With the advent of OTT platforms, K-dramas have taken over the world faster than before. Ever since Psy’s ‘Oppan Gangnam Style’ happened to make its way into India in 2012, every party hub, every disco, or even Durga Puja pandals started playing the song in loop as people danced away in unending joy mimicking the popular dance step. Cut to 2020 pandemic, K-pop and K-dramas are already a raging topic of discussion among the youth of India. South Korean pop culture has created havoc in several other Asian countries with their catchy music and a huge variety of drama series.
For the uninitiated, K-dramas refer to South Korean dramas which usually run for 16-20 episodes a season. Some dramas became so popular with the international audience that they inspired other nations to adapt and recreate the storylines for their audience. A very relevant example would be ‘The Good Doctor’, starring Freddie Highmore, which has 4 seasons so far. It was adapted from a single-season Korean drama called ‘Good Doctor’.
I developed a fondness for K-dramas during the lockdown with a few extra hours to myself every day while working from home. Staring with one drama, crying my eyes out, and then smiling like a fool, I discussed my experience with my cousin, an ardent Korean pop fan. She suggested me some more series, and then I discovered some of my friends’ love for K-dramas and K-pop, who were on cloud nine upon learning my new-found interest and in turn heaped me up with drama suggestions. Then, Netflix suggested me more. And within a month I was a K-drama fan! Living and working in Delhi for a few years I had covered K-pop India as a journalist but hadn’t taken fancy into the whole new world until April 2020.
The relatively quick rise in popularity made me ponder on the ‘whats’, ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ behind the success of Korean pop culture globally that enabled bands like BTS and Blackpink to rule top global music charts, and a foreign language film ‘Parasite’ win the Oscar in 2019. In December 2020, BTS, Korea’s most popular boyband, topped the Billboard Artist 100 for the 15th (non-consecutive) week and was named “Entertainer of the Year” by Time magazine.
The ‘whys’ were pretty easy to find out:
Despite being a language not widely spoken in India, the Korean series made its way into people hearts in over a few years. Brimming over with emotions, love, societal standards, beauty stereotypes, and social hierarchy among many other topics, the dramas have a wide range of genres for people to choose from and relate to. Along with the variety also comes the portrayal of men and women — the subtle touches of equality. Breaking gender-barriers, the series in general, give a sense of reality among all the un-realness; that it is normal for men to show emotions, it is normal for women to raise their voice and fight back.
Sarika Chauhan, an ardent fan of girl band Blackpink, and actors Song Joong-ki, Lee Min-ho, Park Shin-hye, Kim Woo-bin, shares the reason behind her love for K-dramas, “The different storylines certainly helped me understand their culture and politics. Also, their subtle approach to romance makes them stand out from other series. And of course, you can’t ignore how cute they look! ;-)”
Nirvan Choudhury, a passionate fan of Shin Ha Kyun and Park Seo Joon said, “The dramas don’t stand out as much as they supplement other OTT series, there’s a healthy bit of all content. But yes, the fact that sitting in India I get to visit a part of South Korea via series is nice.
“I enjoy K-dramas because it showed me for the first time in a series that it’s okay for the male protagonist to cry and express his feelings. Although the contents are sometimes similar, when they are unique they turn out to be really good. I think at some point I started to enjoy K-dramas more than other series,” expressed Nirvan.
However, to know in-depth about the hard work that went into creating awareness globally I needed to get an insider’s take. Hwang Il-yong, Director of Korean Cultural Centre India, and Counsellor of the Embassy of the Republic of Korea to India shares how the Korean wave swept through the globe successfully capturing millions of hearts.
What are the possible reasons for the sudden rise of Korean pop culture?
K-drama and K-pop have received sharply increased popularity recently not only in India but around the world throughout the pandemic situation. From the year 2000, the Korean entertainment companies started to focus on entering the international market. After many trials and errors, the companies found a foothold within the Asian market and extended little more beyond China and Japan. The impact of the same was also felt in India, where K-drama and K-pop first established themselves in northeastern India and slowly spread to other parts of the country.
The major factors for Hallyu (Korean Wave) contents being popular across the globe can be pointed out as:
- degree of perfection that related Korean Industries strive for along with their aggressive investment(time, manpower, finance, etc.)
- multi fields for appreciation like beauty, fashion, food, dance, song, even covering various genres & contents like a mixture of romance, horror, comedy, family for K-drama, and electronic, hip-hop, jazz, ballad, dance for K-pop containing various unique and universal contents
- forming universality in each uniqueness, means it has a certain drawing force to invite anybody to relate with the feeling of sympathy and similarity.
The pandemic situation itself can be one of the major factors. Firstly, people could reach out and explore new cultural contents beyond the previous fixed local boundaries, secondly, the idol or representative image of people around the world have been changed from powerful hero type to soft, gentle, and fragile with inner struggle and agony in difficult times who they can put their sympathy easily during the pandemic, the whole world suffering together.
Despite the language barrier, innumerable people are in love with the series and music. How do you think that became possible?
Throughout the pandemic situation, OTT platforms helped the whole world with quick outreach everywhere with language translation services from Google, Netflix, YouTube, etc. Language can not become a barrier or obstacle anymore to people in terms of contents appreciation.
K-drama and K-Pop have various storylines, cultural contents which can appeal to people in different environments. Especially, music has no local language, and Korean music covers a vast variety containing our daily life concepts and contents along with its music videos. People do not appreciate one limited genre, limited dimension, they want to get more various multi-dimensional experiences which K-pop.
How much does the South Korean government have a role to play in the spread and popularity of K-Pop?
The government of South Korea considers culture to be a soft power, and thus through the rise of Hallyu wave they are trying their best to help spread awareness about the country, and to initiate diplomacy, if and where possible in terms of practical supports through all its bodies – legislation, administration, and even finance. Changing the law regarding military service initiated by BTS recently is a good example.
How do the actors and singers deal with shows and interactions abroad and interact with their international fan base?
Questions must be directed to the agencies associated with the actors and singers for best answers. However, meeting and greet/ hi-touch events through social media platforms are a fairly popular way used by artists to interact with their audiences these days. BTS`s 2020, and recent new year greeting online concert shows a strategical and active way to explore new possibilities.
Have you watched any K-drama or listened to any K-pop song yet?
If yes, what are your favourite dramas and songs? If not, what are you waiting for?! Tune into Netflix or Voot to get acquainted with a new world of entertainment in your screen.
Some personal K-drama favourites:
Crash Landing on You
Fight For My Way
It’s Okay to Not Be Okay