Beginning in the mid 2000s, one culture would rise in popularity among Millennials and Gen Z at an unprecedented rate, catching the attention of people around the world and drawing them into the allure of this once very private culture. Starting in South Korea, this rise in Korean culture became known as Hallyu, or the Korean Wave. From K-pop music to Korean dramas, the popularity of Korean entertainment has soared, drawing fans from all over the globe. The Korean Wave draws not only fellow Koreans but also people from different ethnic backgrounds in, including myself.
This global phenomenon has been growing exponentially in recent years. According to the Korean Culture and Information Service, King Sejong Institute, an international Korean school, has experienced an influx of students, growing from 740 students in 2007 to 80,000 in 2020. Furthermore, Korean is the 4th most popular language on Duolingo, a language-learning app, with over 10.7 million users striving to become fluent in Korean.
Not to mention, Korean dramas and K-Pop music have made their way into the mainstream media as well with massive followings from all parts of the globe. With such impressive figures, it is clear that the Korean Wave is not just a passing fad but a significant cultural movement. Korean Pop, or K-pop is one part of the Korean Wave that has integrated itself as a major part of the global music scene.
Bands like BTS, Blackpink, TXT, and Aespa are just a few of the hundreds of K-pop bands that have won over the hearts of audiences across the world thanks to their unique choreography and lyrical sound. Perhaps we have Korean artist PSY to thank for such popularity. His song and viral music video “Gangnam Style” dominated the radio and news broadcasts, setting the record for the first song to hit over a billion views, beating out American pop and hip hop for the title.
Other K-pop artists and bands such as Black Pink have mirrored such success by breaking records, and performing at world-renowned music festivals such as Coachella, which is infamous for hosting a largely white-centric lineup. With such a massive following in the US alone, the appeal of Korean music is only increasing.
Korean dramas, another part of the Korean wave, have topped charts and broken records the same way as K-pop. In many ways, their different style and flair from Hollywood-made shows serve as breath of fresh air for viewers. Compared to American shows, Korean dramas are filled with slow romance and a softer plot, drawing in a different but massive audience from around the globe. Many stemming from webcomics, Korean dramas have the unique ability to not only tell a compelling story, but they introduce the once secluded and isolated Korean culture to the rest of the world. In recent years, Korean dramas like Business Proposal and Run On have even made their way into mainstream streaming services like Netflix.
Most notably, Netflix’s Squid Game, a K-drama from South Korea, topped the streaming app’s most watched list with 1.6 billion hours of watch time 28 days after its release, a feat only accomplished with the rise of the Korean Wave and appeal of Korean culture sweeping the globe. Similarly, Academy Award winning movie Parasite broke records for being the top grossing foreign-language film, amassing four awards at the 2020 Oscars among many other accolades the film earned.
As someone who is not Korean but still drawn to the Korean culture, I can attest to the allure of the Korean Wave. Perhaps it is the unique blend of traditional and modern elements that is evident in everything from fashion to food. Maybe it is the captivating storylines and charming characters found in Korean dramas. Whatever the reason may be, I feel a sense of belonging in this foreign culture. Thankfully, with increasing interest in Korean entertainment, language, and culture, I find peace knowing I can continue to ride the Korean Wave with so many others for years to come.