The Korean Wave greatly affects domestic individual and collective culture. In addition, it has a noticeable impact on the universal growth. As a result, K-pop is recognizable globally for “a fusion of synthesized music, sharp dance routines and fashionable and colorful outfits” (Rousse-Marquet, 2012). This paper will discuss and analyze the reasons of K-pop’s success, in particular, the state’s political and financial support, advancement and increased use of social networking, and hallyu’s compliance with domestic and global social trends.

Purpose of Study

The purpose of this research paper is to identify the role of social media in the evolvement and spread of K-pop. Besides, it is aimed at discussing the impact of hallyu on the identities of the Koreans. Similarly, it is appropriate to trace the influence of this music movement on foreign fans. In addition, one should comprehend the remedies and mechanics of K-pop’s spreading among diverse demographic communities. In this regard, it is necessary to define what social local and global trends are manifested and supported by the Korean Wave. Finally, considering that music industry requires benevolent political and economic environment and financing, one should explore the role of the Korean government in strengthening K-pop and supporting its export.

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The Development of Social Networks Predefines the Global Success of the Korean Wave

Hallyu thrives in the domestic market and successfully extends globally due to the increased use of the Internet, particularly, social networks. Researchers state that “YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter make it easier for K-pop bands to reach a wider audience in the West, and those fans are turning to the same social networking tools to proclaim their devotion” (Russell & Sang-Hun, 2014). Consider the statistics, “Psy’s ‘Gangnam Style’ ranked number one in YouTube click counts, reaching more than 1,4 billion hits as of March 17, 2013” (Oh & Park, 2013). Given this example, one can rightfully assume that the spread of K-pop occurs mostly because of social media. Without doubts, the Internet is a powerful tool to blend Western and Eastern cultures. It erases geographic and national boundaries. This insight implies two premises: firstly, K-pop evolves under the impact of the Western culture while being adjusted to the fans’ demand. Secondly, the Korean Wave attracts foreign fans with its uniqueness, by this, shaping the popular culture of other states.

To estimate the role of social media in spreading of K-pop around the world, one should refer to the Figure 1. Exploring the Korean Wave phenomenon aside the state’s borders, it is important to detect the agents that most of all contribute to the evolvement of K-pop. According to the corresponding study, producers and distributors have the greatest value in promoting hallyu globally (Oh & Park, 2013) as it is displayed in the graph. Distributors include the social media like Google, YouTube, and other platforms. Thus, one may deduce that the role of social networking in spreading K-pop around the world is immense.

Whereas the role of social media in the evolvement and promotion of the modern K-pop is undisputable some researchers believe in the following fact. The spread of hallyu around the world is not significant (Park, 2013). The rationale that supports this claim is the following one, i.e. coming to live abroad Asian people bring their culture. As a result, it is known that in the United States K-pop culture had been kept alive mostly by Asian-Americans even before the boom of 2012 (Park, 2013). Hence, after Psy’s Gangnam Style stroke the world with its vibrant and untypical choreography and artistry, the number of K-pop fans slightly increased. Therefore, despite the obvious fact that K-pop culture conquers the Western markets, it is inappropriate to believe that the current accomplishments are immense. On the other hand, the fact that hallyu is recognizable aside domestic borders gives hope that this tendency will continue to spread.

Nevertheless, some experts claim that the impact of K-pop will not grow in the future. For example, a music consultant, Morgan Carey, scrutinizes that the Korean Wave does not have “staying power in the United States” (Russell & Sang-Hun, 2014). The music expert explains his premise with the fact that K-pop culture does not meet the realities of the American market (Russell & Sang-Hun, 2014). Nonetheless, at the same time, Carey points to the fact that Korean singers start to understand the existing dissonance in culture (Russell & Sang-Hun, 2014). To comply with the demand of the USA customers, Korean bands strive to mix their culture with the Western popular trends. For example, the Wonder Girls cooperate with the local singers and implement Hollywood motives for their videos with the purpose to benefit from the familiarity of the today’s US popular cultural attributes (Russell & Sang-Hun, 2014).

Another argument that opposes Carey’s views regarding the lack of Western orientation is revealed by the author, Rousse-Marquet (2012). He states that “from the very start, the Korean record labels aim for the international market”. This claim is supported with the observation that the today’s Korean music industry hires “foreign composers, choreographers and stylists” (Rousse-Marquet, 2012). Besides, Korean showmen are required to know foreign languages. These approaches testify that K-pop intents to increase staying power in the foreign markets.

It is necessary to mention that the ability to adjust is an important characteristic of the Korean Wave. It, to a great extent, predefines its spread and survival around the world. This idea is supported with the recent study, which reveals that “combination of Western and Eastern sounds, perfectly in-sync choreography and fashion choices have all helped K-pop stand out among other genres” (Oak & Woong, 2014). In this way, adjustment supports the acquisition of the new features needed for K-pop’s global success. The next section is aimed at discussing several mainstream peculiarities that qualitatively distinguish K-pop from the rest of current and former Korean music waves.

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Hallyu Supports National Trend towards Individual Liberalization

K-pop is a remedy to reveal and develop further the modern tendency towards the changing gender identities. Specifically, the Korean Wave manifests and, simultaneously, reinforces domestic social trends towards altering views regarding generic roles and interrelations. To understand this tendency, one should refer to the sociological study of the South Korean nation, which states that “women in Asia become more individualized” (Kim, 2013, p. 82). This peculiarity is connected to urbanization, enhanced level of education for both genders, and, as a result, the respective changes in the labor market. Women have become more independent and feministic, i.e. the features that assembled under the phenomena of westernization of the Asian world (Kim, 2013, p. 82). The Korean Wave illustrates and supports these shifts.

In particular, K-pop manifests the change in the outfit style, choreography, and self-representation of contemporary females. The example can be viewed in the Figure 2. The author accentuates that “K-pop idol group Girl’s Day hypnotizes fans with their sexy dance moves and polyester hot pants” (Ladner, 2014). This level of expression was untypical for the former culture of South Korea. Therefore, it is natural to deduce that the Korean Wave continues to engage women to increase individual liberalization, which is an important distinguishing feature of this movement.

What is more, for the first time, in South Korea, K-pop illustrates the presence of homosexuality. It has been earlier considered to be untypical for this nation. In this respect, the role of hallyu is to introduce the people to the same-sex relations. For example, exploring famous K-pop music videos, it becomes clear that homosexuality is addressed with tolerance and empathy towards unhappy same-sex love. One should consider an example, K. Will’s “Please Don’t,” Nell’s “The Day Before” and Baby Soul’s and Yoo Jia’s “She’s a Flirt”. They portray homosexuality in a beautiful way to make viewers become empathic to the main characters (Ladner, 2014). Without a doubt, this approach is new in the Korean society. Thus, it is natural to deduce that the Korean Wave’s support of the same-sex relations is another important distinguishing feature of this music trend. It is one of the means in which hallyu shapes the consciousness of natives, by this, affecting the entire nation.

Nonetheless, despite the above described beneficial social tendencies of Westernization that underlies the modern Korean Wave, there is a contrasting opinion. This trend threatens the authenticity of the Korean culture. Specifically, researchers, Oh and Park (2013) make an assumption that K-pop “denuded and destroyed whatever exists of received (South) Korean culture and traditions” (3). Undoubtedly, this claim is at least partly true because any transition may occur without disrupting the previous order and beliefs.

Hence, all cultures are volatile and, one way or another, exist in the constant transformation. The main point is that such change should be beneficial for the nation. Besides, in the conditions of globalization, it must comply (not contradict) the global realities. Considering the above revealed examples, it is possible to state that K-pop corresponds to these characteristics. The next section will discuss the social mechanisms that, in spite of challenging transitions, predefine the evolvement of K-pop both in South Korea and abroad.

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K-Pop Mechanics of Social Symbols and Notions

To comprehend the phenomenon of the Korean Wave one should define the term culture. Culture is “the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one human group from another” (Badeges, n. d., p. 5). In this regard, there are three levels of culture: individual, collective, and universal (Badeges, n. d.). Scrutinizing the effect of K-pop on persons, it is natural to conclude that it significantly impacts the Korean people at the individual degree by engaging individual liberalization as it has been discussed above. Moreover, hallyu’s influence on a collective level is prominent. The reason is that it supports the development of the new trends such as tolerance towards homosexuality and feminism.

Besides, K-pop addresses the issues of poverty. In particular, Psy’s megahit”Gangnam Style” ridicules a luxury life-style presenting it in the exaggerated manner (Khoo, 2014). In this music video, the shallowness of the rich is presented in a comic way that triggers viewers’ smiles. However, it also reveals a serious issue of income polarization. This notion crosses the Korean borders and inspires similar reactions of foreign viewers. For instance, the Southeast Asian dwellers enjoy the parody of “Gangnam Style” ridiculing the same socio-economic matters (Khoo, 2014). This trend implies the increased interest towards political, economic, and social life. It gains a world-wide meaning. Therefore, it is possible to state that the Korean Wave, simultaneously, manifests and supports the transition of the universal culture. Hence, it is obvious that K-pop impact globally is much less sensible than at the individual and collective levels.

Discussing what social notions the Korean Wave brings to the western culture, one should point to idol systems. Theidols of K-pop possess a number of unique characteristics. For example, this movement introduces to the world the fetish of lotus-blossom, which is a popular modern trend. Its phenomenon is the Asian kind of beauty that is characterized with sexual innocence(Negus, 2015). At the same time, K-pop adds untypical glitter to the image of innocent and perfectly-looking young females. This particularity can be partly explained by the above discussed individual liberalization, which welcomes and encourages the freedom of expression.

On the other hand, a popular singer, Psy, opposes K-pop standards of the perfect idols. One should consider the rationale this singer is not in a good physical shape. Besides, the video’s choreography is quite primitive (Kaye, 2012). Moreover, even though the performance of this singer and his showmen group implies the notion of lotus-blossom and sexual fetishes, the comic self-representation alters the typical messages of hallyu (Figure 3). Therefore, one should emphasize that the Korean Wave manifests itself through ambiguous symbols and notions. It is necessary to mention that the discussed tendencies and mechanics are greatly supported by the state with the purpose to increase the profitability of the Korean music industry.

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The Role of the Korean Government in the Development of Hallyu

To a great extent, K-pop achieves success due to the government’s support, including significant investments in a domestic music industry. As a result, “K-pop accounts for 80 percent of Korea’s national music market” (IFPI, n. d.). Hence, the government understands that domestic demand is too small for K-pop. Therefore, it strives to direct hallyu to the global market. The statistics reveals that “Japan accounted for 68 percent of Korea’s total music industry exports in 2008, while the Chinese and U.S. markets accounted for only 11.2 percent and 2.1 percent, respectively” (IFPI, n. d.). These data illustrate that, despite the above discussed orientation towards Western markets, the Korean Wave is currently more spread in the Asian world.

Summing up the above mentioned information, it is necessary to emphasize that hallyu greatly impacts the Korean individual and collective identities, as well as noticeably affects the universal culture. The success of K-pop is predetermined by the excessive use of the social media platforms. It allows crossing national and cultural borders. Besides, it supports such mainstream domestic social trends as individual liberalization, feminism, and acceptance of homosexuality, by this, encouraging the transition of the domestic culture. At the same time, the Korean Wave contributes to the global culture by introducing the notions of idol systems, lotus-blossom or sexual innocence. Moreover, it highlights the common world-wide social issues, such as poverty and income polarization, as it was illustrated by Psy’s “Gangnam Style”. This approach evokes the viewers’ understanding and support, which positively correlates with K-pop success. Furthermore, one should comprehend that hallyu excels in domestic and offshore markets due to strong support of the Korean government that orients K-pop towards advancement in accordance with the realities of foreign consumers.

 

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