m a r k a n d e y a

The Korean Wave (yet again)

Posted by Brian on January 3, 2006

Both the Marmot and Lost Nomad have posts up on a recent NY Times article on the Korea Wave and its impact on China. As always, the Marmot has a quality thread going with a good discussion of the topic.

I don’t know… with all this talk about culture wars, the Korean wave, soft power, and what have you, I wonder if commentators are missing the obvious point: crap sells. From Baywatch to Britney to the Backstreet Boys, America has proven that the most crapolistic entertainment can sell internationally because of simple-minded consumers that are easily manipulated into buying the latest “it” thing.

Korean dramas suck. Korean pop music is horrible. Yet, they do well in some Asian countries. Why? The conventional Korean wisdom is that the Asian masses are eager for any and all things Korean; Korean culture mavens believe that it is the Korean-ness of say, Rain, that is his selling point. But really, what is so “Korean” about Rain? He dances well, goes by an English moniker, and is good-looking (in a bland, N’Sync-ish sort of way), all hallmarks of your generic “international star.” The simpler, more likely explanation is that the Korean entertainment industry has stumbled upon a successful formula for creating easily exportable “stars” in a variety of fields. How many K-pop-bots are currently being worked on in a lab somewhere, with market researchers assiduously putting together the correct combination of flashy dance moves, foreign language skills, and killer-smile techniques that are needed to sell a “star” abroad? And the great thing about it, as the popularity of BoA shows, is that success abroad means success locally. BoA’s first album tanked in Korea, yet her success in Japan has triggered more free publicity locally that you can shake a stick at. She is now famous here because she is famous there (oh, the irony… the much despised Japanese public determining who is popular in Korea).

In short, Korean pundits are trying to read all sorts of profound meaning into the Korean wave but the obvious factor, safe and bland mass pop appeal in an increasingly globalized world, is being ignored.


4 Responses to “The Korean Wave (yet again)”

  1. Nomad said

    Agree with you 100%. And I think the real shame is that those Koreans that do have the talent to make it big are probably overlooked because they don’t “look good enough” or are simply overshadowed by the crap being mass marketed.
    My favorite Korean singer of all time…Lee Sun Hee (and yeah, I’m showing my age here). That woman had one hell of a voice.

  2. my humps said

    As bad as any Korean pop song can get, they’ll never reach…
    Black Eye Peas!
    “You don’t want no drama/No no drama no no no no drama.”

  3. angus said

    not that i’m an expert on k-pop, but here it goes. korean popular culture is usually accused of being a direct and unabashed rip-off of the japanese. if this is true, then one of the reasons it maybe so popular in other parts of asia is that its a safe, baggage free version of japanese pop-culture that other asians are too inhibited to listen / watch in the original. (i can’t listen to this as those jap bastards killed my countrymen.) aside from that, can you say “lowest common denominator”?

  4. Angus, right… yet another possible explanation that the Korean media ignores in favor of the ones that paint Korea in a good light.


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