The Rising Prowess of Korean Culture
January 28, 2019
Through diplomatic initiatives such as the Winter Olympic ‘Peace Games‘ and MIKTA, South Korea has risen to become a global middle power. This increase in status well reflects the recent swell of interest in Korean culture.
“I love and appreciate Korean culture. From their music to their fashion to their food and language, it has a different quality to it that is very different from American culture,” Tiffany Chen said.
From the global phenomenon of K-pop to the high international viewership of K-dramas, Korean culture is becoming increasingly common around the world in numerous facets.
Cuisine & Cookery
Due to America's status as the world's melting pot, the foodscape is vast with the influences of many cultures. As a burgeoning flavor on the market, South Korea is becoming known for it's delectable dishes.
The way to one’s heart is through the stomach, and Korean food has certainly reached the bellies of many Americans. While the cuisine took much longer to reach the American plate than other ethnic foods, it is now a staple in many major cities to see a restaurant with bulgogi and kimchi on the menu, among many other Korean delicacies.
The delay in the acceptance of Korean cuisine is attributed to the traditionalist aspect in Korean cookery. Numerous East Asian cookeries were adapted to suit the American public and lost their authentic taste to gain public favor. However, Korean restaurants stayed true to their roots and cultivated food for their Korean patrons which disinterested many American eaters until recently.
The popularity of Korean food has lead to “Koreatowns“, ethnic enclaves on the outskirts of major cities, to boom in popularity. They’ve been marked as tourist destinations which numerous travelers visit to experience the nuances of Korean food in different cities. Although this popularity is still new to the American palate, Korean food is already working its way into the fabric of American cuisine with little chance of leaving.
Television & Movies
The average American watches over seven hours of television everyday according to the Atlantic. Now, a new genre is opening up to many viewers called K-dramas.
The Korean entertainment industry is flourishing now with the increasing popularity of Korean media. This Korean Wave, also called Hallyu, was kick-started by the phenomenon that is Boys Over Flowers. The drama depicts Geum Jan-di, an average girl, who becomes entangled in the lives of the nation’s elite while attending a prestigious private school. The unprecedented success of this drama caused an immense increase in interest regarding Korean culture and is credited as a major proponent for the current popularity of Korean culture.
“Korean dramas are just as well known throughout Asia as its music for its interesting plots and tear-jerking angst,” Chen said.
The drama was made available on many leading streaming sites such as Viki, Netflix, and Hulu, allowing countless Americans to gain their first experience of Korean television culture. The drama exposes the viewer to a myriad of common tropes in K-dramas such as all girls wanting bad boys, being a tsundere, showing love through anger, and a lover becoming amnesiac.
The drama opened the doors of Korean television to the world, and many longtime viewers of K-dramas cite Boys over Flowers as the show that prompted them to get into the genre. Even now, the tropes that made Boys over Flowers popular can be easily identified in many modern K-dramas. American broadcasting networks have noticed the popularity in this market and have started to remake popular Korean shows like The Masked Singer and The Good Doctor.
The market is becoming more vast and varied as American companies begin to make their own Asian dramas such as Hymn of Death and Miss in Kiss. This acceptance by conventional broadcasting companies is making the once unorthodox genre an accepted part of American media.
K-pop the Phenomenon
This genre is already becoming a normal choice in current society. Idols have sold out stadiums due to their devoted and loyal fan bases. This trend. however, has been growing since 2009.
K-pop is arguably the most globally known feature of Korean culture. The music genre has been burgeoning on the music scene since 2009 when popular idol band, Wonder Girls, became the first K-pop band to breach the Billboard Hot 100 chart with their song Nobody. However, PSY’s helped K-pop reach international coverage with his smash hit Gangnam Style. The sensational song was released in 2012 and became the first video to reach a billion streams on YouTube with the music video’s shocking visuals, catchy beat, and addictive dance.
“It is captivating to watch music videos with unconventional and unique melodies and production paired with hypnotizing choreography. These are also usually presented with creatively aesthetic videography and editing,” Chen said.
However, this exposure quickly died down, and K-pop reverted to an unknown genre for a number of years. As technology become more innovative, the traditional means of listening to music evolved from buying physical CDs to streaming one’s favorite artists on platforms like Apple Music, Spotify, and Tidal. The need for public approval became less important for artists since they no longer relied on album sales, and the music landscape opened for less conventional artists to gain more acclaim.
K-pop fans recognized this shift in music and began to focus their attention on streaming their favorite artists. By repeatedly playing your favorite artist’s music, their songs trend on the charts and encourage non-fans to listen since it’s so popular. This leads to an increase of fans which means more people to listen and stream their songs and the cycle continues.
The K-pop industry capitalizes on the devotion of their fan base by making artists more open than their American counterparts. They frequently check in on their fans through live streams, the performances are elaborate and intricate to better entertain their fans, and they frequently engage with fans through social media and fan cafes. This connection between fans and their idols motivates their supporters to boost their favorite idols by encouraging more people to listen to them which further spreads the popularity of K-pop.
Trends & Styles
The influence of Korean couture can be seen in many popular styles and trends. This interest has been expanding & led to a melding of Korean and American styles for a popular market.
Trends come and go, but the influence of South Korean fashion has only increased in recent years. This surge can be accounted for by the mainstream adoption of K-Pop which has made the genre more accessible than ever. As more music connoisseurs become fans of Korean music, they buy fashion that looks similar to what their favorite idols wear. This partisanship has allowed brands like Forever 21, YesStyle, and mixxmix to flourish.
Numerous high fashion brands have clued into this untapped fashion market and are adopting aspects of Korean fashion into American trends. Fashion month has shown that American style is moving towards the practicality of “ugly footwear“, the comfort of knit fabric, and the minimalism of simple patterns. All of which are trends mirrored in Korean society.
This trend is projected to continue with the popularity of online shopping; websites such as AliExpress have profited hugely from the movement with them becoming the sixth biggest eCommerce provider as of January 2019. Fashion takes inspiration from everywhere, but the influence of Korean style on American fashion is prevalent and easy to perceive.