A term now widely used to refer to the popularity of Korean entertainment and culture across Asia and other parts of the world, Hallyu or the “Korean Wave” first appeared during the mid-1990s after Korea entered into diplomatic relations with China in 1992 and Korean TV dramas and pop music gained great popularity in Chinese-speaking communities. When one of the first successful TV dramas, What Is Love?, was aired by CCTV in 1997, it had an audience rating of 4.2%, meaning that over 150 million Chinese viewers watched it.
Korean pop music, especially dance music, began to gain popularity among Chinese teenagers after it was introduced in earnest in 1997 by a radio program called Seoul Music Room broadcast from Beijing. The decisive moment in igniting Korean pop culture fever in China was the concert of Korean boy band H.O.T., held at the Beijing Workers' Gymnasium in February 2000. Korean news reports used the term Hallyu, or the Korean Wave, in describing this concert. The Korean Wave, acknowledged in an article published by Beijing Youth Daily as early as November 1999, began to finally be recognized by Koreans themselves from this point.
The Korean Wave landed in Japan in 2003 when the KBS TV drama series Winter Sonata was aired via NHK. The drama became an instant mega hit, making its male hero, Yon Sama, a household name, compelling his enthusiastic Japanese fans to visit various film locations, including Namiseom Island, in Korea.
The ‘Korean Wave’ craze has expanded to Korean traditional culture, food, literature and language, creating more and more enthusiasts. A great majority of Hallyu-related organizations are K-Pop fan clubs, but there are also various communities of people who are interested in Korean dramas, food, tourism, and more. As of December 2017, a total of 73.12 million people in 92 countries joined these organizations across Asia, Oceania, the Americas, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.
One area that is growing more rapidly than any other is 21st century K-Pop, or Korean pop music, which spans dance-pop, pop ballads, techno, rock, hip-hop, R&B, and so on. First gaining popularity in East Asia, K-Pop entered the Japanese music market towards the turn of the 21st century, and grew from a musical genre into a subculture among teenagers and young adults of East and Southeast Asia. Currently, the spread of K-Pop to other regions of the world, via the Korean Wave, is seen in parts of Latin America, Northeast India, North Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and immigrant enclaves of the Western world.
The rise of K-Pop on the global stage is probably best represented by Psy’s Gangnam Style, which swept the world as soon as it was released in late 2012. The song was the first K-Pop title reach No. 1 on the British Official Singles Chart, took 2nd place on Billboard’s Hot 100 in the US, and also topped the charts in more than 30 countries, including France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Russia, Canada, and Australia. The YouTube video of the song has been watched by more people than any other, with over 3 billion since music video was released on July 15, 2012.
The worldwide success of “Gangnam Style” was preceded by a surge of K-Pop idol groups in South Korea such as Big Bang, Girls’ Generation, 2PM, EXO, Wanna One, and BTS. TVXQ, who has countless loyal fans in Japan and Hong Kong, finally reunited in 2017, after the members completed their mandatory military service. In 2009, the five-member girl group, Wonder Girls, made inroads into the US market and became the first Korean idols ever to crack the Billboard Hot 100 chart with the song “Nobody”; unfortunately, the group disbanded in 2017.”
Over the recent years, K-Pop acts have experienced a change of generations, from second-generation idols, namely Girls’ Generation and Big Bang, to third-generation idols, like BTS and TWICE, who actively utilize social media. The K-Pop genre has also diversified with the emergence of the indie scene.
In May 2018, BTS topped the Billboard 200 albums chart and won the Top Social Artist Award at the Billboard Music Awards for two years in a row. BTS is rewriting the history of K-pop with the fervor of their dedicated fans, who are collectively known as ARMY.
The popularity of K-Pop singers is largely based on their excellent vocal abilities, dazzling stage presence and wellchoreographed, impeccable dance performances among other things. While they may look comfortable and charismatic on stage, their performance is the result of many years of hard work rather than any inborn talent.
Le Monde, the world-renowned French daily newspaper, ran a headline story titled, “K-Pop Arrives in France,” with high praise for BTS’s performances.
The Great Escape, a music festival held in Brighton, England, on May 18, 2017, staged “K-Pop Night Out,” which featured diverse genres of K-pop music, not just limited to idol groups. It was an opportunity for a wide variety of Korean artists to garner attention from international media and audience. The Great Escape, one of the major music festivals in Europe, has showcased star musicians including Adele, Ellie Goulding, and Ed Sheeran.
BTS created a K-Pop sensation that had never before been witnessed in the US market. In the US, where K-Pop is still far from the mainstream, scenes of American fans singing along in Korean and waving placards with Korean writing were enough to surprise the world. Their appearances not only at the Billboard Music Awards but also on three major US talk shows, such as The Ellen DeGeneres Show, received a lot of attention from Americans and Koreans alike. Just four years since their debut, BTS has become the most successful K-Pop act in the world.
In May 2018, the 2018 Dream Concert brought leading K-Pop stars together, much to the excitement of their global audience. An all-star lineup, including SHINee’s Taemin, Red Velvet, NCT, GFriend, Mamamoo, and Astro, heated up the stage of the biggest K-pop concert in Korea.
This year’s star-studded lineup and special performances did not fail to capture the eyes and ears of K-Pop fans in Korea and abroad.
Living up to its 20-year reputation, many international fans flock to Korea for the Dream Concert every year.
The great overseas success of What Is Love? (MBC) and Winter Sonata (KBS) in China and Japan played an important role in boosting the craze for Korean TV dramas across Asia and beyond. These hits were followed by Dae Jang Geum (MBC), an epic TV series about an orphaned kitchen cook who went on to become the King's first female physician. Originally aired between 2003 and 2004, the drama became one of the highest-rated TV dramas in Korea before being exported to 87 countries around the world —including the Islamic states like Iran where it received as much as 80% of the viewers—to fascinate viewers with its portrayal of traditional Korean culture such as Korean Royal Court cuisine and traditional costumes and medicinal knowledge.
The drama was particularly popular in the Middle East, most notably in Iran, where it received an average viewership rating of 57% and a peak of 90%. Dae Jang Geum was exported to countries around the world, including Asia, North America, Europe, and the Middle East—from Japan and Egypt to Mexico and Poland—earning around KRW 13 billion.
The significance of Dae Jang Geum goes beyond the show itself as it is believed to have contributed to expanding the scope of Hallyu to Korean cuisine, fashion, and medicine. The drama’s production inducement effect is estimated to have reached KRW 111,9 billion.
In 2013, dramas, like My Love from the Star and That Winter, the Wind Blows, were loved by international fans, while in 2016, Dokkaebi (Guardian: The Lonely and Great God), Moonlight Drawn by Clouds, and Descendants of the Sun revived the Hallyu craze.
In 2014, the success of the SBS drama, My Love from the Star, which was sold at USD 40,000 per episode to China, led to the increased popularity of Korean dramas. Subsequently, the price for the distribution rights of Korean dramas skyrocketed in China.
The 2016 TV drama, Descendants of the Sun, was dubbed “Taehu (an acronym from the show’s Korean title) Syndrome” and was sold to 27 countries including the United Kingdom, France, the United States, Japan, and China, posting a profit of over KRW 10 billion.
In September 2017, Korea was invited as the honorary guest country (Invitée d’honneur) to Festival de la Fiction TV, a French drama festival attended by directors and producers of popular Korean drama series. A total of three Korean dramas were invited—MBC’s W, tvN’s Signal, and JTBC’s The Package.
The worldwide popularity of Korean pop culture resulted in the reemergence of Hallyu (Korean Wave) movie stars such as Bae Yong-joon (better known as Yon Sama in Japan), Jang Dong-gun, Lee Seo-jin, Kwon Sang-woo, Won Bin, Jang Keun-suk, Lee Byung-hun, Rain, Jun Ji-hyun and Bae Doona. Of these, the last four have appeared as main characters in Hollywood movies.
The outstanding international reputation that certain K-movie directors and stars enjoy today is in part due to the international film festivals held in Korea including the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF), the Jeonju International Film Festival (JIFF) and the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (BiFan).
Train to Busan, which received international recognition as the essential of Korean movie owing to its interesting subject matter and solid narrative structure, was sold to more than 160 countries in North America and South America, Europe, and other regions, raking in a profit of over USD 52 million.
International film communities have recently begun to show a keen interest in Korean films and film directors. The Korean directors who have attracted the attention of Western critics include Im Kwon-taek, Lee Changdong, Park Chan-wook, Hong Sang-soo, Kim Jee-woon and Bong Joon-ho, all of whom have produced masterpieces as if to reward their support and the expectations surrounding them, such as Strokes of Fire (2002) by Im Kwontaek, Poetry by Lee Chang-dong (2007), Thirst (2009) by Park Chan-wook and The Taste of Money (2012) by Im Sang-soo.
In the 2000s, the status of Korean films has grown, with more Korean movies attracting over 10 million viewers. The Admiral: Roaring Currents, the biggest hit of 2014, amassed 17.61 million viewers. In the following years, Korean films, including Ode to My Father (2014), Assassination (2015), Veteran (2015), Train to Busan (2016), A Taxi Driver (2017), and Along with the Gods: The Last 49 Days (2017), hit the 10 million audience mark.
Meanwhile, the Guanajuato International Film Festival designated Korea as the guest of honor in July 2011, and showed a total of 76 Korean films including Whispering Corridors and Bedeviled under programs focused on Korean Horror Films and two film directors, Bong Joon-ho and Kim Dongwon.
At the International Film Festival of India, Goa, which was held in November 2016, South Korea was chosen as the focus country for the first time, and Director Im Kwon-taek was conferred with the Lifetime Achievement Award. The Throne directed by Lee Joon-ik was also screened in the International Competition category, while The Age of Shadows by director Kim Jee-woon was selected as the closing film.
1. The most respected admiral in history, Yi Sun-sin The Admiral: Roaring Currents, a film which was based on the Battle of Myeongnyang, the fiercest battle of the Imjin Waeran (Japanese Invasion of Korea, 1592-1598), highlights Admiral Yi Sun-sin’s battle tactics and “loyalty” to his people. The movie drew 17.61 million viewers, thus becoming the highest grossing film of all time in Korea. 2. Maestro Chung Myung-whun served as music director and resident conductor of the Opéra de la Bastille in Paris. He received the Una Vita Nella Musica award from the Teatro La Fenice in Venice in July 2013.
In 2015, Pianist Cho Seong-jin became the first Korean to win the prestigious International Chopin Piano Competition in Poland. Pianist Sohn Jeung-beum also became the first Korean to win in the piano category at the 2017 ARD International Music Competition in Munich, Germany.
Furthermore, at the 2016 Gian Battista Viotti International Music Competition in Italy, Korean singers swept the top three awards, while Korean pianists also captured the top three prizes at the Prague Spring International Music Competition in the same year.
Korea has continued to produce distinguished vocalists of whom Sumi Jo (soprano), Hong Hei-kyung (soprano), Shin Youngok (soprano), Kwangchul Youn (bass) and Samuel Yun (bass baritone) are eagerly sought after by classical music lovers in many parts of the world. Regarding instrumental music, Yeol Eum Son (piano), Dong-hyek Lim (piano), Sarah Chang (violin) and Zia Hyunsu Shin (violin) regularly perform for their fans - mostly in Korea, the USA, and various European countries.
Lee Hee-ah, a four-fingered pianist, is also a widely acclaimed pianist not only for her great performances but also for her heroic fight against a challenging physical condition.
They were preceded by Korea’s first generation of classical musicians, including two pianists, Han Tong-il and Kun-woo Paik, who fascinated international audiences between the 1950s and the 1970s and who still play to many enthusiastic fans.
Chung Myung-whun, a world-renowned pianist, has received more acclaim for his conductorship in recent years. He has conducted some of the world’s most prestigious orchestras, including the Berlin Philharmonic and the London Philharmonic, before going on to serve as the musical director and resident conductor of the Opéra de la Bastille in Paris. Chung also served as the principal conductor of the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra and now leads the One Korea Youth Orchestra. He is also widely known in the global music scene as a member of the Chung Trio with his two sisters, violinist Chung Kyung-wha and cellist Chung Myung-wha.
Korean theater goers have recently begun to pay more attention to musical comedies presented on theater stages. The increased demand for goodquality musicals has resulted in the performance of world-famous musicals such as Jekyll & Hyde, Chicago and Cats either by the original or Korean teams, and the production of new musicals written and directed by Korean talents. Some of these Korean productions have been invited to perform in Japan and Southeast Asia. Korea’s thriving musical theater scene has resulted in the creation of a group of stars such as Choi Jung-won, Nam Kyung-joo and Jo Seung-woo, whose reputation has grown with stage musicals, and Yoon Bok-hee, Insooni and Ock Joo-hyun who have become great musical actresses based on their success on the K-Pop stage.
Modern Dance and Ballet
The launch of the National Dance Company of Korea in 1962 provided the momentum for a surge of interest in modern dance in Korea. The changed environment eventually led to the birth of a great dancer, Sin Cha Hong (or Hong Sin-ja, born in 1943), who is now credited as Korea's first avant-garde dancer and premier performance artist. She learned dance from Alwin Nikolais in the United States and worked there until 1990, and then returned to Korea to involve herself in various activities related with modern dance.
Korea in the 1980s saw the foundation of two ballet companies, Universal Ballet (1984) and Seoul Ballet (1986), which are still actively producing classical ballet performances in Korea and abroad. The increased popularity of ballet resulted in the arrival of distinguished ballet dancers including Kang Sue-jin, who became the first Asian to be a member of the Stuttgart Ballet in 1986. Now, she is an Artistic Director of the Korean National Ballet.
Other successful ballet dancers include Seo Hee who joined the ABT Studio Company in 2004 and became a principal dancer at the ABT in 2012, and Kim Ki-min who became the first Asian ballerina to join and become First Soloist at the Mariinsky Ballet in 2011.
Park Seon-mee, a student at the Korea National University of Arts, became the first Korean to win the Moscow International Ballet Competition, one of the three major ballet competitions in the world, in June 2017.
1. Gwangju Biennale Emerged as a major installation art show in Asia, the Gwangju Biennale has played a key role in linking the city of Gwangju with the rest of the world via contemporary art since the establishment in 1995 as the first of its kind in Asia. 2. The Vegetarian by the internationally acclaimed Korean writer, Han Kang
Lee Jong-sang, a veteran painter, focuses his work on traditional Korean painting. Lee U-fan, Park Seo-bo, and Lim Ok-sang are also Korean painters well known for their unique styles.
Works of prominent artists can be enjoyed in Insa-dong and Samcheongdong in Seoul, where many art galleries are located such as Gana Art Space, the Seoul Art Center Gongpyeong Gallery, and the Kyung-in Museum of Fine Art.
More recently, Cheongdam-dong in Gangnam-gu south of the Hangang River has emerged as a hub of Korean fine art. As for international art events, the Gwangju Biennale launched in 1995 has grown to be a major contemporary art exhibition in Asia.
Han Kang is the very person who proved the potential for globalization of modern Korean literature. Her novel, The Vegetarian, won the 2016 Man Booker International Prize, which is regarded as one of the world’s three most prestigious literary awards. Han Kang was also chosen to win the 2017 Malaparte Prize, Italy’s authoritative literary award, for her book, Human Acts.
Shin Kyung-sook has also contributed to spreading the Korean Wave to the international literary world. The English-translated version of her novel, Please Look After Mom, published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group in the United States was listed in Amazon’s top 10 best sellers soon after its release. The book was promptly published in about 30 countries in Asia (including Japan) and Europe, and in Australia. In June 2012, the author held a successful meeting in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, to mark the publication of her work in the Slovenian language.
The opening of the Korean Studies Department in Sofia University, Bulgaria, in 1995 led to the interpretation of a selection of Korean contemporary novels and short stories for local readers including A Dwarf Launches a Little Ball by Cho Se-hui and Our Twisted Hero by Yi Mun Yol.
The King Sejong Institute, an institution established in 2008 to support Korean language education conducted across the globe increased the number of its affiliated schools from 17 in 2008 to 171 in 54 countries as of July 2017.
Meanwhile, the 78th International PEN Congress took place in Gyeongju, the capital of the ancient Silla Kingdom for one thousand years, in September 2012. The gathering, held in Korea for the third time after 1970 and 1988, attracted 900 men and women of letters from 114 countries across the world, including Nobel laureates such as Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio of France, Akinwande Oluwole Wole Soyinka of Nigeria, and Ferit Orhan Pamuk of Turkey.
Korean Cuisine and Culinary Customs
The Korean Wave now seems to be expanding to other cultural areas such as food and culinary traditions. Restaurants serving traditional Korean dishes began to open in the world’s leading metropolises such as New York, London and Paris, attracting praise even from the choosiest gourmets. Kimchi, Bulgogi, Bibimbap and other dishes loved by Korean people through many generations are now beginning to appear in homes around the world.
Chefs in some restaurants in the United States began to combine traditional Korean dishes with Western traditions, creating the bibimbap burger, kimchi hotdog and gochujang steak for New Yorkers who are always ready to accept whatever’s new and exotic.
After having ranked 4th on the list of hottest ethnic cuisines selected by the National Restaurant Association in 2013, Korean food jumped to second place in 2014. This reflects a change in the perception of Korean cuisine among US locals and a significant increase in the number of their visits to Korean restaurants in the United States in recent years. There are around 5,000 Korean restaurants in the country, with an average annual growth rate of 3.5% between 2011 and 2016.
The best-known Korean dish in the United States is kimchi. Its spicy taste and health benefits, such as cancer-fighting effects, have been receiving attention. Roy Choi, a Korean–American chef whose Korean-Mexican kimchi tacos took the United States by storm, made it to the TIME 100 Most Influential People in the World list in 2016.
Similarly, the number of Korean restaurants increased to about more than 100 in Paris, France, with more than half of the customers now being local French citizens, unlike in the past when Korean expatriates and other Asians formed the majority of the customers. According to the latest research, the most popular dishes served by the Korean restaurants in Paris are bibimbap and bulgogi of which the former is particularly highly regarded for it nutritional balance as well as its flavor and taste.