So hey, why not do some blogging, right? I mean I actually like writing and I've been running this blog off and on for years now, so anytime I can get back to it, I generally do. Now I'm going to do something I love, which is talk about South Korea.
|Here's the cover of a book I read for a class on Korean history. It's a good book and a fairly easy read if you're not sure where to start.|
Alright, so maybe it didn't quite happen like that, but South Korea is sitting prettier then it's ever been and Hallyu was/is totally a thing and a huge part of that success. Korean pop concerts have now become viable acts in the United States and Canada, with Korean rap group Epik High's last concert in Toronto (down the street from my former home, in fact) selling out. Undeniably, especially in the context of North America, Hallyu has had a noticeable effect. North American interest in South Korean stuff has certainly been on the rise in recent years. The popular cartoon Family Guy had a K-pop episode. Conan O'Brien shot a special in Korea and appeared in a local soap opera. Lee Byung Hun was in a string of high-profile Hollywood movies. South Korea's been on the up and up for a while now, and with the latest international success, the drama Descendants of the Sun, Hallyu is still looking like a force to be reckoned with.
|A chart representing YouTube K-Ppp views in 2011 by country. I imagine the numbers have likely gone up significantly since then.|
K-pop, TV dramas, and to a lesser extent variety shows and movies have been the driving forces of Hallyu since it began. Non-Korean nationals who are interested in these things tend to be loud and devoted, drawing a lot of attention to themselves. Ergo, as I mentioned earlier, you cannot deny that K-pop and K-dramas have found audiences abroad. Still, though, to what extent?
Some might have us believe that the ridiculous popularity of PSY's hit single "Gangnam Style" in North America and, indeed, the world over a few years back spelled some sort of unanimous global acceptance of K-pop into the international mainstream. I mean the video broke the YouTube counter! PSY hosted the Much Music Video Awards (it's Canadian) in Toronto back in 2012. It's official! The world loves K-pop now! It's here to stay! Oh, but if only that were true.
The problem, as I see it, is this: I'm convinced that for most North Americans K-dramas and K-pop represent a sort of uncanny valley that for many is hard to come to terms with. As much as I like a good K-drama, to the average North American who has only passing knowledge of South Korea at best (and obvious cultural differences aside), K-dramas, especially those made recently, kind of look like American dramas, except they're way more melodramatic, overly romantic and/or schmaltzy (which is, incidentally, why so many foreign fans like them). In other words, they generally seem corny to American sensibilities.
|A Korean poster for the latest South Korean prime-time smash, Descendants of the Sun.|
Likewise, with K-pop we are faced with a similar problem. K-pop kind of looks like American pop, especially with "sexy groups" on the rise -- these are groups in which the members try to portray a sexually charged identity by exposing more skin and writhing around on the floor more than they would otherwise (not exactly uncommon with North American female pop acts). While K-pop can be catchy and fun, for many of the uninitiated it can seem like a corny, childish or contrived emulation of American pop, or worse, straight-up cultural appropriation. I've had many a Canadian friend over the years say things like "What's the deal with K-pop? Why do they keep perpetuating that '90s idol formula? It's super weird!" or "I can't get into K-pop. It's like they're trying too hard to be American or something." (The cultural ownership debate is really interesting, but that's for another time.)
|I feel that the sheer unabashed implausibility of many K-drama plots alone presents a pretty tall hurdle for your average North American TV watcher.|
So if Korean media are just too "light" or "fluffy" for the average jaded North American, how do you get around this? Well, for some perspective, I'd like to take a look at South Korea's neighbor, Japan.
Join me next week as I talk about how South Korea could harness the awesome power of mass cultural marketing, like Japan's been doing for the past four or five decades, to take Hallyu even further!