South Korea’s soft-power approach through Hallyu has shown some amazing success in these recent past years. With international recognition of artists like Psy, BIGBANG and BTS, Kpop has become a powerhouse industry in South Korea.
C: BTS Facebook
So how did Kpop become so influential today? To understand the emergence of Kpop we have to go back to 1997 Asian financial crisis. The crisis started in Thailand after the collapse of their currency. The crisis spread hitting Thailand, Indonesia and South Korea the hardest. The debt emergency in Korea stopped the export of many goods. With no natural resources and a economy that was overly dependent on chaebols (South Korean mega conglomerates) South Korea was forced to rethink their economy.
Then President and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Kim Daejung, made the decision to push information technology and (surprise!) pop culture to gain revenue. Using the United States and the UK as models for cultural revenue, the Korean government spent a large amount of money on the research and development of the Kpop industry.
C: The New York Times
One of the results of this investment is the Korean Ministry of Culture. The Ministry of Culture is the hub of cultural technology research. This includes researching things like hyper-realistic holograms to improve concert experiences. The government is a big investor in such projects but music labels, large companies and banks also play a part in funding the production and enhancement of the Kpop industry.
Music labels such SM, JYP and YG Entertainment (dubbed the big three) have been big players in the Kpop industry for years. The labels implement the infamous business model similar to that of the Japanese pop industry. The companies scout young teens/ pre-teens and train them rigorously for several years in dancing, singing, etiquette, foreign language, etc. The system usually gets a bad rep from Western media but this training model was a key to the success of Kpop.
BIGBANG: A boy group from big three company, YG (C: Facebook).
With the competitive culture in South Korea and pressures to study and do well in school, kids didn’t have time to get together and form bands in their parent’s garages like Westerners. The important of success and Confucian ideologies also didn’t give kids in South Korea the luxury of being able to fail at being stars. Besides, South Korea didn’t have time to wait around for a few talented artists to appear if they wanted to use pop culture as a means of growing their economic power.
Although this general business philosophy is still in place, the success of Kpop has led to leeway for more creative freedom from artists in the industry. It isn’t rare to see many Kpop idols writing and producing some of their own music nowadays.
Kpop has done more than capture fans all over the world, it has become a strong source of revenue and helped to put South Korea on the map. Kpop has and continues to path the way to South Korea’s international success.
Sources: A Geek in Korea by Daniel Tudor & The Birth of Korean Cool by Euny Hong