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Young people switch on their TVs to watch Korean Pop (K-pop) music videos on VH1. Groups of passionate fans flock to attend K-pop festivals in Delhi and groups of young people emulate the fashion of their favourite K-pop artists in Manipur. Nation-wide contests for K-pop singing are being held across the country attracting more and more youngsters every year. Now, what is K-pop and why is it suddenly everywhere?

K-pop has grown from being pigeonholed to one genre to a giant that functions on its terms and conditions. In the early 90’s era, the Korean music industry consisted mainly of Korean and occasional musical influences from American music. It took a turn post-1990s when South Korea liberalised its economy and reformed its policies gearing towards a globalised development model. As the country became more globalised, the Korean youth population that indulged in American pop music decided to incorporate it into Korean music. K-pop became a melting pot of numerous genres like dance music, house, hip-hop and rap, electronic music, etc. Boy groups like H.O.T., Sechskies, Seo Taiji, and girl groups like SES took the country by a storm with their energetic music, vibrant music videos, regular fan meetings and their fresh appeal to jaded viewers. This transformation was a result of new globalising trends in music, business, and politics. Although this constituted as part of the first Korean Wave (called the Hallyu) when South Korean cultural exports increased with the export of Korean, dramas, beauty products, technology, etc. it was the second Wave that legitimised the position of South Korean popular culture.

What are the factors at play that make K-Pop so popular?

Demand for K-pop is increasing as it is finding a consumer base worldwide that demands not just music, but merchandise in the form of t-shirts, concert light sticks, a peek into the singer’s lives by their appearances on variety (reality) shows, fashion apparel released by the musicians that can make the fans look more and more like the singers.

K-pop is looked at as exotic, but relatable and consumable due to its internalisation of American culture. The exotic gaze through which the Western countries view the countries of the east, in this case, South Korea has successfully made South Korean pop culture and music an area of interest for countries in the American continent. But at the same time, the standardisation and access to English or other subtitles of the music and an Americanization regarding genres makes K-Pop more palatable for the western countries as it is alien but familiar at the same time. The political democratisation of South Korea lifting off several codes of censorship from Korean media content has made their content more open and creative, drawing in larger audiences. The technological progress regarding digital media, social media and access to the global base of content has definitely furthered the worldwide popularity of K-Pop and in turn, has also advanced the spreading of the Korean Wave. Now, K-Pop’s reputation in the developed global north countries, spread in Japan is understandable due to their advanced technology, development standards, more access and convenience. But what is interesting is the advancement of the global capitalist economy under which the K-pop industry and the Korean wave in general opened up and reached even Indian, South East Asian and Latin American markets.

India and K-Pop

In India, although media buzz around the K-pop phenomenon started in the last five years, K-pop culture had already made its way into India. It is said that Northeast India is the K-pop capital of India, it can be traced back to when Korean entertainment was the only medium of entertainment for people in Manipur. In the year 2000, Manipur was under a ban that was put on all Hindi entertainment media by the local group, Revolutionary People’s Front, as a protest to the Indian discrimination against Northeast India. Researchers Otojit Kshetrimayum and Ningombam Victoria Chanu who worked on the Korean Wave in Northeast India said that it was the cultural proximity between Northeast India and Korea that added to this cultural explosion and spread. This led to the daily consumption of Korean Pop music and the following culture throughout the Northeastern states of India. The K-pop culture after this started to spread to other states in India.

From holding the first small-scale K-pop concert in Delhi to the K-pop singing contests being held every year across 9 Indian states, K-pop can truly have spread to many parts of India. The Korean Culture Centre, a wing of the South Korean Embassy actively arranges activities in India for K-pop fans. K-pop fans in India attend K-pop events, organise fan meets, K-pop album listening sessions, are building online and offline communities for K-pop fans.  This has also set an increasing market for Korean beauty products, Korean cuisine, interest in learning Korean and a wish to visit South Korea. These fan clubs are regular users of social media continually sharing updates on their favourite K-pop idols and groups across platforms like Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. The fans write fanfictions, i.e. stories revolving around their favourite singers and their lives as a part of their fangirl/fanboy culture. They are trying to bring K-pop artists to India by creating online petitions on various sites to bring all fans over India to come together and make K-pop concerts a reality in India. Indian fans who have been interested in K-pop for more than ten years and the current generation of fans usually listen to various K-pop artists, but some have been particularly popular. These groups are BTS, BigBang, Shinhwa, SHINee, EXO, GOT7, Super Junior, Red Velvet, and also solo artists like PSY, IU, G-Dragon, Rain, dean and several others. The craze behind the K-pop idols (artists), their musical styles, their aesthetics, their fashion sense and their media personas are what mainly builds the culture of many of these fans who look up to these idols. In this way, the artists sell to the fans the music, their merchandise, for a lot of fans, their icons inspire them.

K-pop industry, through Hallyu, and has now become a part of Brand Korea that through the hold of K-pop is selling an image of a shiny South Korea and its lifestyle. K-pop generates demand for its fashion, more entertainment products which profit the industries as well the global image of South Korea, thus maintaining its international relations too. The K-pop frenzy through the Hallyu establishes a soft propaganda tool and is reaching various parts of the world selling its culture wherever it goes. K-pop through its dynamic enormity and increasing fan base has taken a place on a global platform representing South Korea, and it looks like it is here to stay.

References

Das, B. (2014, February 17). Manipur: A part of India where Korea rules. Al Jazeera. Retrieved from https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2014/02/part-india-where-korea-rules-20142177748733701.html

Kshetrimayum, O. & Chanu, N.V. (2008). Mapping Cultural Diffusion: The Case of ‘Korean Wave’ in North East India. India and Korea: Bridging the Gaps. Manak Publications

Ryoo, W. (2009). Globalization, or the logic of cultural hybridization: the case of the Korean wave. Asian Journal of Communication19(2). 137-151

Shim, D.(2006). Hybridity and the rise of Korean popular culture in Asia. Media, culture & society28(1). 25-44

Times, M. G. (2017, August 09). India knows about EXO, BTS: It's time to acknowledge, K-pop is here to stay. Hindustan Times. Retrieved from https://www.hindustantimes.com/music/india-knows-about-exo-bts-it-s-time-to-acknowledge-k-pop-is-here-to-stay/story-8hxjPHISSO2GT3SBCuNVyJ.html

Header Image Courtesy: allkpop

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Written By Pallavi Pillai

A student of eclectic interests, with a passion for writing about the various things happening around the world

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