced by middleaged female fans of Gyeoul yeonga/Winter Sonata in Japan (Mori, 2008). Preference for ‘good old days’ when love was more pure and capitalism less prevalent is something that these two otherwise dissimilar audience groups seem to have in common

Reply 1988: a Korean Drama Reviewed by the New Yorker

Matthew Trammell wrote in The New Yorker: ““Reply 1988,” a Korean drama about a group of friends in Seoul in the nineteen-eighties, follows its teen-aged protagonists as they celebrate, bicker, and plunge into a newly borderless world of pop culture. “Reply 1988,” a Korean drama about a group of friends in Seoul in the nineteen-eighties, follows its teen-aged protagonists as they celebrate, bicker, and plunge into a newly borderless world of pop culture. [Source: Matthew Trammell, The New Yorker, May 29, 2016]

“A few episodes into the Korean drama series “Reply 1988,” a slacker schoolgirl named Deok-sun and her rascal pal Dong-ryong show off their language skills. In a study group with her friends, Deok-sun is chided by her older sister, Bo-ra, for ranking dead last in her class. “English is just memorization, just memorize it!” she taunts. “Do you even know any words?” Deok-sun and Dong-ryong take turns meekly rattling off conjugated pronouns that prove they at least got through first-year English—“He, his, him, his!”—and Bo-ra, a student at Seoul University with an ace transcript, isn’t impressed. Dong-ryong ups the ante with a tumble of gravelly German articles—Derdesdemdem diederderdie!—before Deok-sun seizes the chance to derail all productivity. “Hey, I know Spanish!” she shouts, and bursts into “Directo al Corazón,” the 1982 hit by the Mexican teen idol Luis Miguel, goofily running through verses rewritten in Korean and the instantly recognizable Spanish chorus. Bo-ra grunts, enraged at the immaturity on display, but her sister’s gag resonates: why read from a textbook when there are awesome songs to learn in every language?

“The scene typifies the quirky humor, nostalgic lilt, and borderless perspective that’s made “Reply 1988” a record-breaking success in Korea last year: its final episode, in January, was the most viewed season finale in Korean cable-TV history. As the title suggests, the series is set in 1988, a significant year for Seoul. The Summer Olympics brought the world’s eyes to the developing city, and the year came to represent the influx of culture from around the globe to a nation that was still shaking off a generation of dictatorship, conservatism, poverty, and protests. Real-world events like these are woven into the plot: in the pilot, Deok-sun is ecstatic to bear the flag for Madagascar in the Olympic opening ceremony, mainly because she gets to be on television. The series delights in her spunky outbursts and deceptive wit; she’s an alpha female growing into her own as her friends and their families bounce between potluck dinners and sleepovers on a sleepy street in their neighborhood of Ssangmun-dong. The parents hand-wring over money and nag about homework while the teen-agers—Deok-sun and Dong-ryong, along with the neighborhood boys Taek, Sun-woo, and Jung-hwan—obsess over new music, don high-waisted jeans and Air Jordans, sneak into R-rated movies, navigate newly raging hormones, and scream, nag, and slap each other over the last slice of pizza.

“Deok-sun, the only female in her crew, is played glossily by the Korean pop star Hye-ri. She indiscriminately bats her eyes at her four buddies and would-be suitors, who are initially too confused or grossed out by their childhood friend to reciprocate. The show’s rhythmic cuts, symmetrical frames, and earthy color palette recall Wes Anderson, and the shout-along covers of K-pop classics insure that reality might suspend at any minute—soundtrack sales soon skyrocketed along with the ratings. Cultural in-jokes litter the production: in a meta-epilogue, an adult version of Deok-sun is played by Lee Mi-yeon, an eighties and nineties star whom the young boys had ogled in her first role just a few scenes prior. The snappy, droll humor carries strongly through the English subtitles. One hilarious scene finds an impish father refusing to take back a rude comment over lunch: “Instead of an apology, I’ll give you a B-pology,” he quips. “God damn it!” his wife barks, whacking at his arm across the table. “Stop it with your stupid dad jokes!”

“In our golden age of meaty, long-view, “Breaking Bad”-esque television, these kinds of breezy laughs and insular bonds are themselves nostalgic. The Norman Lear sitcoms of the seventies, whose familial spirit carried up to the edge of the aughts, now scan as cliché. The most lauded American shows today are angrier and achier: whether zombies, dragons, or modernity, evil forces plague our heroes from the outside, and bring emotions to the surface through scenes of fury, agony, or both. Perhaps it’s not an accident that binge-watching as an American pastime has coincided with TV’s growing moodiness: are we stuck on these shows, or under them?

Reply 1988: the Kind of Korean Drama That Could Make It in America

Matthew Trammell wrote in The New Yorker: “Comparisons to “The Wonder Years” or “That ’70s Show” extend beyond the temporal shtick: “1988” is the latest in a trilogy produced by South Korea’s tvN network, preceded by shows set in 1997 and 1994. This iteration, like its predecessors, certainly doesn’t reflect the slick melodramatic romances and revenge arcs that may spring to mind when one thinks of K-drama blockbusters. Good gags prevail over plot twists: there are no dramatic deaths, scenes of infidelity, or fixed villains. The kids that “1988” chronicles exist in an unhurried world of their own making, streaming past parents in single file to while away hours on each other’s bedroom floors. Despite its dominance in the ratings, the show’s fraternal slant was born largely of low expectations. Last fall, the director and producer Shin Won-ho explained that, even though the first two “Reply” shows had performed very well, the writers were uncertain of the demand for a third, and so they took liberties to make a particularly comical show about family, friends, and common struggles. “In my memory, in 1988, Korea still had a lot of warmth and affection in interpersonal relationships,” he told the Korea Herald, “regardless of the economic, social or political conditions . . . We tried to depict history as ordinary people experienced it.” [Source: Matthew Trammell, The New Yorker,May 29, 2016]

“It makes sense that American studios would eventually look toward Korea for story lines to attract strife-hungry audiences. Skybound Entertainment, the studio behind “The Walking Dead,” has signed on to produce an upcoming pre-apocalyptic Korean drama, “Five Year,” in partnership with the video-streaming site Viki—think Hulu, but full of Asian dramas, Bollywood films, and anime. In the series, a meteor looms toward earth, projected to impact in five years (or seasons): the doomed cast is left to reconcile their finite existence while waiting out the days.

“David Alpert, the president and C.E.O. of Skybound, talked with Variety about sidestepping the traditional American heroism that appears in many comic books and TV shows, including his own: “There is no Bruce Willis we can put on a rocket ship to blow up the meteor,” he says. Instead, “Five Year” aims to combine dramatic tropes from both countries. Alpert says that the show “highlights the intense interpersonal moments that Korean dramas capture so well, and sets them against the epic backdrop for which Skybound has become known.” Some American audiences may already recognize this blend of sadness, rage, and despair in our public discourse, and in the art onto which we map its themes. Even Beyoncé’s Vaseline smile turned downward this year under the weight of sinking patrol cars.

“It’s tempting to view the nostalgia and good-natured vibe of “Reply 1988” as a counterbalance to this mood, and the show’s wide success in Korea as a nudge against han’s cultural prominence there. However, the show’s true power is in the specificity of its setting. “Reply 1988” captures the curiosity and energy of a young generation at a turning point, newly empowered by its sharper view of a world beyond its shores. Throughout the series, pop culture lets the characters see and hear a world their parents cannot; it empowers them to sing about love in English and Spanish, whether or not they can speak the language.

“This April, “Reply 1988” arrived on Viki, allowing subscribers in Chile, New Zealand, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, the United States, and beyond to tune in. The company announced its arrival with an eager tweet: “Your wish has been answered!” The site itself, with its hundreds of shows from dozens of countries (many of them subtitled and synched by teams of multilingual fans), offers curious viewers the same unprecedented windows into other cultures that fascinated Deok-sun and her friends and helped change South Korea almost thirty years ago. One marked comfort found in “Reply 1988” may be the evidence that, across space and time, families yell about the same things, friends geek out over the same things, and songs are written about the same things. The challenge now is to actively commit to this larger scale of consumption: to seek out ideas from outside our own silos, by choice, in order to find entirely new viewpoints—or, at least, entirely new TV shows.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons.

Text Sources: South Korean government websites, Korea Tourism Organization, Cultural Heritage Administration, Republic of Korea, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Library of Congress, CIA World Factbook, World Bank, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Chunghee Sarah Soh in “Countries and Their Cultures”, “Columbia Encyclopedia”, Korea Times, Korea Herald, The Hankyoreh, JoongAng Daily, Radio Free Asia, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, BBC, AFP, The Atlantic, The Guardian, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2021

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