The Hallyu Wave Snowballs into the Hallyu Tsunami


The Hallyu Wave, also known as the Korean Wave, is the spread of Korean culture across borders. The term was first used by the Chinese media in the 1990s to refer to the influence of Korean entertainment in China, Japan, and other South East Asian countries. The craze in Korean pop culture initially started with the explosive interest in Korean dramas, but it has moved on to include various other Korean cultures. Additionally, the Hallyu Wave is no longer limited to Asia, as it has gained more recognition and prominence in continents like North and South America, as well as Europe.

Original Wave – TAEKWONDO

While many believe the advent of the Hallyu Wave began with kdramas, its actual beginning developed early on with the introduction of Korea’s national sport to the world in the 1960s. Taekwondo is Korea’s martial arts, deeply rooted with over 2,000 years of history. After the end of the Korean War in 1953, Taekwondo masters began giving demonstrations and opening Taekwondo gymnasiums all over the world. Twelve original masters of Taekwondo were assembled by the Korea Taekwondo Association (KTA) and assigned to various countries to popularize the sport internationally. While it took a while before the sport gained recognition, it has since become one of the world’s popular martial arts and made its debut as an official Olympic sport in 2000. According to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism of the Republic of Korea, an estimate of 70 million people practice Taekwondo in more than 190 countries as of 2009.

Second Wave – KDRAMA

Korean miniseries, colloquially called Korean dramas (kdramas), are extremely popular both in Korea and abroad. There’s no denying that kdrama “Winter Sonata,” (2002) starring Bae Yong Joon and Choi Ji Woo, greatly contributed to the Hallyu boom. “Winter Sonata” enjoyed unprecedented popularity; and its lead characters, Jun Sang/Min Hyung (Bae Yong Joon) and Yoo Jin (Choi Ji Woo), are still two of the most beloved kdrama characters in Japan. Even though it’s been nine years since the drama ended, international fans routinely come to Korea to visit its various shooting locations. While its overseas popularity started in Japan with middle-aged women, the drama spread like wildfire across Asia.

These days, kdramas have garnered much younger viewers with younger casts and fresh storylines. Recent kdramas like “Boys Over Flowers,” “You’re Beautiful,” “Secret Garden,” as well as the currently airing “City Hunter” have a much younger fan base. Its stars have been able to establish themselves as the next generation of Hallyu stars wit their respective projects. With the rapid development of the internet, viewers from anywhere in the world can come across kdramas fairly easily. Unlike before where they had to wait several months, or years, for their countries to import kdramas, fans are now able to watch their favorite shows in real-time or within an hour of its original broadcast. Kdramas’ complex yet pure love stories, intriguing plot twists, intricate web of family relationships, as well an amazingly attractive casts are just some reasons why they’ve been so well-received abroad. In the end, these programs successfully boosted the image of Korea by casually exposing international viewers to Korean’s everyday lives and culture.

Third Wave – KPOP

Kpop has been steadily gaining influence in foreign markets with its uniquely-Korean beats and sounds. Korean pop music is a perfect blend of various genres like electronic, hip hop, pop, R&B, as well as rock. Its catchy tunes and fun choreographies have taken the world by storm, and YouTube houses several videos of flash mobs dancing to their favorite kpop songs in cities worldwide.

In 2009, the Wonder Girls became the first Korean music artists to place on the U.S. Billboard 100 Chart with their single “Nobody.” Since then, kpop artists like Big Bang and Jay Park have placed on various Billboard charts. Just last week, SM Entertainment was able to feel first-hand kpop’s impact in Europe with their sellout “SMTOWN LIVE WORLD TOUR in PARIS” concerts, held on June 10th-11th. On May 1st, over 300 European fans held a flash mob event at the Pyramide de Louvres in Paris in a successful attempt to convince SM Entertainment to add an additional concert. SM affiliated stars like Girls’ Generation, Dong Bang Shin Ki, Super Junior, SHINee, and f(x) dazzled 14,000 European fans leaving them wanting more. Girls’ Generation’s performance to “Genie” in Paris reached over1.5 million viewers during the weekend of the concert. Currently, the count is at 1.97 million. On June 12th and 13th, the clip was the most viewed video worldwide on YouTube.  

Fourth Wave – KCOSMETICS

Through kdramas and kpop, female fans, both Asians and non-Asians, are noticing the beauty of Korean celebrities and are taking interest in their beauty secrets. There are several video tutorials on YouTube explaining the “techniques” of Korean makeup style. So what exactly is the Korean makeup style, and why is it becoming a global fad? Foreign fans are drawn into the natural looking and youthful appearances of Korean women, and they wish to create the light natural make up styles that highlight perfect skin.  

Highly considered as the test market for various cosmetic companies in the past, Korea is now the global leader in the industry. In fact, the highly popular BB cream, also known as the blemish balm, was developed in Korea as a lighter, more natural alternative to foundations. While it originated from Germany as a treatment balm for patients who underwent laser skin surgery, Korea further developed it and made it into a cosmetic product. Initially, BB creams received much love from Koreans for their ability to even out skin tone, lighten blemish marks, and create natural glows. It’s no exaggeration to say that BB cream is the hottest beauty product in Asia right now. Internationally famous cosmetic brands like Bobbi Brown and Christian Dior have hopped onto the bandwagon and began selling their lines of BB creams.

In addition to visiting all the famous kdrama shooting sites, domestic beauty brand stores, like Etude House and Missha, have become hot spots for visitors. These domestic cosmetic brands have been enjoying the Hallyu boom and have expanded their businesses to include stores in Japan, China, and several Southeast Asian countries. They’ve seen an increase in Non-Asian consumers and are planning to expand into the American and European market. Currently, these beauty stores also hold makeup sessions where they teach foreigners various makeup styles, like the “Song Hye Gyo makeup” and the “Kim Tae Hee makeup.”

The globalization of the Korean culture has led to tremendous increase in economic effects in both the entertainment and tourism industries in South Korea. In early 2011, the Korea Creative Content Agency announced that the profitability of exporting Korean contents, such as kdramas and music, will reach approximately $3.8 billion by the end of this year, a 14% increase since last year. Aside from the monetary value of Hallyu, it is important to note that this phenomenon has been increasing awareness and improving South Korea’s image to the world.

What do you think will lead the next Hallyu Wave?