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A short history of K-pop and the Korean wave A short history of K-pop and the Korean wave
by Joseph Gatt
2020-07-31 09:12:03
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A brief history of K-pop and the Korean wave.

Phase one (2005-2010): only the very best

Before 2005, very few (if any) people outside Korea had watched Korean soap operas, Korean dramas or Korean movies. Even Korean embassies were doing little to promote Korean music or dramas or movies.

Starting around 2004-2005, and with the growth of YouTube, K-pop, Korean dramas and movies started gaining a global following.

kpo01_400But only the very best had their fans. For K-pop it was Lee Hyori and Dong Bang Shin Gi (TVXQ) that paved the way for others like Rain, Ivy, Sohn Dambi, Baek Ji Yeon, Big Bang, Super Junior, 2PM, the Brown Eyed Girls, Kara, 2NE1, T-Ara and a handful of other bands or singers.

For dramas, it was “A Jewel in the Palace” and “Winter Sonata” that paved the way for a few other hits such as “Boys over Flowers” and a handful of other dramas.

Korean movies started finding distributors overseas, and fans online.

Phase two (2010-2014): diversification

People felt like if it's k-pop or k-drama, “I should know who they are.” Between 2010 and 2014, there was a proliferation of Korean dramas and K-pop bands and movies.

But there was this psychological thing where people in Korea and outside Korea felt like “if it's a K-pop band, then I've surely heard about them or seen them somewhere.”

The Korean (and foreign media) ran portraits of K-pop bands and Korean actors, and made it sound like they were superstars.

Years later, several of those “superstars” came forward and said they were really “one-hit-wonders” or in some cases “zero-hit-wonders” and that in some cases they never even got recognized in the streets, in some cases not once.

Phase three (2014-today): over-flood of k-pop and the Korean wave

Now because the Korean media (and foreign media) exaggerated this K-wave phenomenon, many entertainment production companies were set up and “mass producing” music, dramas and movies, hoping one of the productions will be a big hit.

In music you have BTS and Blackpink that are big global hits, and there are K-dramas like “my love from the stars” and “descendents of the sun” that were huge hits.

But you have thousands of bands, dramas and movies hoping to achieve that level of success.

Other important phenomenon: now you even have music bands and dramas produced outside Korea, with no Korean musicians or actors that brand themselves as “K-pop” or “K-dramas.” That is those bands will imitate K-pop or K-drama in their composition and style, but will have no Koreans in the crew.

Now to me personally, the Korean wave was a victim of its own propaganda. Singers and actors were silenced into telling blatant lies, and were explicitly told to tell the media that they were “huge hits” when in fact they lived in cheap housing and no one even recognized them in the streets.

The future of the Korean wave? I'd say go back to the basics. Focus on quality, rather than quantity.

Let's look at things philosophically. In the past, Korean dramas and music were produced with one goal: being accepted by television channels. That is you needed TV approval to get your drama or movie clip to air, so producers worked hard on quality.

But today, no one really produces for television. You can go straight to YouTube, Spotify and Netflix. So a lot of producers don't put in the necessary efforts, and hope “luck” will turn their way, and that “if baby shark was a huge hit, anything can be a huge hit.”

This is not just a Korean phenomenon but a global phenomenon. My advice: work like in the old days when you used to try to impress M-Net or KBS or SBS or MBC owners into airing your drama or music clip. 

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