Tag Archive | "Culture"

Survival Shows Redefine the K-Pop Industry

By Steven Lim

By integrating elements of a reality show and a traditional music competition, the TV program Produce 101 has generated greater public interest in K-pop from both Korean and international audiences.

Trainees from various entertainment companies exhibit their skills to join a new music group. The show is notable for not having any judges; viewers at home and in the studio exercise total control over the contestants through weekly votes. The final 11 or 12 contestants debut in a group together, signing a short contract.

The show’s three seasons have introduced new stars and increased K-Pop’s global reach in addition to exporting Korean TV programming. Simultaneously, the scope of the contestant pool – an inherent facet of the program – may hold back the K-pop industry from growing.


The Produce franchise is notable for its seamless expansion to other markets. Produce 48 localized the show for the Japanese audience by including contestants from the country’s flagship idol group AKB48. This generated significant interest in Japan. Additionally, watching the contestants work together to navigate the culture shock and overcome the language barrier contributed to growing the show’s audience beyond K-pop fans.

While voting was limited to Korea, the show’s simultaneous TV broadcast in Korea and Japan enabled Japanese viewers to actively follow the contestants. This helped the winning group, IZ*ONE, build a significant fan base in Japan, priming them for success there.

Moreover, IZ*ONE’s dual nationality helped them grow their presence in Japan. While many K-pop groups have Japanese members, IZ*ONE incorporated already-debuted Japanese idols to instantly boost their public recognition. Their hybrid Korean-Japanese management also provided them with opportunities in Japan that few K-Pop groups ever acquire. Through this collaboration, IZ*ONE’s debuts broke records in both countries, an incredibly impressive feat.

Similarly, the Produce series is helping export the Korean idol model to China in collaboration with Tencent. An official Thai version was called off last August, but a local version came out in February. The quick international adoption speaks to not only K-Pop’s popularity but also the Produce franchise’s brand strength abroad.


While entertaining, the sheer volume of contestants on the show makes it difficult for contestants to properly showcase their talents. Equitable screen-time distribution for a pool of 101 talents is nearly impossible, so accusations of favoritism have become a regular issue. Genuinely talented artists are susceptible to falling through the cracks.

The franchise may also inhibit substantive, long-term growth for K-Pop. Because the vast majority of contestants are signed with various agencies, they cannot stay as a part of the group formed by the program for very long. The winning groups’ contracts were/are 9 months, 1.5 years, and 2.5 years. Despite the show creators’ ambition to create a “global K-Pop girl band,” the contracts represent a self-imposed limit. A shorter average group lifespan is the last thing K-Pop needs.

But to reverse the process, the Produce franchise would need to substantially change its format. Instead of drawing from a multitude of agencies, and thereby constraining the group and its growth potential, the program should emulate shows like American Idol and The Voice and predominantly rely on free agent trainees. That would enable the network to build an enduring group with global ambitions.

Implications for K-Pop

Produce’s TV network has recognized some of the show’s limitations and made changes, including the extensions of contracts to five years. This is a smart business decision and will enable the winning group to capitalize on their potentially immediate success. However, the change could adversely affect the talent agencies that contribute the contestants for the program. The pre-debut process is resource-intensive for these agencies and their return-on-investment is curtailed if they split revenue and production costs with the network for a longer time period. The extension to the contract, nonetheless, represents progress. It remains to be seen whether it will be sufficient and what unintended consequences it might have.

For much of this decade, K-Pop has been the face of Korean soft power on the world stage. Likewise, Produce 101 has been the face of K-Pop TV programming since its inception. It has developed a solid model for localization through its success in Japan, China, and elsewhere. At the same time, Produce 101 has caused a paradigm shift in K-Pop TV programming, with several other shows following in its footsteps. It may have also set some precedents that are counterproductive to the long-term success of the industry.

Steven Lim is currently an Intern at the Korea Economic Institute. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Photo from Wikipedia.

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10 Issues to Watch for on the Korean Peninsula in 2019

By Mark Tokola, Phil Eskeland, Troy Stangarone, Kyle Ferrier, Juni Kim, Yong Kwon, and Sang Kim

2018 was a year of dramatic change on the Korean Peninsula. The prospect of war that seemed to growth with each North Korean nuclear or missile test receded as North Korea, the United States, and South Korea moved towards diplomacy which culminated in the historic summit meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un in Singapore.

While the move towards diplomacy with North Korea was the top story of 2018, the year also saw South Korea successfully host the 2018 Winter Olympics, South Korean President Moon Jae-in move more directly towards implementing his income lead growth strategy, and K-pop take another significant step towards breaking out in the United States.

As we move into 2019, some of the big questions facing the Korean Peninsula will center around whether real progress can be made with North Korea now that we are beyond the initial stages of diplomacy and what that means for inter-Korean relations. Other key issues for 2019 will be how the U.S.-China trade war plays out and the implications for South Korea, as well as whether income lead growth will be able to overcome some of the initial implementation challenges it has faced.

With that in mind, here are 10 issues related to North Korea, South Korean politics, and U.S.-Korea relations to follow that will have an impact on the Korean peninsula in the year ahead:

Whether a Peace Process Can Develop

It is generally believed that the denuclearization of North Korea will be accompanied by a “peace process” (or peace regime, or peace declaration, or end-of-war declaration – there are many terms being tossed around) but what this would actually mean or whether it would come before or after an agreement on denuclearization is unclear.  The “peace process” may come in pieces.  There is nothing to prevent North and South Korea from declaring on their own that peace has come to the peninsula.  Similarly, the United States and North Korea could issue a joint statement saying that have no hostile intent towards one another.  If such statements can promote denuclearization or decrease tensions, well and good.  The devilish details would be in what concrete steps if any would accompany a declaration of peace.

2019 may well see announcements of peace on the Korean Peninsula.  It would seem like an irresistible flourish to mark Kim Jong-un’s visit to Seoul, or to give an appearance of progress for a second Trump-Kim Summit.  But, watch for the details.  Would a declaration of peace be accompanied by a road map towards denuclearization? A normalization of relations with liaison offices being established in Washington and Pyongyang?  A more wide-ranging commitment by North Korea to restrain its belligerent behavior beyond denuclearization, such as in cyber or other weapons systems?  Would there be a move towards formally ending the Korean War by winding up the armistice? Thinking through what a peace process would mean reveals that there are big issues beyond denuclearization.

Will the United States Lift Sanctions on North Korea?

In his New Year’s Day address, Kim Jong-un called for the United States to lift sanctions if it wants the process of dismantling North Korea’s nuclear weapons to go forward. In the past, the Trump administration has said that North Korea would have to dismantle or substantially dismantle its weapons programs before sanctions relief would be possible. With progress with North Korea stalled, one of the key questions for the Trump administration will be whether it sticks to its stance or accommodates North Korea’s push for sanctions relief.

If the Trump administration decided to move forward on sanctions relief there are four general ways it could look to pursue to move the talks forward and demonstrate good faith. The first area would be to support inter-Korean engagement. Here the administration could support further sanctions waivers to allow inter-Korean economic projects to advance. At the United Nations, the administration could support removing one or more specific sanctions that have been placed on North Korea. Another, more likely option at the UN, would be for the administration to pursue time-limited waivers of sanctions that are contingent on progress by North Korea in dismantling its nuclear programs. The final option would be for the administration to waive one or more specific U.S. sanctions where it has the authority to provide a national interest waiver.

Burden Sharing and the U.S.-Korea Military Relationship

As part of his professed “America First” values, U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly criticized South Korea, and other U.S. allies, for what he views as an unfair defense burden to America for stationing U.S. troops. The U.S. has maintained a military presence in South Korea since the Korean War in the 1950s and South Korea currently hosts 28,500 American troops, the third largest number of troops stationed in a foreign country after Japan and Germany. Ten rounds of negotiations occurred throughout 2018 between U.S. and South Korean officials to renew the Special Measures Agreement, a 2014 burden sharing deal that is set to expire at the end of 2018. The latest round failed to reach a deal over demands from the U.S. for South Korea to greatly increase its contribution and has prompted fresh concerns over the U.S.’s commitment to the alliance. Without a new deal in place, Korean workers at U.S. military bases in South Korea are in danger of being put on leave in the New Year. If left unresolved, the ongoing debate over cost-sharing could greatly hinder future U.S.-ROK relations.

The Future of THAAD in South Korea

China’s protest of the deployment of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) batteries, which were provided by the U.S. military, in South Korea in 2017 led to a political and economic row between the two countries. A resulting Chinese ban on tourism to South Korea and South Korean goods eventually gave way to an agreement late last year to normalize trade relations. Although trade and tourism numbers have started to rebound in 2018 after dramatic decreases in 2017, negative repercussions still remain, though the exact cost of the sanctions are hard to definitively quantify South Korea has likely lost more than $13 billion from the decline in tourism alone. In particular, the Korean conglomerate Lotte, which provided the land for THAAD deployment, has suffered from the after-effects of China’s sanctions with its stores in China shuttering due to lost business.

For 2019, it will be worth watching if the numbers continue to recover and how South Korean businesses adapt to the potential risks of dealing with a volatile Chinese market. For Lotte’s part, the company has actively courted Southeast Asian markets to make up for Chinese losses. It will also be worth watching if THAAD becomes part of talks with North Korea or the expected results of a South Korean environmental impact study affect its deployment.

U.S.-Korea Trade Relations – Section 232 Investigation

The past year has seen great progress in ameliorating initial uncertainties:  exports of U.S. goods and services to Korea increased 10 percent; the bilateral trade deficit declined by 43 percent; and agreements were reached and ratified to modify the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA) and to limit Korean steel exports to the United States.

Nonetheless, there is still one looming threat – the possible imposition of U.S. tariffs as high as 25 percent on imported motor vehicles and parts from South Korea.  The Commerce Department has until February 17, 2019, to release the results of its Section 232 investigation into the national security implications of imported autos and parts.  If the report concludes that these products are a threat to U.S. national security, the President has until May 17, 2019, to make a final decision on tariffs.  However, because Korea and the U.S. concluded their negotiations on KORUS and steel two months before the Commerce Department launched this investigation, other major auto producers – Canada, Mexico, Japan, and the European Union – received reprieves or waivers on higher tariffs during their trade talks with the United States.  No decision has yet been made to exempt South Korea from higher tariffs even though Korea imposes zero tariffs on motor vehicles imported from the United States; the revisions to KORUS made several changes benefiting U.S. automakers, including a 20-year extension of the 25 percent U.S. tariff on imported pick-up trucks; and the value of U.S. imports of motor vehicles and parts from Korea has steadily declined since 2015.  Imposing a 25 percent tariff on imported cars and parts would also add approximately 10 percent to the production cost of Korean name-plated cars assembled in Georgia and Alabama, making their vehicles less affordable to the American public, resulting in a significant reduction in employment at both their manufacturing facilities and their dealerships.

Compounding the issue is the frustration that President Trump expressed on November 28th regarding the recent announcement of the closure of four GM plants in the U.S. that make auto parts and smaller vehicles.  The President tweeted, “the countries that send us cars have taken advantage of the U.S. for decades,” reflecting a fundamental worldview that he has believed for over 30 years.  Trump added, “if we [imposed a 25 percent tariff on] cars coming in, many more cars would be built here.”  Because Korea still exports some cars to the U.S. that compete against GM, the threat of a higher tariff could be used to pressure Korean car manufacturers to move even more production to the United States.  President Trump also desires that Korea pay much more to continue stationing U.S. troops on the Korean peninsula.  He could use the threat of higher car tariffs as another pressure point on South Korea.  Unless Korea is granted an exemption on the auto tariffs, much of the goodwill in the bilateral trade relationship that has been generated over the past year will quickly dissipate because it will be perceived as bad faith in terms of moving the goalposts in bilateral trade negotiations.

The U.S.-China Trade Conflict

On the surface, tension in U.S.-China trade relations does not appear to affect South Korea too much because South Korea’s economy is more aligned with the United States.  However, because China is now Korea’s largest trading partner, South Korea could be caught in the undertow of the churn in U.S.-China friction.  Some Korean brand consumer electronic products are assembled in China and subsequently exported to the United States, which now has to be re-thought in light of the threat of U.S. tariffs as high as 25 percent on Chinese exports.  Other products assembled in China also contain significant Korean content.  For example, the screen on the new Apple iPhone XS is made by either Samsung or LG.  The Korean stock market frequently gyrates at any movement in U.S.-China trade talks – up when negotiations progress and down when discussions stall.  The two sides have given themselves until March 1, 2019, to conclude a successful agreement.

However, many of the irritants in the U.S.-China trade relationship are deep and foundational problems to the Chinese economy and most likely cannot be cured in less than three months.  If an agreement is reached that just makes marginal changes on the edges, such as a commitment by China to purchase more U.S. products or lowering the tariff on imported autos, then the U.S., and by extension, Korea, will continue to face long-term economic challenges from China.  If the U.S. acts in concert with other nations that have similar concerns about unfair and trade-illegal Chinese practices, then multilateral action can spark necessary reform to China’s economy.  However, if the talks break down and the U.S. continues to act alone by imposing more and more tariffs irrespective of how it affects constituencies in the U.S. or other nations like Korea, China will ironically gain the moral high ground as the defender of free trade and unnecessarily delay the market-oriented changes the free world needs to see take place in China.

U.S.-Korea Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific

The “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy,” first introduced over a year ago, now underlies Washington’s approach to the region. South Korea has yet to officially join the strategy nor is it likely to in 2019 due to concerns in Seoul that it could be interpreted as “containing” China or even forcing its hand to choose between Beijing and Washington. However, the overlapping goals between the Indo-Pacific Strategy and the Moon administration’s “New Southern Policy” provide new opportunities for both the U.S. and South Korea to work together beyond the Peninsula.

Both visions focus on increasing engagement with South and Southeast Asia on many of the same key issues based on the same core values, albeit in different ways. The clearest means to bridge the two is through infrastructure projects. The U.S. is looking to mobilize large, high-standard loans and the quality and cooperative nature of South Korean loans, Seoul’s efforts to direct more development assistance to ASEAN countries and India, and the competitiveness of Korean firms in building modern infrastructure make South Korea an ideal partner in achieving this goal. In 2019, look for Seoul and Washington to cooperate on infrastructure projects in the region as well as highlight their joint efforts.

Improving the Environment in South Korea

Although air pollution arose as an issue during the 2017 presidential election, leading candidates at the time focused largely on expanding dialogue with China and remained quiet on domestic sources of this public health threat. The issue returned with a vengeance this past November when extreme levels of ultrafine dust forced Seoul to restrict the number of vehicles on the road and construction. This comes at a particularly awkward time for the Moon administration, which responded to public concerns following the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi disaster by promising to phase out nuclear power in Korea.

Absent nuclear power, cleaner energy could be drawn from natural gas, which South Korea has been importing in increasing amount – particularly from the United States. However, this exposes Korea to geopolitical issues and market volatility. The Moon government is also making a big push to increase renewable energy capacity.

At this juncture, South Korea may consider looking to Taiwan – voters there rejected the phase-out policy in a referendum this year. With nuclear energy satisfying both clean air and energy security, this issue is poised to be revisited by both the government and the public in 2019.

South Korea’s Income Lead Growth/Job Creation

The state of the economy remains the biggest source of concern for South Koreans. After taking several months to get up and running, the first full year of the Moon administration’s income-led growth agenda has fallen short of its ambitious goals. Responding to his falling approval rating in light of underwhelming initial results that have increasingly become a major issue of public debate, President Moon has devoted more government resources to his economic agenda this year. However, the key question for 2019 is will this be enough to win back public support and reinvigorate the economy?

Moon’s income-led growth strategy is a novel approach to resolving the stubborn structural issues in the economy, but this also means it is largely unproven. The IMF and OECD support the agenda’s increased social spending, particularly given the government’s fiscal space, but these policies must also start creating jobs and bolstering growth to be sustainable. Even if the agenda is on the right path, the window to push it through may be closing. More interest rate hikes by the Federal Reserve and the prospect of worsening trade tensions between China and the U.S., both of which have already impacted the economy, could make it harder for Moon’s agenda to find more success this year.

The #MeToo Movement and Women’s Right 

Heightened advocacy for women’s rights was a global trend in 2018. In South Korea, the #MeToo movement gained momentum with women stepping forward with allegations of sexual harassment and violence against high-profile figures, including presidential-hopeful Ahn Hee-jung, poet Ko Un, and award-winning movie director Kim Ki-duk. However, advocates faced obstacles ranging from a relatively lenient legal code to deeply-entrenched social attitudes. Providing further proof of the current society’s antipathy to women’s concerns, the brave actions of women who came out publicly with testimonies of abuse – despite receiving international attention – resulted in very few prosecutions.

Korean women last year also confronted a proliferation of hidden cameras, which prompted protests demanding stronger punishment for trafficking of digital material that was filmed without consent. In response, the government has so-far announced tougher punishments for trafficking of these materials and announced plans to better police online sex crimes and remove illegal footage from the internet more swiftly. These will go hand-in-hand with broader protections such as extensions to the statute of limitations in sexual abuse cases and measures that would allow victims of harassment and abuse to report these crimes anonymously.

Notwithstanding, many advocates recognize that strengthening the legal system is a necessary but insufficient means to achieve true social change. With many women’s rights organizations now mobilized in the wake of the scandals in 2018, open debates about how cultural attitudes will be reformed will likely intensify in 2019.

Bonus Issue: Will Kim Jong-un Go to Seoul?

At their summit meeting in Pyongyang, Kim Jong-un agreed to Moon Jae-in’s proposal that he visit Seoul before 2018 ended. Kim never took that trip, but in his recent letter to Moon he expressed a desire to meet with Moon frequently in 2019 and “a strong determination to visit Seoul while watching future situation.” Whether Kim makes that trip will be one issue that many will be watching in 2019.

It is not surprising that Kim did not meet with Moon in Seoul in 2018. With progress in talks with the United States stalled and his meeting with Trump postponed until early 2019, there would have been little that Kim could have achieved in Seoul. Any trip to Seoul in 2019 will likely be dependent on how Kim’s next meeting with Trump goes and whether there is any historical progress Kim can make in Seoul. He will likely want to achieve more that than act of a North Korean leader visiting Seoul for the trip to go forward.

Beyond whether Kim will visit Seoul will be the question of how his visit is received. At the moment, Kim’s image has improved in South Korea with the current diplomacy and 60 percent of South Koreans would have supported the trip if he had taken it in December. One issue to watch from any visit will be whether it builds support for inter-Korean ties among South Koreans or causes them to reassess the current opening with North Korea?

Mark Tokola is the Vice President of the Korea Economic Institute of America, Phil Eskeland is the Executive Director of Operations and Policy, Troy Stangarone is the Senior Director for Congressional Affairs and Trade, Yong Kwon is the Director of Communications, Kyle Ferrier is the Director of Academic Affairs and Research, Sang Kim is the Director of Public Affairs and Intern Coordinator, and Juni Kim is the Program Manager and Executive Assistant. The views expressed here are the authors’ alone.

Image created by Juni Kim.

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The Secrets to Success for Marvel Movies in South Korea

By Yeonsu Kim

When Avengers: Infinity War was released in South Korea on April 25, 980,676 people watched it just on the first day, a record high among Marvel movies. The movie marks the 10th anniversary since the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) released Iron Man, the first in the Marvel superhero series, and clearly shows how famous the MCU movies have become among Korean audiences. MCU so far includes 18 movies, and 13 of them appear on the list of all-time highest-grossing films at the Korean box office list; Avengers: Infinity War at 14, Age of Ultron at 17, Iron Man 3 at 23 and Captain America: Civil War at 24.

The reason why most MCU movies were able to succeed in the Korean movie market is that people obviously love the characters and the stunning visuals. But, to explain more about some factors which made Marvel movies so famous in South Korea, I want to address two main reasons: marketing strategies and lessons from the movies.

The MCU actively tries to promote and maintain a favorable public opinion in South Korea. First of all, it is easy to see the slogan “First Release in Korea” or “Faster Premiere in Korea” on the movie posters. All the Marvel movies except Captain America: The First Avenger and Ant-Man were released in Korea before the United States. Avengers: Infinity War, for example, was released a week earlier. Over time, the number of people watching Marvel movies on their first day has increased as well.

According to Kevin Feige, the President of Marvel Studios, the core reason for the early premieres in Korea is that South Korea has been an indicator of success. An aide who worked on Marvel movies told Chosun Ilbo that success in Korea can bring word of mouth that turns movies into hits in other Asian countries. Moreover, many actors of Marvel movies have visited South Korea personally to promote their movies, including Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Tom Holland. In February 2018, South Korea was selected to be the first host country for the International Press Tour of the first Marvel movie of 2018, Black Panther. Likewise, some recent movies including Spiderman Homecoming (July 5, 2017), Black Panther (Feb. 14, 2018), and Avengers: Infinity War (April 25, 2018) held their Asia Promotion Event in South Korea. Furthermore, the MCU has shown their appreciation for Korean audiences by filming parts of their movies in South Korea, including scenes shot in Busan and on the Han River in Black Panther and Avengers: Age of Ultron, respectively. The Korea Tourism Organization made an agreement to improve the relationship between Korea and Marvel in 2014 after the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron. These types of special events and extra attention have helped boost the popularity of Marvel movies among an already eager Korean audience.

Second, Marvel movies present various life lessons for audiences to contemplate under the main theme of defeating villains who don’t care about the value of individual life. For example, the first Marvel movie, Iron Man, showed Tony Stark’s change from an arrogant and rich guy to a new man who seeks peace in the world. Through his change, the movie addressed the importance of altruism and courage rather than egotism. Likewise, every other movie contains lessons for audiences. Captain America: Civil War laid out a philosophical debate in the conflict between Captain America and Iron Man, asking which virtue should be more valued between free will and responsibility. Captain America focused more on free will as he tried to protect his friend, Bucky, who had been brainwashed to assassinate innocent people. In contrast, Iron Man thought that Bucky has to take responsibility for his behavior regardless of whether it is his own will. Both virtues are important, and the movie provides a good opportunity to spend time debating and creating our own thought and logic.

To take another example, let’s look at Black Panther. The reason why the movie Black Panther is meaningful is that Black Panther is the first black hero in the MCU. Black Panther depicts the unknown country “Wakanda” which is fictional Sub-Saharan African nation. People in the movie recognize Wakanda as impoverished country, but actually it has tons of vibranium which is the strongest element in the universe according to the MCU stories. The reason why the king of Wakanda hides this fact and their high technological capability to the world is to protect their citizens from the outside world. However, in the movie, T’Challa decides to reveal their true strength and share the resources which they have to the other countries in need. This movie clearly shows MCU’s respect toward the value of ethnic and cultural diversity, and at the same time depicts some interesting lessons of diplomacy and international relations. With this point of view, Marvel announced a plan to make more diverse heroes, possibly including an Asian hero. C.B. Cebulski, editor for Marvel Comics, even mentioned his idea to produce some Korean heroes for upcoming movies.

The MCU has succeeded in Korea, with movies earning a combined $600 million there. This amount makes up 6.8% of the MCU’s total foreign revenue. Korean ticket sales for Civil War, for example, totaled 8% of the movie’s total foreign revenue of more than $700 million. It already has been 10 years and MCU has released 19 movies to make a whole series of heroes that have captured the attention of Korean audiences. With more stories yet to come, including a possible Korean hero to add to the MCU, Marvel’s popularity in Korea may continue to grow.

Yeonsu Kim is a student of Sogang University in South Korea, majoring in Economics. She was an intern at the Korea Economic Institute of America as part of the Asan Academy Fellowship Program. The views expressed here are the authors’ alone.

Photo by yooina37 on Naver Blog (CCL).

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Korea- Mexico Relations: Where Ties are a Win

By Kyle Ferrier and Linnea Logie

While South Koreans celebrated their team’s upset victory over Germany in the World Cup earlier this week, no country was happier about the win than Mexico. The South Korean “Reds” late game heroics against Germany advanced Mexico to the next round of the tournament despite Mexico’s simultaneous 3-0 loss to Sweden, causing pro-Korea euphoria to sweep across the country. Videos of people celebrating outside of the South Korean embassy in Mexico City, hoisting Koreans on their shoulders to a chorus of cheers, and pictures of stores offering heavy discounts to Koreans flooded the internet. Although it may seem like an unusual pairing at first glance, Koreans and Mexicans actually have a long history of working together. Below are some key areas of cooperation beyond sports.

Official Relations

Diplomatic history

Mexico and South Korea formally established diplomatic relations in January 1962 driven by South Korean leader Park Chung-hee’s efforts to open new markets for exports. South Korea opened an embassy and appointed an ambassador shortly thereafter, while Mexico waited until 1978 and 1987 to open an embassy in and post a resident ambassador to Seoul, respectively. The Korean Embassy in Mexico City has played a key role in spreading Korean culture, particularly from when the first bilateral cultural agreement was signed in 1966 through the late 1990s when the two countries first started a dialogue on educational and cultural projects, which continues today and has produced numerous programs such as festivals and museum exchanges. In international relations, both countries are middle powers and belong to the informal middle power partnership known as MITKA (an acronym for the members of Mexico, Indonesia, Turkey, Korea, and Australia).

North Korea

Mexico and North Korea first established diplomatic relations in 1980. Mexico City is one of only 48 cities in the world to host a North Korean embassy, but Mexico does not have an embassy in Pyongyang. In protest of North Korea’s sixth nuclear test in September 2017, Mexico expelled the North Korean ambassador Kim Hyong Gil. In 2017, reported North Korean exports to Mexico were valued at $6,102,754.

FTA negotiations

South Korea and Mexico officially launched negotiations for a free trade agreement in 2007, but talks stalled because of Mexican concerns that a deal could have widened its trade deficit with Seoul. However, amid growing protectionism, both countries have announced a renewed interest in accelerating negotiations. A Mexican government official has even recently stated, “We have selected strategic partners worldwide, and in Asia, our major strategic [economic] partner is Korea.”

People to People Links


Mexico is a popular destination for South Korean honeymooners. It also may be gaining popularity among retirees as an affordable travel spot. Last year, 75, 415 South Koreans visited Mexico, up from 63,661 in 2016. From January through April 2018 this year, 30,230 South Koreans travelled to Mexico, which is a third more visits than during the same period in 2017. While fewer Mexicans travel to South Korea, it is becoming a more popular destination. From January through May this year, 9,509 Mexicans have visited South Korea, a nearly 50 percent increase from the same period last year.


The Korean culture wave is swelling in Mexico. Korean culture has increasingly entered homes throughout Latin America in recent years by way of K-pop and Korean dramas, giving rise to fan clubs for South Korean actors and music groups. Mexico City was one of only two cities in 2014 to host Music Bank¸ a Korean music show featuring live performances of multiple K-pop groups outside of South Korea. South Korean music groups are increasingly releasing songs in Spanish, including the girl group Crayon Pop which collaborated with the Mexican boy band BD9 for the song “Get Dumb.” When Mexicans wanted to show their appreciation to South Koreans after their World Cup victory they played K-pop on local radio stations and bought songs from groups like BTS, whose song “Fake Love” climbed 31 spots on the Mexican iTunes Charts on the day of the game.

Trade and Investment

Mexico is South Korea’s largest Latin American trading partner, while South Korea is Mexico’s third largest export destination in Asia, after China and Japan. South Korea exported nearly $11 billion in goods to Mexico last year, a 12.5 percent increase from 2016, and Mexico exported about $4.4 billion to South Korea, a 20 percent increase from 2016. South Korean has invested $5.6 billion in Mexico, while Mexican investment in South Korea is around $60 million. Over 1,800 Korean companies operate there. South Korea’s main exports are liquid-crystal display devices, optical devices and instruments, electronic parts, auto parts, vehicles, and electrical machines, appliances and equipment. Mexico’s main exports to Korea include crude oils, lead minerals and concentrates, zinc ores, silver ores, copper ores, and electronic devices.

Kyle Ferrier is the Director of Academic Affairs and Research at the Korea Economic Institute of America. Linnea Logie is currently an Intern at the Korea Economic Institute of America and is also an incoming graduate student with the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University. The views expressed here are the authors’ alone.  

Image by KEI’s Jenna Gibson.

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Five Korean Shows that Deserve American Remakes

By Jenna Gibson

Although they may not know it, over the last few years, American TV watchers have seen several Korean TV shows appear on their screens. NBC’s “Better Late Than Never,” which follows the antics of American celebrities in their 70s and 80s as they travel around the world together, was based on the Korean show “Grandpas Over Flowers.” And ABC’s successful medical drama “The Good Doctor,” focused on the life of a surgical resident with autism, was based on a Korean drama of the same name. Will this usher in a new wave of American versions of Korean TV programs? Here are five great Korean shows that may resonate well with an American audience.

1. King of Masked Singer

Anyone who watches a lot Korean TV knows that there is no shortage of singing-related competition shows in Korea. Korea has several of the typical singing elimination programs, but it also has some singing competitions with a twist – including King of Masked Singer. The program features famous singers and other celebrities who belt out covers of popular songs – but while wearing a (ridiculous, glittery, over-the-top) mask. The idea is for a panel of guest judges to guess who the singer is – and to evaluate their voice free from any prior conceptions they may have about that person. Americans may be familiar with the program thanks to a recent viral clip of Ryan Reynolds making a surprise appearance on the show, covering “Tomorrow” from Annie while wearing a sparkly unicorn mask. With the return of American Idol and The Voice still going strong, there may be some interest among Americans for a new kind of singing program – in fact, Fox may already be developing an American version of this show, although details and timeline is unclear.

2. Strong Woman Do Bong Soon

Comic book movies are taking over the box office, and people are calling for more female superheroes in the wake of “Wonder Woman.” Korea may have the perfect answer with “Strong Woman Do Bong Soon.” With her superhuman strength, Do Bong Soon gets a job as a bodyguard for a super-rich and super-snobby CEO, and hijinks (and sexual tension) ensue. This show (and many other romantic Korean dramas) might be particularly primed for an American run now that we’ve seen more Netflix-style mini-series, since its will-they-or-won’t-they romance plot might get old past a dozen or so episodes.

Whether or not this show gets an American remake, you can check it out on Netflix with English subtitles under the name “Strong Girl Bong-soon.”

3. Return of Superman

One of Korea’s most popular and long-lasting variety shows on air right now is Return of Superman, a fun reality show that follows the lives of celebrity dads as they take care of their adorable kids. Besides just showcasing the real lives of celebrity families, the show is often educational – the show will sometimes feature expert guests who show the fathers how to teach their kids about resolving conflict, not to talk to strangers, etc. One of the best parts of the show is watching the kids (and their dads) grow and learn new things. With American audiences still eating up even the most toxic of reality TV shows, this could be a nice antidote to some of that drama-filled programming.

You can watch full episodes of Return of Superman with English subtitles on KBS World’s YouTube channel.

4. Please Take Care of My Refrigerator

If there’s one type of show that can rival the number of singing programs on Korean TV, its food shows – so any list of Korean TV programs has to include something with cooking. One program that has a fun twist is “Please Take Care of My Refrigerator,” which pits chefs against each other to make a great meal in just 15 minutes – using just the ingredients found in a guest’s refrigerator. While each episode shows off the great cooking skills that Food Network fans love to watch, it’s also more approachable than most cooking shows, since it reveals creative ways to use all the random ingredients you forgot you bought during your last trip to the grocery store. Fans of Chef Gordon Ramsay may have heard of this show – he appeared as a special competitor late last year.

You can watch this show on Netflix with English subtitles under the name “Chef & My Fridge.”

5. Signal

This drama can capitalize on a couple of major trends in American TV – it’s a police procedural, which can be ratings gold, but with some time-travel thrown in which could capitalize on the recent resurgence of nostalgia-based programming. But, most importantly, it’s good – the show ended up as one of the highest rated Korean dramas from a cable network, and won a slew of writing and acting awards. Although the show wrapped up after 16 episodes, its plot is intriguing and versatile enough that it could easily be extended into an American style show with multiple seasons.

You can watch the entire show with English subtitles on Viki.


Jenna Gibson is the Director of Communications at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Photo from islandjoe’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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Korean Trust in the Media Remains Low, Despite Recent Victories for Press Freedom

By Jenna Gibson

In the United States, the rise of terms like “fake news” and “alternative facts,” as well as scandals about election manipulation through made-up news stories and biased sources have led to a spike in discussion about the inherent trustworthiness of the news media. However, when it comes to overall distrust in the news, the United States has nothing on South Korea.

According to the University of Oxford Reuters Institute’s 2017 Digital News Report, South Korea has the lowest trust in news out of the 36 countries surveyed around the world. Just 23 percent of Koreans said they trust news overall in that survey, and only 12 percent said that the news is free from political and business influence. By contrast, the United States also reported a low trust in news, just 38 percent, putting it at number 28 out of 36. The report, which has examined media consumption around the world since 2013, added Korea in 2016, and the results that year were about the same – 22 percent said they trusted the news, which was 25th out of the 26 countries surveyed (only ahead of Greece).

Another interesting finding in the 2017 report was that Koreans have a narrow gap between their trust of news overall (23 percent) and their trust in the news they personally consume (27 percent). In most other countries surveyed, that gap was significantly higher (38 percent vs. 53 percent in the US, for example), reflecting the fact that people presumably seek out and follow news outlets that they find particularly trustworthy. In Korea, however, the popularity of news aggregation platforms like Naver and Daum mean that people often consume the news through a third party. According to the Oxford researchers, “The small difference between overall trust and trust in the news I use, relates to the heavy use of portals, where people often don’t remember specific news brands.”

Several major scandals in the last few years have dealt major blows to Korean trust in the news media. Former President Park Geun Hye was accused of using South Korea’s strict defamation laws to silence critics in the media, causing many moderate to left-leaning publications to self-censor out of fear of prosecution. The Park administration was also criticized for manipulating major public broadcasters KBS and MBC by appointing conservative pro-Park CEOs to both organizations. Employees of both companies have protested these appointments on and off for years, culminating in a months-long strike last fall that eventually resulted in the removal of the two leaders. After the announcement that their strike was successful, the KBS Union released a statement reading, “We have only just removed the biggest hurdle that stood in the way of KBS becoming a true broadcasting company of the people. Our goal isn’t just to make KBS what it was 10 years ago, our goal is to end the broadcasting company’s shameful history of servitude and submission to power. We will create a KBS that touches the lives of our citizens and reflects their opinions and ideas.”

These issues are not just limited to Park Geun Hye’s time, however. Earlier this year, an online blogger known as “Druking” was accused of using a computer program to “like” comments on news stories on Naver, thus artificially inflating certain comments to make sure that they were shown first in the comment section below political stories, as well as writing critical comments. Police say he used as many as 2,000 online IDs at a time to manipulate Naver comment sections. The blogger was recently indicted along with three former members of the Minjoo Party, who were also allegedly participating in online opinion rigging. Naver has since announced that they are overhauling their news portal to prevent similar issues in the future, and hope to make their process more transparent to regain the trust of the public.

In the Reporters Without Borders annual World Press Freedom Index, South Korea fell from 31st in the world in 2006 to 70th in 2016, largely on the back of these influence scandals. But in 2017 the country returned to 63rd, and then jumped 20 places to hit 43rd in 2018’s report. According to the index, the media’s work to expose Park’s corruption, as well as President Moon’s efforts to end the MBC and KBS strikes were the main reasons for this improvement.

The Moon administration has openly stated that they want to make these issues a priority. Right after his election last summer, Moon’s team pledged to bring Korea back to 30th in the ranking, and listed that pledge fourth among the incoming administration’s 100 policy priorities. Solving the MBC/KBS issue shows he is serious in following through on this promise. But issues remain – the structure that allows the government to appoint managers at these broadcasters are still in place, leaving open the possibility for future influence. Plus, South Korea’s defamation laws allow for harsh punishments for a range of political and non-political speech, and could still be used to silence opponents of the government. By eliminating these structural issues within South Korea’s free speech landscape, as well as considering whether the National Security Law which criminalizes viewing of a wide range of North Korea-related material, Moon can ensure that his commitment to free speech lasts long after he leaves the Blue House.

Jenna Gibson is the Director of Communications at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Photo by KEI Intern Minhee Lee

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The Meaning of the #MeToo Movement in South Korea

By Yeonsu Kim and Jihyun Joung 

In 2006, Tarana Burke, a survivor of sexual violence, coined the phrase “Me Too,” a slogan that resonated with female victims of sexual harassment. The slogan transitioned into a movement when actress Alyssa Milano spread the hashtag #MeToo, which has since gained immense momentum. Gender equality has clearly been on societies’ agenda for years, but 2018 seems to be a turning point in women’s empowerment. The Me Too phenomenon has been spreading like wildfire, providing the platform for women and girls to boldly tell their stories, raising awareness of the struggles and fight back.

Women in South Korea have been strongly relating with the Me Too movement as well. This may come as a surprise because of the highly patriarchal corporate and social structure prevalent in the nation – South Korea is known for having one of the highest pay gaps among 29 developed nations, with Korean women earning only 63 percent of men’s salaries. The male-dominant society in South Korea makes it nearly impossible for female victims to convey their encounters with sexual abuse. When they do, victims were repeatedly blamed rather than the assailant. As a result, women and girls are often fearful of being judged or losing their jobs. This explains why only 1.9 percent of raped women reported their assault to the police in 2016, according to an investigation of sexual violence from the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family (MOGEF).

Prior to the Me Too movement, female students relied on private channels such as the “Bamboo Forest,” a university Facebook page that hosted personal stories sent from victims. For female students, who are vulnerable to sexual violence on campus, the Bamboo Forest was at first a dependable platform where those women could feel comfortable talking to each other and disclosing instances of sexual harassment. Some of the posts exposed inappropriate sexual behavior of male upperclassmen or professors during student gatherings. Because many women could relate to these posts, more students from different Korean universities engaged with the page, attracting a wide audience. For years, this was the only tool that raised awareness of sexual violence. Yet, there were a few limitations of the Bamboo Forest. This platform failed to receive official approval from the universities; as a result, its impact was short-lived. It was difficult to make regulations or punish perpetrators simply through a Facebook page. Without any concrete positive outcomes, more female students opted out of the Bamboo Forest.

Unlike the Bamboo Forest which is gradually fading away, the Me Too movement has been expanding. What is so influential about this year’s gender campaign that speaks to women all over the world? With the Me Too movement, women are courageously stepping forward and exposing the problem directly. In South Korea, the movement was initiated by Seo Ji-hyeon, a prosecutor who accused her boss of sexual harassment on national television. This assertion triggered a domino effect, where other victims came forward and disclosed their experiences using their real names. Seo Ji-hyeon’s courageous first move inspired other women to speak about topics that are considered taboo, including domestic and sexual violence. According to Korea Women’s Hotline, a counseling service for victims of sexual abuse, there has been a 23.5 percent increase in hotline calls compared to the previous year. Specifically, MOGEF announced that they had a breakthrough of 300 hotline calls to ‘1366 Seoul Center’ in February.

Likewise, women organized a protest on International Women’s Day at Gwanghwamun Square, where hundreds of South Korean women spoke out against sexual abuse, which illustrates that the Me Too movement has indeed sparked drastic change in women and girls’ willingness to come forward. The Me Too movement has started to make real changes in society, pushing the public to acknowledge gender discrimination as a serious problem. Gender discrimination and violence is an issue that must be included in the discussion, publicly criticized, and eventually eliminated.

And Korea’s Me Too movement has already caused concrete changes, particularly by exposing key political leaders, academic figures and entertainment icons. One clear example is Ko Un, a Korean poet considered to be a candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature. In late February, Ko was accused of sexual harassment by his previous female assistants. By March 8th, the Ministry of Education decided to remove not only his literature from the national curriculum but also those of all academics who have demonstrated gender discrimination, including Lee Yoon-taek and Oh Tae-seok,.

Despite its numerous successes, the Me Too movement has also garnered its fair share of criticism. Some of the accused are blaming female victims for falsely targeting men for sexual violence. A few have even gone so far as to label the movement as a campaign to express a hatred of men. This backlash grew after an actor who was accused of assault was found dead in an apparent suicide. As a result, 40 percent of accusations from female victims have been deemed false by critics, when in reality, no more than 2 percent have actually proven to be false.

The Me Too phenomenon, unlike any other movement in the past, has played a vital role in empowering South Korean women this year. Thanks to Me Too, violence against women is no longer a private matter but a public one, and women have shown they can stand up and speak for themselves about critical issues like sexual assault. Despite ongoing criticism and accusations, everyone must be mindful that the movement must persist and strive to achieve gender equality. The media, investigators, as well as the government need to contribute to encouraging women to step up, while also establishing strict regulations that punish assailants and protect victims. The media must avoid fake news and report the truth, avoiding so-called “witch hunts,” against victims. At the same time criminal investigations must take the perspective of the victims, and the government should be fully supportive of the process in order to promote real changes and fully eradicate gender violence.

Yeonsu Kim is a student of Sogang University in South Korea, majoring in Economics. She is currently an Intern at the Korea Economic Institute of America as part of the Asan Academy Fellowship Program. Jihyun Joung is an incoming Masters student in Economic and Political Development at Columbia University. She is currently an Intern at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the authors’ alone.

Photo by KEI.

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Hallyu 3.0: The Era of K-pop Collaborations

By Jenna Gibson

In the mid to late 2000s, Korean pop music burst onto the scene in Asia, capturing the imagination of fans in China, Japan, Malaysia, and elsewhere. The next wave of Hallyu started bringing Latin America, Europe and parts of the Middle East into the fold, bolstered by the growing popularity of YouTube and other social media channels that helped international fans connect with Korea-based stars.

But now that K-pop stars have established a certain amount of fame in different markets across the globe, we’re seeing another surge in interest for Korean pop music, particularly in the United States, ushering in the era of Hallyu 3.0. And one of the main markers of this new period in K-pop history is a noticable increase in the number of international collaborations between Korean and non-Korean artists. The new strategy of Hallyu 3.0 uses this type of collaboration to achieve two major goals – expand audiences beyond die-hard K-pop fans, and reward loyal international fans with music that caters to their culture and language.

Going Gold

One of the latest and clearly the biggest of these collaborations is BTS’ “Mic Drop Remix,” a remastered version of their Korean single that mixed in some English verses and featured famous American DJ/Producer Steve Aoki. The remix’s music video has racked up 225 million views on YouTube in just four months, and recently became the first song by a Korean group to be certified gold by surpassing 500,000 units sold (Psy is the only other Korean artist to hold this honor).

It makes sense for Korean artists to use collaborations and English versions of songs as a way to position themselves for American success. In a recent KEI podcast, Katie Brownlie, who hosts a weekly K-pop radio show in New Jersey, said that the language barrier has been one of the biggest obstacles for Korean singers who want to break into the United States. “It’s hard to break into the American market if it’s not in English,” she said.

This isn’t to say that English-language songs or big collaborations are an automatic ticket to success by any means. In fact, up until BTS’ Mic Drop remix, collaborations in the United States have largely failed to capture mainstream attention outside of existing K-pop fandom.

Riding high on the success of Gangnam Style, in 2014 Psy came out with the noisy, repetitive “Hangover” featuring Snoop Dogg – needless to say, it fell short of the sky-high expectations set by his viral hit. That same year, Psy’s labelmates, CL and G-Dragon teamed up with well-known DJs Skrillex and Diplo for “Dirty Vibe,” and CL has since done several other collaborations with American artists in the lead up to her long-awaited American debut. Other K-pop groups have used similar tactics in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to break into the American market, like the Wonder Girls’ English song “Like Money,” which featured Akon.

None of these collaborations catapulted these K-pop stars into the mainstream in the way they may have hoped, perhaps because they got ahead of themselves. If BTS’ American success has taught Korean entertainment companies anything, a strong fanbase who are willing to spend hours calling local radio stations and requesting songs can be far more powerful than a handful of big-name collaborations. Once that fanbase is successfully established, then a powerhouse collaboration can tip the scale and bring a group into the mainstream consciousness. This is part of the second prong of Hallyu 3.0 – for fans who already devote their time and money to a Korean group, they can now listen to collaborations with American artists they may also know and love, and in a language they already speak.

En Espanol

You may notice that all the collaborations mentioned above are with American artists, and are largely aimed at increasing popularity in the notoriously tough American market. But Spanish-speaking fans are starting to get some collaboration love as well.

Although k-pop artists have done covers of Spanish songs before – often during concerts or events held in Latin America – collaborations are few and far between. Perhaps the first Korean-Spanish collaboration was girl group Crayon Pop’s work with Mexican boy band CD9 back in 2016, which resulted in the trilingual party anthem “Get Dumb.”

Now, K-pop legends Super Junior have teamed up with Latin-pop’s Leslie Grace for their new single, Lo Siento, which mixes lyrics in Korean, English and Spanish throughout. Grace will accompany the group on their Latin American concert tour this week to perform the song and possibly show off other collaborative stages.

Like many of the American collaborations mentioned above, this project aims to increase their popularity in the region outside of those who already love the group. In fact, SM Entertainment, the group’s agency, said “The reception of ‘Lo Siento’ in the Central and South American region is explosive. We want to expand our business in the region on the back of Super Junior’s regional tour.”

The Next Wave

It is likely that we’ll see more international collaborations from K-pop stars in the future, especially after the runaway success of BTS’ Mic Drop. In fact, BTS has also worked with The Chainsmokers and Fall Out Boy, and the group is rumored to be working with other top American artists including Halsey, Shawn Mendes, and maybe even Maroon 5. Other groups will likely be watching these collaborations closely. It will be interesting to see if groups take this tactic into other regions where K-pop is popular – will we see some Arabic or Tagalog collaborations next?

Jenna Gibson is the Director of Communications at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons. 

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Music Diplomacy: South Korean Artists Will Head to North Korea for Pyongyang Concerts

By Jenna Gibson

After a meeting of North and South Korean delegates today, the two sides announced that 160 South Korean musicians would head to Pyongyang at the end of March for two concerts, the first of their kind since 2007. The lineup is chock-full of the most popular Korean singers, crossing genre and generational boundaries. The headliners announced today show off the best from trot, rock, and k-pop, and are sure to put on an amazing concert. Whether the concert and other related diplomatic outreach events will result in any meaningful political breakthroughs, however, remains to be seen.

Check out a quick intro of the South Korean singers who will head to Pyongyang for the concert, including a Spotify playlist of some of their greatest hits at the bottom!


Cho Yong-pil

Cho Yong-pil is universally regarded as a legend in the Korean music industry. He made his solo debut in 1976, and has released 19 albums since then, including his latest, “Hello,” which swept the charts in 2013 despite coming after a 10-year hiatus. Interestingly, this will not be Cho’s first foray into inter-Korean music diplomacy – he performed a solo concert in Pyongyang back in 2005



Red Velvet

Red Velvet is versatile by design – their name is meant to describe the group’s two different styles of music. Music showcasing their “red” side is bubbly and fun, and songs on the “velvet” side are smoother and more mature sounding. This concept helps the group stay fresh and innovative with each new release, keeping them on the top of the music charts and making the members some of the most in-demand celebrities for TV appearances and endorsements.



Lee Sun-hee

Given the nicknames “국민디바” (“National Diva”) and “여가왕” (Queen of Female Vocalists), Lee Sun-hee has been a staple of the Korean music industry for decades. She has also become well-known for lending her voice to the soundtracks for popular movies and dramas, most recently with her song “Wind Flower,” which appeared in the smash-hit 2016 drama The Legend of the Blue Sea.



Baek Ji-young

The queen of drama soundtracks, you can easily picture Baek Ji-young’s powerful voice playing in the background during some of the most memorable scenes in Korea’s most famous dramas. “That Woman,” one of the main songs from the classic TV drama Secret Garden, is just one example of her unforgettable OST appearances. But of course Baek does much more than TV ballads, releasing dozens of songs that show off her vocal talents through more upbeat dance tracks.



Choi Jin-hee

Trot singer Choi Jin-hee is also no stranger to musical diplomacy – she has performed in North Korea three times in the past. In 2010, a viral video showed a North Korean woman singing Choi’s famous song “Maze of Love,” but with lyrics changed to praise then-leader Kim Jong-il. In response to her popularity in the North, Choi told the Korea Times “The North Korean audiences were always very welcoming and showed great enthusiasm for my songs. I thought that ‘The Maze of Love’ could connect the peoples of the two Koreas.”




One of the main vocalists of Girl’s Generation, Seohyun recently parted ways with the group, and is now focused on her solo and acting career. She has starred in several TV dramas, stage musicals, and has even done voiceover work for the Korean version of “Despicable Me” and its sequel. It makes sense for Seohyun to join the delegation heading to Pyongyang, as she was the only South Korean artist to join the North Korean art troupe on stage during their recent concert in Seoul.



Yoon Do-hyun

Known for his musical versatility, Yoon Do-hyun is the lead vocalist of rock band Yoon Do-hyun Band, but he has also had a successful solo career, hosted TV show, and has starred in musicals including “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Once.” Notably, the band won the World Peace Music Award in 2003 for advocating for better human rights conditions in Korea.




First gaining notoriety for her appearances on music competition show “Immortal Songs 2,” ALi has released several albums and often appears as a featured artist with other famous Korean acts as well as on drama soundtracks. She is also known for taking on societal themes in her music, including a song that dealt with sexual assault.




Initially debuting as a featured artist on hip hop duo Leessang’s song “Rush,” Jung-in was part of R&B group G.Fla until their disbandment in 2007. She now has a successful solo career and collaborates regularly with other hip hop and R&B artists.




Jenna Gibson is the Director of Communications at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone. 

Image from Michael Duangdara’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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Meet the Korean Musicians who Rocked the PyeongChang Closing Ceremony

By Jenna Gibson

At the Closing Ceremony of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics yesterday, a wide variety of South Korean musicians showed the breadth of Korean music. From today’s hottest k-pop stars to metal to traditional Korean sounds, here is our look at the musicians who showed the world what Korean music has to offer. And, at the bottom, check out our Spotify playlist so you can sample more music from these great artists!


Yang Tae-Hwan

Just 13 years old, guitarist Yang Tae-Hwan rocked an electric guitar version of Vivaldi’s classic “Winter,” capturing the Internet’s attention immediately. Discovered at age 10 on the Korean show “Star King,” which allows ordinary people to come show off their talents, Yang has plenty of awesome music on his YouTube channel to keep you rocking out long after the Games are over.



Probably the most epic performance of the night, rock group Jambinai captivated the stadium with a powerful rendition of their song “Time of Extinction” backed by 80 musicians playing a traditional Korea instrument called the geomungo. The group mixes rock and metal influences with traditional Korean instruments, and describe their music as “POST ROCK, METAL, DARK, TRADITONAL, Avantgarde but NOT 퓨전국악 [fusion traditional Korean music] EVER.”


Jang Sa-ik

Debuting as a singer in 1994 at age 46, Jang Sa-ik has won acclaim for his powerful voice and emotional lyrics, often incorporating his background studying traditional Korean musical instruments and sounds into his music. He sang the Korean National Anthem at the Closing Ceremony accompanied by 23 children, representing the fact that PyeongChang was the 23rd Winter Olympics.


Second Moon

Evoking Korean traditional pansori sounds and mixed with Western instrumentals, Second Moon is an ethnic fusion band founded in 2004. They’re most famous for their OST music, creating songs for hit Korean dramas like Love in the Moonlight and The Legend of the Blue Sea.


Oh Yeon Joon

Known as “Jeju Boy” because of his island hometown, 11-year-old Oh Yeon Joon was discovered in 2016 on a singing competition show for children called “We Kid.” Yesterday, he brought his bright, clear voice to the closing ceremony, where he performed the Olympic Anthem.



Rapper, singer, songwriter, dancer – as NBC Commentators Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir noted, CL can do it all. Formerly the leader of the now-disbanded k-pop supergroup 2NE1, CL has since started a solo career, periodically making inroads into the American market through appearances on The Late Late Show and collaborations with artists like Diplo. She performed not only one of her solo songs, “The Baddest Female,” but also the iconic 2011 2NE1 hit, “I Am the Best.”



Originally formed as two groups, targeting both the Korean and Chinese markets and releasing all their music in both Korean and Mandarin (and now making a recent debut in Japan), this international powerhouse performed some of their hit songs along with a dance solo intro featuring a more traditional Korean style. With lyrics like “Through this music, when we sing with one voice together, we get stronger,” EXO’s 2017 song “Power” brought a great Olympic spirit of unity to the Closing Ceremony.


Martin Garrix/DJ Raiden

In a bit of a disappointment for the many Twitter users hoping the night’s “surprise musical guest” would be Psy, Martin Garrix closed out the show, hyping up a massive dance party to round out the night. With Garrix and Korean DJ Raiden pumping up the crowd, the final performance put a fun note on the ending of the 2018 Olympic Games in PyeongChang.



Jenna Gibson is the Director of Communications at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone. Image from Republic of Korea’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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About The Peninsula

The Peninsula blog is a project of the Korea Economic Institute. It is designed to provide a wide ranging forum for discussion of the foreign policy, economic, and social issues that impact the Korean peninsula. The views expressed on The Peninsula are those of the authors alone, and should not be taken to represent the views of either the editors or the Korea Economic Institute. For questions, comments, or to submit a post to The Peninsula, please contact us at ts@keia.org.