Too much pop, not enough K?

calendar kpop
Traditional and Modern, side by side.

For those who are Kpop lovers, the recent influx of all things Hallyu into the UK has been great news. With SHINee, CUBE, and promises of many more things to come in 2012, it seems as though we’re starting to experience some serious splashing from the Hallyu Wave. With the South Korean Government also choosing to ride the Hallyu Wave as an opportunity to promote the country to the world, for example the soon to be national Embassy Kpop quiz, it seems like this can only lead to great things for avid Kpop fans around the world. The MASSIVE are all big Kpop lovers, and of course love all the excitement and speculations of who may be coming to the UK next, but at the same time, we can also see that there may be some drawbacks to the South Korean government’s new strategy of focusing on Kpop.

Too much pop, not enough K?

Kpop is a great way to get people interested in Korean culture, but the target audience of it is very specific and somewhat limited. For example, Kpop nights at the Korean Cultural Centre were mostly made up of teens. When filling out our details with our age beginning with the digit 2 amongst all the young teens (and a 10 1/2 year old), we instantly felt our hair whiten and our hips hurt. Along with the KCC’s recent Kpop Academy program where a lot of over 25 year olds felt awkward about applying, all these Kpop activities do seem largely catered towards the younger generation (please note the oldest amongst us is ONLY 25!). In general, the largest age range seems to be around 12-23, and mostly females, (no, we’re not ignoring you boys, we know you’re out there too, it’s just statistics!). For example, SHINee’s Lucifer video has been viewed on SM Ent’s official YouTube channel over 30 million times since its release in July 2010. The video stats are listed as: most popular – females from 13-17, then females 18-24, then males 13-17. Of course, there are going to be some exceptions to this, but it’s obvious that Kpop appeals mainly to a niche market. So what’s out there for the rest of the world in terms of accessible Korean culture, and what other aspects could be used to promote the Korean culture to all those outside of the Kpop bracket range?

There is so much more to Korea than just modern pop music and it would be fantastic if it could be promoted more to spread Korean culture to a wider audience. However, we’re not ignoring what has been done so far to promote Korean culture for instance, Korean film festivals have been happening in London for quite a few years now and have gotten extremely popular with tickets constantly being sold out. The Korean Cultural Centre in London is also doing a great job in making Korean cinema more accessible with their ‘Year of the 12 Directors’ as well as getting people interested in Korean art, especially with their lastest award winning exhibition of ‘A New Space around the Body’. However, if different aspects of Korean culture could be imagined as children of South Korean , it appears that Kpop would be the current favourite child, while others like Korean films and literature, or Korean food have to take the independent route to make their way in the world.

Korean old boyThe Korean film industry is greatly respected and has slowly become globally recognised with thanks to the very successful Vengeance series i.e.Old Boy. A few Korean movies have also been remade by Hollywood such as My Sassy Girl and Lakehouse, although their American counterparts were unsuccessful, their original Korean versions remain internationally loved (we’re still nervous about the upcoming Oldboy remake!). In the UK, Asian film festivals such as Terracotta, which used to largely concentrate on the Japanese and Chinese market, have seen the popularity of Korean cinema and have started bringing in more Korean films into their film festivals and screening Korean hits such as Antique at their recent festivals. Korean cinema is generally good at all genres, from love stories, action, to horror, something for everyone. Aspects such as film and food have a universal appeal to all age ranges, genders, and if it were possible to promote these more, we’re sure South Korea would find itself with a lot more new fans. We’re wondering why Korea has decided to focus so much on the Hallyu wave, with it’s niche market, rather than concentrating on a general crowd pleaser such as cinema and food etc.

In extreme cases, can a focus on Kpop even damage the promotion of Korean culture? When the MASSIVE went to the opening gala of the London Korean Film Festival last year, we saw an instance whereby the Hallyu promotion could have potentially angered some people. When SHINee were announced to be attending the opening film Arrow (by the way, amazing film), all previous seat reservations were cancelled. This angered a lot of film goers who were genuinely interested in the film and made the effort to reserve a good seat early on. This escalated during the Director Q&A, when a rather disgruntled audience member actually questioned why their seating had been changed and expressed annoyance and frustration. Another example is during the Korean Culture Center’s 2012 Calendar give away. The calendar featured both idol bands and traditional Korean instruments, but this giveaway was largely promoted as Kpop orientated and happened on a weekday. The calendars were quickly snapped up by young and eager Kpop fans which meant all the older fans with an interest on the more traditional aspect of the calendar didn’t have a chance.

KDrama to make a bigger splash

How can we forget about Kdrama?
Karen Rochon 69, Washington US, a Kdrama fan

On the whole, if we take the age range of those who are interested in Kpop to be around 25 and below, that leaves out a whole lot of people. And it is this part of the population that generally, the older they are, have more of a disposable income. This means more money to spend on other facets of Korean culture, like food and other media forms. If different parts of Korean culture were concentrated on as much as Kpop is at the moment, it could lead to more money being spent on food, history, art and films etc, and getting a much wider audience interested in Korean culture as a whole. In turn, these people would be more likely to be able to afford holidays to South Korea, so wouldn’t promoting other aspects of Korean culture benefit tourism in the long run? The MASSIVE certainly wouldn’t mind seeing a ‘Hansik Wave’ in the UK!

We’re not saying that the Hallyu Wave is bad, we’re all MASSIVE Kpop fans and really welcome artists coming to the UK (MBLAQ, TVXQ and U-Kiss, when are you coming!?), but we would also love more opportunities to explore other aspects of Korean culture in the UK too. Although we can go to exhibitions and eat at Korean restaurants, which we’re very thankful for, it would be wonderful if such aspects of Korean culture were promoted more in the UK, so those who aren’t intentionally looking for Korean events etc can be made aware of how interesting and diverse Korean culture is. It would certainly help new people to discover how exciting and varied South Korea really is. What do you all think? Have we just been focusing on Kpop too much ourselves and missing out on all the other kinds of events events happening, or would you also like to see more of a variety of events happening? Tell us about your experiences with Korean culture around the UK especially our older readers, how do you feel about this? Do you feel that this sudden Hallyu wave seems to be damaging the promotion of other Korean aspects?

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