THROUGHOUT THE years, there has been a continuous growth in the K-Pop industry. Consequently, the number of foreigners coming into South Korea has drastically increased. As K-Pop continues to rise in the global market, there are many foreign students who choose Korea as their destination for further study based on their love for the genre. But what exactly entices foreigners to Korean artists?
The origin of the Hallyu Wave
K-Pop’s popularity has significantly become apparent on an international level. When addressing this, it is important to understand the Hallyu Wave, otherwise known as the Korean Wave. The term “Hallyu Wave” was first used back in the 1990s by a Chinese journalist exploring the growth of Korean entertainment in China (Elite Asia). Things have changed since the early 90s and technological advancements have made the marketization of K-Pop more convenient; thus, the Hallyu Wave rapidly spread across the globe.
YouTube is one of the many platforms that has facilitated access to K-Pop for fans around the world. Back in 2012, Psy’s popular song “Gangnam Style” spread throughout the continents and reached over one billion views on YouTube. According to billboard’s writer William Gruger, “[it became] the first video in the history of the Internet to surpass one billion views.” This groundbreaking record further propelled the continuous growth of the K-Pop industry.
To put it into perspective, *Bloomberg News* reported, “On YouTube, views of videos by the top 200 K-Pop artists have tripled since 2012.” The aftermath of Psy’s popularity put K-Pop in the scope of individuals outside of Korea. The entertainment industry accounted for a large portion of South Korea’s exports, especially to China; however, it would eventually become larger phenomenon overtime in the United States and Japan, and later expanding to South America and Eastern Asia.
What is the appeal of Korean Artists?
The way Korean artists interact with their fans is very different compared to Western artists. They not only engage with their audience through Twitter and Instagram, but they also do so through VLive, an application for smartphones. The VLive app gives fans the opportunity to keep up with their favorite artists on a weekly basis. On this app, Korean artists post videos or stream live videos of their daily activities and communicate with fans.
But what exactly is it about Korean artist that draws foreigners’ attention? Western artists also offer fan meetings; therefore, it can be assumed that it is something beyond an artist’s talent. In an interview with *The Yonsei Annals*, a majority of foreign students studying at Yonsei University stated that Korean artists tackle societal issues, whereas Western artists heavily focus on generic themes like drinking, substance abuse, or partying. Duarte Faith (Soph., Dept. of Business Admin.) said, “I have more respect for Korean artists because they put years of work into their art before even debuting.” Korean artists spend years honing their skills before they even get to see a stage, hence her respect towards these artists.
Another factor to consider, is how difficult it is to get into the K-Pop industry. Individuals who pursue careers in the entertainment industry must first audition for companies and if, and only if, a company is willing to sign a contract with them, then they must go through a lengthy training process. Under the contract, upcoming artists must attend vocal, dancing, rapping, language, and even acting lessons. A typical training day may last anywhere between 9 to 12 hours minimum. They must fulfill all these requirements, and in some cases some are still attending school. This goes along with what another one of our interviewees discussed. Tucker Erika (Soph., Dept. of Political Science & Int. Studies) states, “Expectations for Korean artists are very high, so naturally, they are well-rounded and versatile. I don't mean to trash Western artists; they don't have to meet the same standards.” It is true that the entertainment business is very selective. Even when a company is willing to give an artist a chance, some do not debut until several years after. Therefore, it is crucial for artists to constantly train in order to thrive in such competitive settings.
Economic Implications of K-Pop
This growing interest for K-Pop is evident when taking into consideration the influx of foreigners in South Korea. According to *Bloomberg News*, the amount of people coming into the country has drastically increased by 76% between the years of 2011 and 2016. This was around the same time where Psy made his initial debut in Western media, and the rise of K-Pop has exponentially grown since. As a result, it could possibly explain why tourism has sharply risen in Korea in the more recent years.
It is important to note, that South Korea is one of the biggest providers of recorded music in the world. As mentioned in *Bloomberg News*, “South Korea, with a population of just 51 million, is the world’s eighth-largest market for recorded music by revenue, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry.” Although the country has a small population in comparison to other nations, they are still one of the top providers of entertainment services to other people.
Ever since Psy became a recognized artist and figure on YouTube’s platform, other Korean artists have been able to utilize YouTube’s extensive reach to build an audience for themselves. *Bloomberg News* states, “Last year they were watched about 24 billion times, with 80 percent of views coming from outside South Korea.” This takes into account how the Hallyu Wave has positively contributed to South Korea’s economy. In 2017 alone, K-pop and K-pop related expenses generated $4.7 billion in revenue.
South Korea's economy thrives on exporting K-Pop goods such as cookies and soft drinks featuring idols to other nations. Companies like Lotte Group and Orion Group primarily make their sales outside of Korea, reported by *Euromonitor International*. The reality is that companies are taking advantage of the Hallyu Wave and the profits they can accrue from it. *Euromonitor International* mentions, "... [Orion Group] also recorded sales of close to $1.1 billion in China in 2015...During this period, Lee Min-ho, a popular Korean male artist...was also promoting Orion’s Cutie Pie products." This is one of the many instances where companies are able to monetize this K-pop craze outside of their own borders. It's a strategic move that the company has taken to climb the economic ladder. Strategies like this are what make South Korea stand in seventh place for its exporting economy.
How do Koreans perceive the growing K-Pop industry?
On the other hand, Korean students don't view foreigners having an interest in K-Pop in a negative light. One of our interviewees, Jeon Soo-hyun (Sr., Dept. of Electrical & Electronic Engin.) said, "It is good for me because it gives me a chance to meet many friends." As mentioned, it makes the process of making friends with foreigners easier for Korean students. It makes him happy to see his own interests reflected in someone else. For Jeon and many others, K-Pop establishes a sense of commonality with someone outside of their country.
All Koreans who were interviewed by the *Annals* believed that the Hallyu Wave had positively impacted Korea. They understand that the industry was created to be a business; therefore, they don't perceive foreigners coming to Korea strictly for K-Pop as damaging. Another one of our interviewees, Bong Ji-yeon (Sr., Dept. of Int. Studies) says, “K-Pop is business, but apart from that, the commitment and enthusiasm foreigners have for their favorite artists is amazing.” Bong believes that it takes more commitment to be a fan from overseas because it is much more difficult to keep up with Korean idols due to time differences and merchandise not being as readily available as it is in Korea.
This same positivity was shown when the Korean boy band *Bang-tan So-nyeon-dan* or commonly known as BTS, was invited to the Billboard Music Awards and also nominated for the Top Social Artist award. The commitment of both international and Korean fans was clearly displayed when they worked together during the voting process to help BTS win the award. Billboard writer Jason Lipshutz claims, "Thanks to a massive fan base that stretches around the globe, BTS was able to overtake pop superstars like Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez and capture the Top Social Artist Award.” For K-Pop group BTS to successfully win the award when running against well-known Western artists serves as an indication of the worldwide success of K-Pop. This level of enthusiasm and commitment makes it possible for K-Pop to continue to thrive on a global scale.
Overall, the Hallyu Wave has positively impacted South Korea socially and economically. Foreigners recognize the dedication and passion Korean artists have despite the competitive nature of the K-Pop industry. One the other hand, Koreans appreciate the enthusiasm foreigners have for their idols. This worldwide support is what continues to drive K-Pop towards success. Seeing Korean artists such as Psy and BTS make headlines in Western media suggests that the rise of K-Pop has not ended yet.