[Viewpoint] The Korean invasion comes ashoreThe older generation who may not have grown up with pop culture might be confused when they hear about the sensational popularity of Korean pop music, unlike youngsters who think pop culture is an essential part of their lives. Adults have become accustomed to young Koreans raving about foreign musicians, so they find the success of Korean singers strange and hard to believe.
It is surprising enough that the Korean Wave has spread to China, while Korean girl groups have swept the pop charts in Japan. But Korean music is gaining popularity in the United States, while fan sites and fan clubs are popping up in England.
But how could Korean pop stars have brought Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris to a standstill? Can this really be happening? Koreans in their 40s and 50s are skeptical and ask, “Are Korean singers really popular abroad? Why would foreigners like them?”
It was a surprising moment when over 1,000 French fans waiting for the Korean stars’ arrival at Charles de Gaulle welcomed them by singing “Gee” by Girls’ Generation. Fans laying siege at airports to await the arrival of their idols has a long tradition in pop culture. Pop icons like Elvis Presley, the Beatles and Michael Jackson received a passionate airport welcome by fans.
The mass hysteria of shouting names and dancing in groups means the beginning of a phenomenon beyond mere popularity. This does not happen to any musician. The passionate response of the French fans at the airport may be a sign that K-pop syndrome has already begun.
Now, the music industry needs to continue and expand the trend through detailed and systematic local promotion and marketing in Europe. Initially, fans of Korean pop culture sprang up spontaneously, thanks to social networks such as Twitter and YouTube. But the future course depends on how a more permanent publicity system is established in Europe.
The advance of K-pop in Europe is a significant move. While the United States is often considered the final destination of Hallyu, or the Korean Wave, industry insiders think Europe is a more challenging and selective market than America. With history and tradition, European countries tend to be exclusive-minded when it comes to embracing foreign popular culture unless the freshness and quality are demonstratively compelling.
In the early 1960s, American rock ’n’ roll focused on the European market as it spread overseas. When Elvis Presley’s music captivated young music fans in Britain, some critics thought that it was an American conspiracy. They claimed that inferior American pop music was tarnishing Britain’s noble culture.
But they were fighting a losing battle. Separate from any ideology, America’s free-spirited soft power proved victorious in the United Kingdom and Europe. Their youth was fascinated by the energetic rock ’n’ roll from America, and the charm of the New World completely dominated Europe.
The K-pop syndrome also is attributed to its appeal. Korean entertainers are known for their dynamic dance, excellent singing talent and outstanding appearance, and highly cultured European countries had to admit the attractive qualities of K-pop.
Europeans fans have become completely intoxicated by the unexpectedly outstanding stage performance and the incomparable content from Korea, previously a little known culture there. From the perspective of soft power, the label of Korea in the Far East is no longer a weakness but a strength that conveys ideas of fresh content and originality to people around the world.
When the Beatles hit America, its fast-growing and wild popularity was referred to as “the British Invasion.” The Korean Wave is now turning into the Korean Invasion. The proud surge of Korean pop culture has a clear answer for the skeptical older generation who doubts its competitive edge.
There is no exaggeration to the fever at all. Korean music has pursued excellence, and entertainers have been diligently working to make better music. Their efforts have been hidden for a long time but they are now becoming apparent.
Finally, K-pop has emerged on the international stage as a new trend in pop culture.
*The writer is a pop music critic.
By Lim Jin-mo