Reforming Hallyu – Part 1 of 7

Someone on Formspring recently asked me:

What do you think is the “Hallyu wave taking over the world” fever that companies have been “promoting”?

It’s no secret that I have fairly adverse feelings about Hallyu as a whole, and these feelings have only been emphasized by the throng of K-pop artists suddenly aching to make it in the Japanese market. It’s easy to say that Hallyu is dead and that K-pop groups should stop trying so hard to make it overseas because it’s clearly not working, but I don’t think that such declarations are fair to the K-pop industry and to Korean popular culture on the whole. K-pop does have a chance to succeed overseas (moreso than it already has, that is) – but, like most things, it’s a matter of how.

I think that parties on both ends – the parties being Korean entertainment companies and overseas fans – are making strides to help K-pop take off on a global scale, but they’re currently unable to meet in the middle because both parties oftentimes wind up having different objectives. The burden of responsibility largely lies with the entertainment companies – because, let’s be honest: how much intelligent opinion on marketing strategies can you expect from a screaming crowd of preteen fangirls?

That being said, the biggest issue is that many Korean entertainment companies are attempting to jump into foreign markets without fully understanding the climate of said foreign market. That’s why we’ve got 2PM in glittery eyeshadow in Japan, Donghae and Siwon acting in Taiwanese dramas, and SM thinking that only Parisians would attend an SMTown concert in Paris. Admittedly, I don’t have first-hand knowledge of what’s going on behind the closed doors of these entertainment companies, but there’s just something about these recent overseas activities that seems awfully off-base, even on the surface.

The fatal error is the fact that Korean entertainment company executives and Korean press are constantly referring to “Hallyu” as a blanket term for a phenomenon in which Korean culture will, one day, conquer the world. The problem with a blanket statement like this (apart from the fact that it sounds completely ridiculous) is that it makes the entire idea of Hallyu incredibly vague. If given that vague definition, entertainment companies have no idea how to progress when they want to pursue overseas activities. The result is this horrible recent trend in which K-pop artists work under the misguided belief that K-pop has already conquered Japan – and subsequently plop recycled Korean material in Japan and call it a “Japanese debut.”

The fact of the matter is, it’s not as simple as saying that “Hallyu will conquer the world” because different parts of the world have different needs, and Hallyu is not powerful enough to automatically blanket over everything. The real issue, then, is finding out what these needs are, and how K-pop should appropriately cater to them.

Which is why I’m starting this series, I guess. There’s been a lot of news lately about K-pop reaching foreign shores – and for whatever reason, I get increasingly more frustrated whenever a new piece of news comes along. In addition, living in Taiwan these past few weeks has given me a fascinating new perspective of how K-pop functions in a place where Hallyu has actually hit the shores hard. The series will discuss the prospect of Hallyu in five different global regions – Japan, America, China/Taiwan, Southeast Asia/South America, and Europe – and will be structured accordingly.

Ugh, this has got to be the nerdiest thing I will ever do.

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  • julian

    I’m looking forward to this series. I got my own first hand look at kpop in SEA this summer, and …wow…quite a diverse world we live in.
    Good luck in Taiwan!

  • Oh yesh. I’m looking forward to reading this series as well. Your writing is also insightful and enjoyable ^^