Tag Archive | "k-pop"

South Korea Weighs Alternative Military Service Programs for Pop Culture Artists

This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

What Happened

  • Lawmakers are considering a proposal to draft BTS for a campaign to promote the Dokdo Islets in lieu of serving their traditional military duties.
  • Proponents of the idea argue that the K-pop band would help raise international visibility on the territorial dispute between South Korea and Japan over the islets.
  • This comes after BTS roared to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 songs chart with their debut English-language single “Dynamite.”

Implications: Adoption of alternative military service for pop culture icons is consistent with an existing policy framework that sees conscription exemption as a tool to elevate Korea’s international standing. Under the current Military Service Act, male athletes who win medals in the Olympic Games or gold medals in the Asian Games are granted exemptions from military service. This measure was intended to raise South Korea’s international standing during the Cold War when the country competed with North Korea for diplomatic recognition. While some groups advocate for reforms to provide young people with more freedoms, the special arrangement for pop culture icons comes from the old line of thinking that places the interest of the nation ahead of the individual.

Context: In South Korea, all able-bodied men between the ages of 18 and 28 are required to serve in the military for about two years as part of the country’s national defense against North Korea. While athletes have the opportunity to earn an exemption, musicians with high international visibility like BTS are not currently accorded the same privilege. The defense ministry recently announced that it is looking into an option that would allow BTS members a postponement of their mandatory enlistment until the age of 30. Since early September, more than 1,8000 people have signed a petition urging President Moon Jae-in to grant members of the K-pop band a special military service exception.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Sophie Joo, Sonia Kim, and Chris Lee.

Picture from flickr account of Uyên Nochu

Posted in slider, South KoreaComments (0)

An Emerging Market for Hallyu: the Growing Indian Fan Base

By Neha Cariappa

South Korea’s pop culture wave (or Hallyu) is making its mark in India. As recently as five years ago, Indians would have only recognized singer PSY and his hit song “Gangnam Style.” Now, the K-pop genre has become more “mainstream” and it’s not unusual for Indians living in cities to express interest in K-pop and other Korean cultural content. In a survey conducted by the Korean government about how people in other countries saw Korea, almost 92% of Indian respondents answered that K-pop was the most agreeable initiation to Korea and its culture.

To explore the kind of influence that Hallyu is having on young Indians today, I conducted an online survey of Indian fans of Korean cultural content. I received a total of 142 responses with 95% of them identifying as female and the rest identifying as male. The imbalance in the respondents’ gender may be attributed to prejudice against listening to music that is not Western or South Asian or the prevalent stereotype of Korean men being “feminine”. Despite this, K-pop has now seeped into the lives of Indian Zoomers, with teens being more accepting of previously unconventional music as well as of global cultures. There were 81 participants in their 20s, 59 participants in their teens, and 2 participants over the age of 40. Through the survey, I was able to critically analyze and observe the various aspects of daily life of Indian fans that are influenced by Korean culture. Two notable aspects stood out—fashion and beauty.

The Korean Fashion Ensemble

An increasing number of Korean celebrities are being invited to global fashion shows, and have made an impression in the fashion world. For instance, Vogue named the Korean boy group EXO’s youngest member Sehun the “best-dressed man” at Louis Vuitton’s fashion shows in 2018 and 2019. As fan sites for K-pop idols multiply alongside hundreds of pictures showcasing their style, fans all over the world are paying greater attention to the fashion sense of these idols. According to an article published by Vox, a representative of K-Style Files – an online database of K-pop fashion – noted that “many [fans] aspire to imitate their favorite K-pop idols by dressing like them, so they use fashion search engines…to buy or seek inspiration from the exact pieces their idols are wearing.”

Nearly 95% of the respondents in my survey claimed that their personal style in fashion was influenced by Korean content, with many finding inspiration from outfits worn by their favorite idols, as well as by those they see in K-dramas. In my survey, the male respondents stated that they were influenced by specific male celebrities whose fashion sense appealed to them. In the case of female fans, many of the respondents claimed to follow the fashion of both male and female idols. The most common choices were BTS members Jungkook and V, and Black Pink members Lisa and Jennie, whose looks resonated the most with this sample of Indian fans. “I find their sense of fashion effortlessly good. They make anything look good and comfortable,” as quoted in my survey. In this case, it is not just their fashion sense that charms the fans. The inherent aesthetic sense of style portrayed by the Korean entertainment industry captures new viewers not only through its fashionably styled outfits but also the visually appealing music videos.

The Hallyu Beauty

While South Korea is considered a plastic surgery capital and procedures to look more similar to K-pop idols are not uncommon in Korea, international fans do not appear to have adopted this trend.

In the case of India, fans seem to be averse to getting any plastic surgery. 90% of the respondents in my survey asserted that they wouldn’t want to get plastic surgery. At the same time, around 25% of them added that they accept and respect the fact that their favorite idols might have undergone surgery. Some even revealed that they didn’t like their darker skin color, but would never get surgery to change it. This attitude may itself be influenced by a specific boy group, BTS. Indian fans from my survey seem to be highly influenced by BTS’s mantra of “Love Yourself”, with many of them emphasizing this as their reason for learning to be content with one’s own unique attributes. One particular respondent said: “I wanted to get plastic surgery…but I changed my mind because of BTS as they taught me how to love yourself as you are.”

In an interview with Prerna Tiwari, the Admin of Korean Culture India Fan Club, I asked about her experience with Indian fans. According to Tiwari, “Indian Fans are a bundle of energy and enthusiasm when it comes to attending and hosting events such as celebrating the birthdays of idols and the anniversaries of groups, as well as acting as volunteers and supporters in Korean cultural events.” She placed particular emphasis on the impact of statements made by BTS on issues like body positivity and self-confidence, which is potent among younger Indian fans.

Given the focus on skincare in contemporary Korean culture, many Indian fans in the survey were encouraged to try Korean brands in the pursuit of what they called “flawless skin” of Korean personalities. Korean celebrity endorsements for Korean skincare and makeup products have encouraged more Indian fans to purchase them. Viki, a global streaming site with subtitled TV shows from various countries all over the world, realized that viewers were commenting in real-time about the makeup and fashion that actors and actresses were using in the K-dramas. With this data, Viki began to offer products highlighted in comments on their own shopping platform.

When it comes to skincare brands, Indian fans tend to use Innisfree, The FaceShop and Mediheal the most. Innisfree is the most readily available Korean skincare brand in India, but they only have stores in big cities like Delhi, Bengaluru, and Chennai. Some of the survey respondents even expressed disappointment about not being able to use Korean products either because it is expensive or because it is not accessible to them. But even then, they try to use at least one Korean beauty product to feel more closely connected with their idols.

Nykaa, India’s most popular online beauty business was the first to make Korean beauty products more easily available. While Korean products were introduced to India in 2013, demand for their products began to grow around 2015. The popularity of Korean products cannot be attributed solely to the widespread recognition of Korean pop culture. A spokesperson of another popular Indian retail company, Flipkart, claimed that Korean beauty brands are sought after thanks to “the right balance between value, variety, and trendiness.” Their easy skin regimes and a wide range of sheet masks have added value too. Innisfree, Laneige, and The Face Shop are now among the most popular Korean brands in Indian markets.

As a result of all these factors, K-beauty brands are received favorably in India. Indian beauty websites and journalists also continue to write articles about Korean skincare regimes, and where to order Korean products. In addition, famous makeup artists on YouTube, like Pony, continue to attract more fans of Korean makeup.

Hallyu in India

As the K-pop industry continues to captivate global audiences with their dazzling outfits and artistic music videos, young citizens of India, and their peers in other South Asian countries, continue to grow as a target market for Korean cultural products. As of December 2019, the number of Indian tourists to South Korea since December 2017 grew by almost 36%. And while Indians may still consume American and other English content, Korean music is spreading in India as more and more people are eager to learn the Korean language, eat Korean food, and visit Korea. With such a large young population, there is no doubt that India has the potential to become an appealing market for the Korean entertainment industry.

Neha Cariappa earned an MA in Asia Pacific Studies from the University of San Francisco. Her research focus is on Korean culture and the feminist movement in South Korea.

Picture from flickr user Republic of Korea

Posted in Culture, India, sliderComments (2)

National Defense Prioritized over K-pop

This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

What Happened

  • Last week, the Minister of Culture announced that K-pop stars would not receive exemptions from military service.
  • The decision comes in the midst of a movement by the Military Manpower Administration and the Ministry of National Defense to reduce the total number of exemptions permitted.
  • This reduction is a response to South Korea’s rapidly shrinking population of young men eligible for conscription.

Implications: The Korean government has invested a substantial amount of money into K-pop as a major global commodity, but demographic challenges are forcing the country to choose between exports and national defense. While K-pop fans may criticize the government, the decision was likely a difficult one. K-pop generates both revenue and soft power capital for the country; therefore, curbing these band members’ ability to perform undercuts national interest in these areas. However, this is just one of many tough decisions that Korea will likely face in the future as population decline limits the country’s ability to meet its national defense needs.

Context: The ruling did grant some leeway for the K-pop industry. The ministry is planning to lessen the international travel restrictions placed on men over the age of 25 that have yet to complete their military service. These restrictions currently cause problems for stars who are hoping to go on tour overseas. Additionally, the ministry announced that those athletes and artists who have received exemptions from their service will be required to make a greater social contribution to the country.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Soojin Hwang, Hyoshin Kim, and Rachel Kirsch.

Photo from Wikipedia.

Posted in slider, South KoreaComments (0)

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.

Posted in Culture, slider, South KoreaComments (0)

Hallyu Sets its Sights on the Middle East

By Jenna Gibson

At the end of May, Korea’s largest media company announced it would be opening a Turkish unit to help create and promote local content for the Turkish market. They already have plans to film Turkish versions of popular Korean movies, and hope to move forward with more Korean-Turkish co-productions in the future.

CJ E&M is a Hallyu powerhouse, owning the music-oriented TV channel Mnet as well as popular cable channel tvN, responsible for several smash-hit dramas including 2016’s “Goblin.” With this move to increase its presence in Turkey, CJ is hoping to make new inroads for the Korean Wave in the Middle East.

Although the main markets for Korean pop culture abroad are still in East and Southeast Asia, the phenomenon has put down roots around the world, including in the Middle East. In Iran, for example, fascination with Korean culture started back in the mid-2000s, when the historical drama “Dae Jang Geum” was broadcast on state TV and garnered 86 percent ratings nationwide. In fact, in a 2017 report of the most popular shows on Netflix around the world, Iran was only one of two non-Asian countries to put a Korean drama (2012’s Love Rain) on the top of their queues.

Meanwhile, last year the United Arab Emirates became the first non-Asian country to host a KCON event after the United States. KCON, a music festival/cultural experience featuring some of the biggest k-pop stars as well as demonstrations of Korean food, beauty products, and more, drew more than 8,000 fans to its Abu Dhabi stop.

Scholars have speculated that one of the reasons Hallyu is so popular in the Middle East is because although some of the specifics are different, Korean dramas tend to focus on values that conservative audiences in the Middle East find relatable. According to one study of female fans of Korean pop culture in Iran, “Reflecting traditional family values, Korean culture is deemed ‘a filter for Western values’ in Iran.” The study dug further into online fan communities across the Middle East, showing that love of Korean pop culture allowed women to share a sense of community with fellow Hallyu fans. “The uni-culture cyberspace community of fandom has given Middle Eastern women confidence and a strong sense of group identity, sometimes for the first time.”

But the Hallyu movement is not just about giving fans a place to enjoy catchy dances or dramatic love stories. For the Korean companies that create Hallyu content and sponsor overseas events like KCON, it’s about getting fans to buy Korean.

“We see that there are a lot of business potential in many areas that are influenced by Korean culture, such as the beauty, IT and SOC markets,” Sul-joon Ahn, President of Music Division at CJ E&M, told Dubai News after the KCON event.

In fact, South Korea has been trying to create a “Second Middle East Boom,” focused on boosting industries like construction, infrastructure and energy. By capitalizing on the popularity of Hallyu, this push for increased Korean presence in the region can expand to include consumer goods and creative content.

CJ E&M’s expansion into the Turkish market could signal a new era of Hallyu, one that focuses on localization and domestic buy-in to boost the continued success of Korean pop culture around the world.

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.

Posted in Culture, Korea Abroad, slider, South KoreaComments (2)

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.