Korean Wave K-Drama K-Pop

KOed: how Korean culture conquered the world

Have you seen the movie Parasite? Danced to Psy’s Gangnam Style? Tried out some Korean beauty products? If you answered yes to two or more of these questions, then you – like many of us – are riding the Korean Wave.

The Korean Wave – known as “Hallyu” in Korean – is a term used to describe the increasing global popularity of South Korean pop culture. The Wave has long since swept over East and Southeast Asia, India, the Middle East, and North Africa. And now it’s reached Europe and the Americas, too.

This trend encompasses all areas of life, from food to fashion and cosmetics. But its main driver is Korean entertainment: K-dramas and K-pop. So how exactly did Korean culture conquer the world?


The Korean pop music industry made USD 5 billion in profit in 2016, and that number has only risen with each passing year. But how did K-pop become its own genre, let alone such a popular one? K-pop singers, known as “idols”, usually begin their training at around 10 years old, with daily dance, singing and etiquette lessons. Once they’re old enough, the best of these talented kids join “idol bands” or pursue solo careers.

Those long years of training result in extremely sophisticated performance skills, particularly when it comes to dance, and a highly polished appearance. This is then paired with in-house studios that furiously churn out songs that crossover all possible genres from EDM to reggaeton to candy pop.

Despite the fact that most songs are almost completely in Korean, K-pop groups have built huge and unbelievably diverse fanbases from all over the world. The fans have been breaking down language barriers through crowd-sourced translations for years. And now, record companies and producers are finally catching on by working language service providers like Supertext to subtitle music videos and other content. Here’s an example from BTS, currently the best-known K-pop band in the world:


Interest in Korean cinema abroad was initially a side-effect of the popularity of K-pop and K-dramas. Today, however, movies are an integral part of the Korean Wave, enjoyed by cinema buffs around the world. Even if you haven’t had the pleasure of indulging in Korea’s increasingly popular indie and horror films yet, you couldn’t have missed the hype around Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite. There’s good reason why this hybrid of dark comedy, thriller and social commentary was the first non-English-language film to win the Oscar for Best Picture – showing us that we can all overcome the “1-inch-tall barrier of subtitles”. And that subtitling the smash hit for western audiences was an impressive feat in itself.

Here’s a little taster:


Did you know that the hit ABC series The Good Doctor and Fox’s The Masked Singer were both remakes of Korean TV shows? The interest in Korean TV has been growing worldwide – K-dramas have been loved in Japan and China since the 90s, and now original series are available to watch on all streaming services. Supertext’s copywriters and book lovers might want to check out the Nexflix show 로맨스는 별책부록, while scenes of Switzerland populate the love story set partially in North Korea in 사랑의 불시착.

Why are western viewers so hungry for K-dramas? According to surveys, there are a couple of different reasons. Firstly, Korean TV seasons usually only total 16 to 20 episodes, meaning that there’s no time to get bored of the characters. Secondly, they provide something that’s no longer common in western series: innocent romances, free from sex or violence. And finally, they offer an intriguing glimpse into an unfamiliar culture.


Watching K-dramas can also be a simple way to pick up a few phrases of Korean. The language is easier than it might at first appear: pronunciation is straightforward, the grammar has no noun genders or cases, and there are relatively few syllables. Or at least, that’s what our Korean language experts here at Supertext say. In fact, BTS recently launched a series of Korean language learning videos to bring its global fans together. And don’t forget: the Korean Wave is best enjoyed with some jjigae and soju.

Cover image via Pinterest

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