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What is Hallyu the Korean Wave? K-Pop Timeline and what makes K-pop popular?

WHAT IS HALLYU 한류 (KOREAN WAVE)?

EARLY 1990sSeo Taiji and Boys – Changing the History of Korean Music Industry

When discussing the history of K-Pop, the attempt is meaningless if it doesn’t include Seo Taiji and Boys 서태지와 아이들, because they were the pioneers who first transplanted American Pop to Korea. Fast beat music, rap, and powerful dance were something that no one had ever tried to put together on stage before. Were they way ahead of their time? When they first debuted in 1992, they received discouraging comments from critics. But it didn’t take much time to prove them wrong. A huge fandom sprung up, and groups that imitate them begun to emerge in droves. And just like that, they became the touchstone of K-Pop, and the Korean music industry was forever changed. (For your information, Yang Hyun-suk, one of the members, is the president of YG Entertainment.)

Seo Taiji and Boys -‘I Know’ 【KBS 토요대행진, 1992】

THE 1990sThe Birth and Beginning of Hallyu / Korean Wave

The term Hallyu / Korean Wave began to emerge in the late 1990s when H.O.T., one of K-Pop’s legendary idol groups, became popular in China. In February 2000, after H.O.T. successfully finished their performance in Beijing, “Hallyu Hits China” hit the headlines of Chinese newspapers. Ever since then, the word Hallyu / Korean Wave officially became known as the term for Korean Pop culture.

H.O.T – Candy, HOT – 캔디, MBC Top Music 19961207

Meanwhile in Taiwan, Clon, a powerful dance duo made a splash.

Clon – Kung Ddari Sha Bah Rah, 클론 – 쿵따리 샤바라, MBC Top Music 19960713

In China, NRG, a pretty-faced-boys idol dance group, also rose to fame while Korean TV dramas captivated the Chinese viewers. Back at home in Korea, the three-member female idol group S.E.S. made a meteoric rise, and shortly after, a four-member female idol group, Fin.K.L, debuted to form a rivalry. G.O.D. and Shinhwa, all-male groups with powerful choreography and trendy tunes, also raised the bar.

S.E.S – Im Your Girl MV [HD Enhanced]

EARLY TO MID 2000sFull-fledged landing of Korean cultural content in Japan, the Yonsama craze, and Daejanggeum.

Now, the next stop of the Korean Wave is Japan! Will the Korean Wave be popular in Japan, the powerhouse of trendy pop culture, which has been influencing all over Asia with J-Pop and bubbly romantic dramas? It was the movie Swiri / Shiri 쉬리 (1999) that showed the possibility (I remember my local Blockbuster in the U.S. had a copy).

Shiri Trailer HD (1999 Korean) (NO ENG SUB)

The suspense thriller, which depicts the romance between a South Korean national security agent and a North Korean spy, was a huge hit in Japan, showing the potential of Korean cultural content in Japan.

After that, the melodrama Gyeoul Yeonga 겨울연가 (Winter Sonata, 2002) became a mega-hit, generating a sensational response from the middle-aged female viewers in Japan.

the melodrama Gyeoul Yeonga 겨울연가 (Winter Sonata, 2002) became a mega-hit, generating a sensational response from the middle-aged female viewers in Japan.
Gyeoul Yeonga 겨울연가 Japanese poster
(Winter Sonata KBS, 2002)

Through this drama, Bae Yong-joon got a nickname, “Yonsama (‘Emperor Yon),” and was adored as the “first love” of the Japanese women, treated as a state guest at the airport, surrounded by thousands of fanatic fans. From then on, the word “Hallyu” appeared in Japan, and “Hallyu Syndrome” swept Japan.

Korean Wave on CNN Yonsama 20110418

In the music industry, BoA, a teenage female singer from SM Entertainment who had been active in the Japanese music scene since her early age, became a huge success, dominating the Japanese Oricon charts, setting the cornerstone for K-Pop’s soft landing in Japan.

BoA performing on a Japanese TV show at age 17.

However, the Korean Wave content that was truly popular around the globe, reaching the audience outside Asia was, unarguably, Daejanggeum 대장금 (Jewel in the Palace, MBC, 2003). This historical drama about the success of the first female royal physician of the Joseon Dynasty was popular among foreigners because it charmingly presents the outstanding scenery of Korea, the beauty of hanbok, and Korean cuisine. Besides taking the viewers by storm in China, it was also popular in Africa as well as the Middle East (especially Iran). It was even remade in many countries including Japan and Turkey.

RELATED : Where did the name ‘Korea’ originate? Korea in different times – Goryeo, Joseon, and The Korean Empire. Yi Sun-Shin 이순신 – The legendary Korean war hero and his “turtle ship”.

Do Koreans wear kimono? HANBOK 한복 – Traditional Korean Clothes : Hanbok in different times – History of Hanbok

Daejanggeum 대장금 (Jewel in the Palace, MBC, 2003). This historical drama about the success of the first female royal physician of the Joseon Dynasty was popular among foreigners because it charmingly presents the outstanding scenery of Korea, the beauty of hanbok, and Korean cuisine. Besides taking the viewers by storm in China, it was also popular in Africa as well as the Middle East (especially Iran). It was even remade in many countries including Japan and Turkey.
Daejanggeum 대장금 (MBC, 2003 )
A clip from Daejanggeum episode where Princess Hyohye doesn’t want to eat anything! Can Daejanggeum work her magic to restore her appetite?

LATE 2000s2010sContinued overseas export of Korean cultural content and the growing influence of K-POP

It was Dongbangshinki 동방신기 (TVXQ) that succeeded the K-Pop craze in Japan in the late 2000s, whose sold-out concerts at the mega dome stadiums were nothing to be surprised about.

동방신기) ‘TAXI’ Tokyo Dome LIVE [KOR/JAP/ENG SUB]

You might wonder, why are they singing in JAPANESE? – read Why do K-pop groups also release albums in Japanese?

Idol bands with innocent boyish charms like Super Junior and SHINee gained huge popularity, and trendy Hip-Hop/dance-based groups such as Epik High, Big Bang, and Brown Eyed Girls continued to expand their fandom overseas. But most of all, the advent of Girls’ Generation changed the K-Pop scene that boy bands were dominating. Wonder Girls, KARA, After School, f(x), and T-ara were among the top contenders vying for the crown. And while U-Kiss gained popularity with their youthful charms, 2AM, 2PM, and B2ST, the boy bands with masculine charms, expanded the spectrum of the K-Pop boy band. “Girl Crush” bands like 4Minute and 2NE1 appeared and were well received by fans around the globe.

2NE1 performing in New York (Part 1 of 2) MTV IGGY’s Best New Band in the World!

At the same time, variety show programs such as Running Man and Infinite Challenge were exported overseas and received positive responses.

A Running Man episode featuring Henry Cavill, Simon Pegg, and Tom Cruise.

RELATED : Why do Korean TV shows have subtitles?

In the early 2010s, idol groups such as ZE:A, CN BLUE, SISTAR, Miss A, Girl’s Day, and APink continued to appear, and dominated the K-Pop scene. It wasn’t a big step, but it was a time when the Korean Wave continued to secure fandom around the world with small but steady steps. At that very moment, something that no one ever expected happened – and people all over the world were suddenly captivated by K-Pop madness! That’s right, it was Psy‘s “Gangnam Style!

RELATED : What the heck does “gangnam style” 강남스타일 mean?

The addictive melody and horse-riding dance helped the song go viral through social media, pushing it to the second place on the Billboard chart, an unprecedented achievement in the history of K-Pop. Including a New Years’ Eve performance at Times Square and collaboration stage with MC Hammer at American Music Awards (AMA), Psy was the busiest person in the world in 2012, and his presence helped shattered the stereotype that K-Pop is only about idol groups.

EPIC! PSY Gangnam Style on American Music Awards with MC Hammer – 싸이 AMA 강남스타일 (HD Version)

2012 ~ PRESENTHallyu’s Continuing Popularity and Spread into the Global Market

So far, the Korean Wave has been a huge success in Asian markets, but in North America and Europe, it has only formed a small fandom. However, from this time on, the Korean Wave finally moved beyond its geographical limits, and people around the world began to enjoy K-Pop. The globalization of the Korean Wave continued with the emergence of talented groups such as EXID, EXO, AOA, BTS, GOT7, AKMU, RED VELVET, LOVELYZ, iKon, Mamamoo, ASTRO, and BlackPink. The reason for success was that K-Pop, which began in the beginning by imitating American Pop music and J-Pop’s idol system, has now created its own flavor through active convergence and transformation. Now, K-Pop is not a child of American Pop and J-Pop, but a unique brand with a “cool and hip” feeling that only K-Pop has to offer.

In addition, dramas and movies were also very popular. The Descendants of the Sun (KBS, 2016 ) became a sensation in Asia and has sold copyrights to many countries in Europe.

Descendants of the Sun – EP4 | Gun Standoff [Eng Sub]

In 2020, director Bong Joon-ho‘s Parasite (2019) surprised the world by winning four Academy Awards, setting a milestone in Korean film history!

in 2020, director Bong Joon-ho's Parasite (2019) surprised the world by winning four Academy Awards, setting a milestone in Korean film history!
Gisaengchung 기생충 (Parasite, 2019)

CONTIUED STORY : Why is BTS so popular? How did hallyu / Korean Wave spread around the globe? What does it take to become a K-pop idol? What does the future of hallyu / Korean Wave look like?

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