But now K-Pop is making waves...in Turkey?
It is largely a product of the “Hallyu” (Korean Wave), an expression first coined by Chinese journalists to describe the massive increase in popularity of South Korean cultural products over the past 10 years. Fueled by a strategic effort by the South Korean government to fend off the encroachment of Japanese culture and bolster the South Korean economy, the nation’s pop music and soap operas (K-pop and K-drama) have found a particularly ardent fan base in Turkey, where veritable communities have arisen in the form of K-drama fan clubs, K-pop music groups, and websites like Korea-Fans.com.Korean dramas have also surged in popularity in the United States -- with viewers in the millions and Hollywood remakes in the works -- thanks to Hulu, DramaFever, and other streaming services.
The Hallyu arrived in Turkey when TRT, a government-owned TV station, began running episodes of “A Jewel in the Palace,” a wildly popular Korean soap opera set in the 15th century, about a kitchen cook who becomes the king’s first female doctor. Like many of its kind, the drama explores themes of class mobility and forbidden love. Heartbreak and romantic reconciliation are usually major plot points of all K-dramas.
These themes also pervade the lyrics of K-pop music, which taps into the mercurial passions of adolescence to maximum effect, with universal narratives about love, relationships, and belonging. In the K-drama and K-pop universe, princes commonly fall in love with paupers.
Turns out Korean officials have taken notice.
That K-dramas have bolstered South Korea's cultural capital is quite established. In May 2013, Park was invited to Los Angeles to participate in the Leaders' Meeting for Creative Economy. The meeting brought together South Korean government and entrepreneurs to discuss Korea's economic growth on the world stage. Park was there to discuss how DramaFever and similar initiatives were helping to bolster South Korea's global influence. "We've always believed," he said in a press release, "that through the distribution of Korean content we are increasing Korea's country brand and promoting its culture and global initiatives."South Korea, lest we forget, is surrounded by pop cultural (and military) juggernauts China and Japan.
In political terminology, what Park is talking about is called soft power — a term coined by Joseph Nye to refer to "the ability to achieve goals through attraction rather than coercion." Unlike hard power, writes Nye, South Korea's soft power "is not prisoner to … geographical limitations," meaning its cultural influence can easily exceed its borders, so long as a global demand for its products exists. And as DramaFever's numbers show, this demand is already there.
The former mass produces nearly everything. The latter has sparked global imaginations for decades with anime/manga, video games, and the dumbest possible interpretation of "ninja".
Then again, even China is investing in the next wave of Hallyu.
Some experts are tipping the start of the next wave of Hallyu, this time driven by China. According to CLSA, China's Tencent's decision in March to invest half a billion dollars in CJ Games, a unit of Korean media firm CJ E&M, is a big deal for the firm and a ringing endorsement for K-culture.But despite having trend-setting global pop culture in their clutches, not everything coming out of the Gangnam district is chaste, teen-friendly fare.
The investment gives China's largest online-games and social-networking company a 28 percent stake in CJ Games, one the most successful game developers in Korea.
"Hallyu will continue to gain momentum and CJ E&M is at the forefront of this wave," Seungjoo Ro, an analyst at CLSA, said in a report this week. "Demand is high in China and will unlock much awaited earnings expansion for CJ's media and films."
Infamous boy/girl group talent sweatshop, SM Town, just threw a curveball with a mysterious new artist named Hitchhiker -- and a bizarre video that screams "Vaporwave" more than K-Pop:
And not a moment too soon -- some Korean officials are already worried Hallyu is getting too stale.
New Culture Minister Kim Jong-deok said Wednesday that hallyu was bound to lose its appeal unless it moves on from its current cookie-cutter style and content.So maybe there's hope for Seoul-loving weirdos everywhere.
“Hallyu is now driven mostly by (the popularity of a small bunch of) entertainers (the so-called hallyu stars,)” he told a group of reporters in Seoul on Wednesday. But that’s not a sustainable strategy.
Speaking at his first press conference since taking office on Aug. 21, the minister stressed the need for genuine cultural exchange and cultural diversity if hallyu is to reach another level and develop into a source of “soft power” for Korea.