The Hallyu Wave

K-pop: the up-and-coming popular music genre.

You’re probably wondering what K-pop is. Is that a type of popcorn, a new type of soda, or what? To save you the trouble of having to look it up, I’ll tell you. K-pop is short for Korean pop, and if you’re still confused, perhaps Gangnam Style would ring a bell? If it doesn’t, then heres a little taste



and here

If you want to know more about the history behind it, watch this!

韩流 Hallyu, or the Korean wave is a term that people use to describe the “tsunami,” as Solee Shin and Lanu Kim call it, of South Korean culture that went international at the turn of the 21st century. While this includes many different types of entertainment such as dramas, music, and movies, it’s mostly the music genre called K-pop, or Korean pop, that has become the most globally commercialized.

The Korean Entertainment Culture is very harsh and unforgiving, not to mention that compared to America they focus more on the result rather than how the result was produced. That is, what they produce is superb quality, but behind the scenes, the road to fame and even after fame is tough, long, and hard.


Korean media in the 1980’s were highly censored, the government kept the music industry very controlled, and television was the most important platform for promoting music. Only traditional Korean music was allowed to play on TV and the notable singers of that time didn’t dance or have much variety in their performances. As Lanu Kim and Shin Solee concluded, for the most part, Korean music from the 1980’s could be described as un-innovative and because it was highly localized, this kind of production system effectively pushed a bunch of boring entertainment at its consumers.

So in the 1990’s, private television expanded as laws were revised, and it was at this time that Korean music became a little more Westernized. The most successful entrepreneurs today began around this time by attempting to “systemize the music market.” Those on their way to become entertainment companies began strategizing to create certain styles so as to “cultivate a brand image” and to “focus on getting the formula right.” Beginning in the 2000’s, companies began recruiting and training. There are kids who would begin training as early as 5 or 6 and not only that, they would often sign contracts for 7+ years, and another contract for 10 or more years after debuting!


Girls Generation (shown above) one of the most famous girl groups in South Korea, trained for an average of five and a half years, and signed a 10-year contract after debuting. It’s in this way that the marketing of Korean music became more about high production value as opposed to “musical ingenuity.”

Unfortunately, companies start these kids at such a young age and then they take advantage of the fact that a kid has “not yet been tainted” by the “outside world.” This means the companies can better influence their trainees into becoming dependent on them and can produce stars even more systematically. In the end for these companies, it’s the result that counts, but not so much the child’s mental and physical well being. And as I mentioned earlier, the road after fame is also difficult even after getting the job. Despite the popularity of K-pop, there are indeed some problems.

Here is an illustration of this problem.

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And here is a documentary of the K-pop trainee system.

  • Meg Smith

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