The Korean Wave, Enters a New Phase

문예원 기자l승인2011.09.02l0호

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Spread of Korean pop culture
Korean pop culture such as dramas and music are at the forefront of the Korean Wave.

The center of the new Korean Wave Internet media and Social Networking Sites have made a large contribution toward the spread of K-Pop. K-Pop can be experienced in real time by people around the world via the Internet. On Youtube, the music videos of popular Korean pop groups have recorded hits in the tens of millions.
The spread of K-Pop has been obvious in overseas sales. Especially in Southeast Asia and Japan, sales of merchandise related to Korean singers are increasing. The BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) reported overseas sales of K-Pop related items totaled 32.5 billion won in 2009, and sales have continued to increase. In 2010, the Korean pop group Dongbangshinki’s album sales ranked second overall in Japan at a total of 130 billion won. Kara and Girls’ generation also recorded profits of 30 billion won in album sales in Japan.
The K-Pop phenomenon has also begun to reach Europe. On April 26th, tickets for “SM town live in Paris” were sold out after 15 minutes. About 300 people took part in a flash mob demonstration in front of the Louvre to extend the concert to May 1st. As a result, the company decided to add concert a day and the tickets for the additional day were sold out as well. There are several reasons why K-Pop is becoming more popular internationally. To begin with, Korean agencies are targeting overseas markets. Before singers debut, they learn various languages such as Japanese and Chinese. Korean agencies have also begun to buy songs from popular foreign songwriters and to work with famous producers. Korean pop stars have also enhanced their actual performance abilities. Korean pop stars have been at the forefront of the Korean Wave for 10 years now, but the public demands more and more from them. The ability to sing well, dance, and play musical instruments are now prerequisites.

Overseas export of dramas
Dramas that led the early Korean Wave like, “Winter Sonata” and “Daejanggeum” are now exported with subtitles to several countries.
The drama “You’re Beautiful” about a pop band is loved by Japanese fans. The drama has been broadcasted three times, and it has been played in movie theaters twice. It will also be remade in Japan. “Heartstrings,” which features the same main characters as “You’re Beautiful” was exported to 8 nations even before it was seen here in Korea.
Recently many dramas featuring Korean Wave stars and singers earn 100,000 dollars per episode from foreign broadcasting companies even before they air in the domestic market. “Sungkyunkwan Scandal,” “East of Eden,” and “My Girlfriend is a Gumiho” are typical dramas which have been sold at this price. “Secret Garden,” which gained explosive popularity in Korea, was exported to 13 nations for many billions of won. “Baker King Kim Tak Gu,” which recorded a ratings share of 50%, was also exported to 11 nations and earned three million dollars in sales.
The newest Korean dramas are being made available more quickly than in the past. Dramas can be uploaded to internet sites that include subtitles in various languages.
Factors to be considered for continuous popularity
It is becoming common for popular Korean performers to go to Japan. The groups that are active in Japan all sing songs in Japanese. Over 20 groups have already performed in Japan this first half of the year. Some of these groups have not yet debuted in Korea, and have started their careers in Japan.
Although this seems to be a good development, K-Pop performers and agencies need to be careful to not over-saturate the Japanese market. It is possible to have too much of a good thing.
Many agencies and marketing groups in overseas markets are interested in a quick payday. Over exposure of a product can lead to consumer fatigue which would be bad for the sustainability of K-Pop around the world.
Exaggerated press reports are also damaging. Even though the Korean Wave is gaining popularity in Europe, exaggerated headlines like “Korean Wave Sweeps All of Europe” is simply hype and can lead to hostility.

Views and tasks
The 21st century brought about a generation that is concerned with image. The Korean Wave can be a big help to Korea’s national image.
However, the support of the government for culture is still in its infancy. The current annual budget of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism is 3.4 trillion won. It is just 1% of the Korean government’s total budget. Byeong-Guk Jung, the minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism said he hopes to secure 2.2% by 2013.

Spread of Korean traditional culture
Many foreigners who love Korean pop culture are beginning to spread their interest to Korean traditional culture.

Increase in Korean language learners
According to the Korean Cultural Service, there has been a dramatic increase in Korean language learners. Many of these students start learning due to Korean music and dramas. At the Korean Cultural Centre in France, over 1,000 people come to attend a Korean lecture every year, and the number of people is increasing annually. However, there is a lack of lecture rooms, so many people who want to attend are not able. They have had to borrow lecture space from nearby high schools in order to meet recent demand.
Since 2009, the Korean government has been working to standardize Korean language schools around the world. The government also announced they would increase the number of these schools to 150 by 2015.
TOPIK is the test for Korean language proficiency, and the results are used as a measure for those who wish to study or work in Korea. 2,692 people in 4 nations took the test in 1997, its first year. The number of applicants has rapidly increased to 720,000 in 39 nations as of last year. The number of applicants has tripled in Europe and America has seen an eight fold increase since its first introduction.

Globalization strategies for Korean food
Korean food is also being promoted in the Korean Wave. The members of the pop group Super Junior have been selected as 2011 honorary Korean food ambassadors. By selecting a pop group that is famous throughout Asia, there will be greater appeal to younger generations of Asian fans. Super Junior made a Korean food promotional video, and the preview recorded 1.5 million internet hits in only two weeks.
The Ministry of Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and the Korean Food Foundation held a party with the theme, “The Night of Korean Food” in Beijing on May 19th, 2011. The party featured the food director Su-Jin Kim. She was the food stylist for the movies “The King and the Clown” and “Sikgaek.” She introduced the food that appeared in Korean dramas broadcast in China such as “Daejanggeum” and “Sikgaek” and explained the background of these foods.
The overseas sales of Korean food products are also on the rise. The food company, Binggrae recorded sales of one million dollars for its ice cream “Merona,” and international sales are expected to be more than domestic sales next year. The sale of instant noodles in France and Belgium have increased by 296% and 130% respectively over last year.

Korean traditional cultural experience opportunities
Korail has been promoting a tour package called “The Korean Wave Express,” which is a sightseeing train that has been operating every weekend since December 25th, 2010 and will finish on September 26th, 2011. This train is decorated with traditional designs and scenes of Korean Wave dramas. Korean fusion classical music is also played on the train. The train pulls out of Seoul station and stops along the way at Chuncheon station, at the observatory atop Mount Gubong, at Nami Island, and at the Kim Yu Jeong House of Literature.
Traditional Korean Culture Experience Zones are also located within the departure lounge of Incheon International Airport at the east and west passenger terminals. When visitors leave for home after visiting Korea, they can make various traditional crafts themselves in the experience zone. They can also experience Korean folk songs and traditional instruments once or twice a day. About 205,000 people have visited these experience zones over the past year.

Today’s Korean Wave is having a huge impact on the sales of products based on the Korean Wave’s image. This increased international focus on Korean pop culture has had an additional effect on spreading Korean traditions, food, and language. It is a valuable promotional tool for Korea. It will require great effort in order to sustain this momentum. Korea will have to introduce the excellence of our culture to the world through various mediums. If the Korean Wave can find a way to incorporate all of its various potential contributors, there is no reason why it will fade in the long term future.
문예원 기자  lune@ynu.ac.kr
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