The South Korean pop music phenomenon, or K-pop, has emerged as the trendiest and hottest pop culture phenomenon in Asia and around the world, playing a significant role in spreading Hallyu or the “Korean wave,” which refers to the popular Korean entertainment industry and cultural items outside of the country starting in the late 1990s.
Unlike some pessimistic views that K-pop would be just a fad in Asia, K-pop has moved beyond Asia and started to make inroads into Europe and North America, where it is receiving attention in the mainstream media and leading to increased exports of the Hallyu contents. In 2011, South Korea’s cultural exports, which include films, music, television, comics and computer games hit a record $4.2 billion, up from $2.6 billion in 2009.
The K-pop idol groups such as Big Bang, Super Junior and Girls’ Generation have become popular throughout Asia and recently have begun mesmerizing fans on other continents. Not to mention Psy, who has become a global celebrity with his “Gangnam Style,” creating a worldwide dance craze, thus drawing good publicity about the Korean pop industry down the road.
It is little wonder that the Hallyu contents industry covering films, music, soap operas, comics and computer games is expected to become a new economic growth engine. Korea’s export-oriented economy has been heavily rooted in its manufacturingtextiles, construction, ships and steel to semiconductors, consumer electronics and mobile digital devices, contributing to growing the country as one of major Asian economies. Building on its strength in manufacturing hardware, Korea has strived to add some ‘soft’competence, thus improve its overall image abroad, while contributing to exports down the road in global markets.
Although many people agree that there are still a lot of challenges to overcome before Hallyu becomes a full-blown industry, it is true that Korea is one of handful countries whose cultural items – pop music, films and soap operas – appeal to people around the world. Korea is also home to many of globally or locally popular on-line games and animation characters, includingthe following ones: