Korean pop culture is firmly carving itself out a niche in the Australian zeitgeist. While it may not be considered “mainstream” just yet, Korean music, movies and TV shows already have a dedicated following here in Australia.
And while it’s hard to deny just how great the branding – just stick a K in front of the product, like K-pop – is, there’s more to it than that.
Despite the general lack of visibility Korean pop stars, soap stars and movie stars have in the west, they’re some of the most famous people in the world and some of the most followed on social media. According to Forbes, the most powerful Korean celebrities were a boy band called the Bangtan Boys – or BTS – who have 16.4 million followers on Instagram alone!
It was reported in FPA that BTS brought US$3.63 billion to the Korean economy in 2018 with similar figures projected for 2019 and that one in every thirteen foreigners who visit Korea do so because of them. How’s that for cultural impact!
The rise of Korean pop culture has been called Hallyu, or
“The Korean wave”, and is an active attempt by South Korea to become the world’s largest exporters of culture.
So, now you’ve got a serious case of K-fomo, we’re here to provide a beginners guide to Korean pop culture, and some of the weird and wonderful things there-in!
Does anyone remember Psy? Gangnam style anyone? Korean pop music, a genre dominated by boy bands and girl bands that has steadily risen in popularity since it’s modern-day inception in the mid-’90s. Sales and earnings for these groups are through the roof, with boy band TVXQ thought to have earned over US$1.2 billion over there career, with US$216 coming in concert revenues over 2017 and 2018 alone. Since recently breaking into the Japanese market, K-pop stars are far and away the biggest celebrities in Korea and possibly Asia, with Bangtan Boys, Wanna One and Twice leading the way. Check out some of their stuff on YouTube if you’re curious about this musical phenomenon. Or just watch Gangnam style again.
Tv shows and series – often soap operas – that are watched by millions of people across the world. If you’ve got a subscription to a streaming service, just search “Korea” and you’ll be amazed by how many there are – and it’s just scratching the surface.
These often bizarre but wildly entertaining makeup north of 75% of Korea’s total cultural export, and contain such gems as “Blood” – a 2015 supernatural drama set in a hospital. Park Ji Sang (Ahn Jae Hyun) is a surgeon and a vampire. When he meets another gorgeous surgeon, love starts to course through his veins. Yeah.
K-dramas have worldwide a viewership in the tens of millions and generate more than US$200 million in revenue each year. The true stars are the – well – stars, with 55-60% of the total show budget being paid to the actors, compared to 10% on average in the United States.
So make your next binge session K-dramas!
Burst into the western zeitgeist in 2006 on the back of the brilliant monster movie The Host and haven’t slowed down since.
These movies are a big deal in Korea with the highest grossing Korean movie of all time – The Admiral: Roaring Currents – pulling in over US$120 million dollars off the back of 17 million theatres admits. And that was just the domestic gross! Avatar – the largest grossing movie of all time worldwide – had total admits in Korea of 13 million, so that puts into perspective just how popular thee movies are. Now that streaming services are starting to pick up on this, the total number of eyeballs stuck on K-movies is only going to go up. It might not be long before they have as big an audience in the west.
So this is a relatively new phenomenon powered by the world wide web. Mukbang is a new fad sweeping Korea where a host eats ridiculous large amounts of food and streams it live to their audience. The audience can get involved via comments and votes as to what the host eats/does next. It’s kind of like Man vs Food except live and interactive.
The biggest star is currently Banzz, who has more than 3 million subscribers on YouTube, and his most viewed video has over 11 million views. That’s almost half the population of Australia!
I hope you’ve got a better understanding of just how big K culture is and the size of the audience out there. And now with the ability to access K culture via the internet anytime and anywhere, it’s only going to become more popular.
So get ready to ride the Korean wave!