Among the many topics that have surfaced during the past two months as I traveled about Ireland and the US West Coast, I settled on the below, current report as I have been thinking for months of writing a column on just what the Korea Wave or Hallyu may actually be or not be.
Economic Research Institute (SERI) does a decent job in describing what
are the results of Hallyu around the world. The analyst provides a
decent account of how these boy and girl acts succeed, but there is no
real attempt to explain why Korean pop (K-Pop) has been so popular or at
least appear to be so successful.
My initial impressions from many observations and discussions have
provided me with some very tentative conclusions.
most obvious and least surprising success factor for any kind of
adolescent or young adult phenomenon is sex appeal or the thinly veiled
offering of being seductively attractive to the other young people.
As I have stated in prior KER messages, Hallyu is a thinly disguised rip
off in many cases of Japanese boy and girl bands but with upgraded
versions of being what we once called “prick tease” sexy rather than
simply cute, as in the case of the shy Japanese.
course, this does not address why Korean cinema have done so well, but
there are some major common denominators.
Both the music groups and the cinema feature remarkably beautiful women
and handsome men – many cosmetically enhanced by some of the world’s
finest (i.e., Korean) cosmetic surgeons. These entertainers literally
embody what many other Asians wish all East Asians to appear like. On
top of that, many of the movies are well made. But even if the songs are
not quite up there or the films less than what one may wish to see, the
actors and signers look fabulous.
But what is not so clear is how genuinely popular is Hallyu in
There have been some big flashes in
the pan concerts and television appearances abroad, but I have yet to
see major trends outside of the Korean diaspora centers. Many first,
second and third generation Koreans regularly check out Hallyu YouTube
videos – and so do their non-Korean ethnic friends.
There used to be a saying in Hawaii that one would never see a group of
Koreans, but always a Korean in every group. As Koreans move out of
their first generation overseas ghettos, they have become remarkably
According to my observations in LA’s Korea
Town and my conversation with a son who lives there, many non-Koreans
who are into Hallyu have or have had an ethnic Korean partner.
All of which brings me to the SERI analysis’ conclusion that implies one
should not try to over leverage Hallyu in unnatural promotions, such as
promotion of relatively stodgy traditional Korean culture, etc. Hallyu
is essentially about young people and older people reminiscing of what
is was like to having once been young.
The challenge is
where does Hallyu go from here? According to a long-term Japanese pop
cultural observer who will soon be retiring as a university lecturer at a
women’s university in Tokyo, when Hallyu first appeared, it really
caught the Japanese young people off guard in a very positive way. But
after a couple of years, enthusiasm has begun to wane as both early and
newest Hallyu groups stick to the tried-and-true success formulas with
little, genuine innovation.
Meanwhile, Korean private and public sector marketers are feverishly
promoting Hallyu – often without adequate appreciations of just why the
trend has been successful and what challenges Hallyu faces in order for
its industry to achieve lasting success.
For Hallyu to
have real legs that can promote not only itself as well as other aspects
of Korea into the future, Korean artists will need to be more creative
than what they have so far exhibited. While we may debate if that may
be possible in corporate controlled entertainment anywhere, ultimately
it will be up to Korean artists to act more like the Beatles and less
like the Monkees if they are to make a lasting contribution to global
Lessons from K-pop’s Global Success
K-pop has entrenched itself as a bona fide phenomenon in Asia and is
rapidly extending its reach to new markets. Companies in other
industries can benefit from its success by deploying K-pop based
products and tourism packages, using K-pop stars as spokesmen, and
piggybacking on K-pop’s transnational appeal. Companies can also learn
from K-pop’s system of rigorous training and long-term planning. Report may be found at: Samsung Economic Research Institute (SEO Min-Soo).
You will need to login to SERI Quarterly to see the report.
Post by Tom Coyner. Senior Commercial Adviser for IPG.
Sean Hayes may be contacted at: SeanHayes@ipglegal.com.
Sean Hayes is co-chair of the Korea Practice Team at IPG Legal. He is the only non-Korean to have worked as an attorney for the Korean court system (Constitutional Court of Korea) and one of the first non-Koreans to be a regular member of a Korean law faculty.