Major gains and losses shift Korean culture in 2017
1. BTS rides the wave to the top of the charts
The seven-member K-pop boy group BTS became a breakout sensation in the United States and played a huge part in the resurgence of the Korean Wave in the West in 2017.
Debuting in 2013, the group showed the power of their fans from around the globe after they were given the Top Social Artist award at the Billboard Music Awards in May.
In September, the group’s single “DNA” reached the 85th spot on the Billboard Hot 100, making them the first Korean boy band to reach such heights. They have added themselves to the history books by becoming the first Korean artists have an album debut in the Top 10 of the Billboard 200 album chart.
The group continued their upward trajectory when they appeared at the American Music Awards in November - becoming the second Korean artist after Psy to perform at the annual ceremony.
The remix to “Mic Drop” featuring American producer Steve Aoki also charted 28th on Hot 100 singles list and topped iTunes’ Top Songs Chart in the United States and 46 other countries including Singapore, Thailand, Canada and Brazil a day after the track was released.
In early December, the group released a song promoting the city of Seoul, which caused the website it appeared on to crash due to the sudden rise in the traffic from their fans worldwide.
2. Death of Jonghyun shocks the K-pop world
Kim Jong-hyun, better known by his stage name Jonghyun, of boy band SHINee died in an apparent suicide on Dec. 18. Fellow singers, friends, family and fans worldwide were shocked by the sudden loss of the 27-year-old artist.
The singer was found unconscious in an apartment located in Cheongdam-dong, Gangnam District in southern Seoul, and was moved to the hospital as soon as he was discovered by the police. He was pronounced dead at around 6:30 p.m. that evening.
Although he didn’t leave a note at the scene, his friend Jang Hee-yeon of the indie group Dear Cloud posted a note on her Instagram, saying that Kim wanted her to put up the note if he ever decided to end his life.
“If you ask why I should die, I would say I am exhausted,” read the note. He concluded the letter by saying, “Goodbye .?.?. Please don’t blame me for leaving, although [you] can’t say goodbye happily either.”
During the three-day mourning period, the entertainment industry came to a halt as a number of artists cancelled their promotional activities.
Boy band Exo postponed the release of their latest album, girl group Twice delayed the release of a music video for a holiday single and Taeyeon of Girls’ Generation cancelled a previously scheduled fan meeting event.
3.Wanna One debuts with a massive fan base
Fans have always been eager to see their beloved idols grow, but “Produce 101” on cable channel Mnet gave fans the opportunity to put together their very own idol group.
The second season of the program, which aired between April 7 and June 16, put together 11 finalists from a pool of 101 contestants to form Wanna One, a group that swept the country with their charm. The second season proved much more popular than the first season, which featured 101 girls.
Members Kang Daniel, Park Ji-hoon, Lee Dae-hwi, Kim Jae-hwan, Ong Seong-woo, Park Woo-jin, Lai Guan Lin, Yoon Ji-sung, Hwang Min-hyun, Bae Jin-young and Ha Sung-woon went on to star in multiple TV shows and commercials, and stormed music charts song after song. Their debut album, “1X1=1 [To Be One]” sold 520,000 copies within days of its release, and their single “Energetic” topped music charts for weeks - exceptional feats for newcomers to the scene, who often struggle to make a name for themselves after making their debut.
While some have criticized the unconventional method of forming an idol group, saying that it has disrupted the traditions of the entertainment ecosystem, fans of the group are eager to follow them until the end of next year, when it has been announced that the Wanna One project will end.
4. Chinese travel ban hurts tourism industry
Myeong-dong, one of the most crowded shopping districts in central Seoul, suddenly went quiet in March after Chinese travelers coming to Seoul as part of package tour programs were nowhere to be found.
In response to the installation of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) battery in the spring, the Chinese government had placed a ban on groups traveling to Korea. Although individual travelers were still allowed to come, many restaurants and shopping outlets suffered. Jeju Island, where Chinese travelers can visit without applying for a visa, saw damage as well, with many tour bus drivers and hotels losing a significant number of customers overnight. Some restaurants and shops on Baojian Street, where many Chinese travelers gather to eat and shop in Jeju, let go of their employees or were forced to close down.
The hit was detrimental for the culture industry as a whole. PMC Production, which operates a theater in Seodaemun District, western Seoul, where the show “Nanta” was performed for an audience of mostly Chinese travelers coming in groups, decided to permanently close after keeping the theater empty since April. Some Korean networks could only reach Chinese audiences through the internet and demand for downloads of Korean dramas dramatically increased.
5. Feminist literature finds a passionate audience
In the aftermath of the tragic murder incident on May 17th, 2016, near Gangnam Station, the first wave of feminism in Korea started with discussions about misogyny.
The second wave hit the country hard with the publication of “Kim Ji Young Born 1982“ by Cho Nam-joo which earned sympathy from a wide array of women of all ages, and the book’s content flooded social media, where the gates of feminism flew wide open.
Although published in October 2016, it has sold over 500,000 copies in the past 14 months. More notably, the book was named the “Book of the Year” by major online bookstore Yes24, based on votes from readers.
According to Kyobo Bookstore, From Jan. 1 to Nov. 15 the sales of books related to feminism have increased 105.4 percent compared to the same period last year.
With the popularity of the book, other previously released books about feminism are in the spotlight, such as “Bad Feminist” by Roxane Gay (2014), “Men Explain Things to Me” by Rebecca Solnit (2014), “Lab Girl” (2016) by Hope Jahren and many more. New books also created buzz throughout feminist communities. “Dear Hyunnam” (2017) is a collection of short stories about refusing to live as another “Kim Ji-young,” confessing the discomfort felt and even violence experienced by the authors, including Cho.
6. Women speak out against film industry
While movie mogul Harvey Weinstein caused ire throughout Hollywood after revelations of his sexual misconduct against women in the film industry over the past few decades, Korean auteur Kim Ki-duk faced similar outrage in the Korean film industry this year for the violence he imposed against an actress while shooting the 2013 film “Moebius.”
The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office indicted the leading art-house film director on a summary offense with a penalty of 5 million won ($4656) earlier this month for hitting and insulting the actress. Other than Kim, director Lee Soo-sung and actor Jo Duk-je were also engulfed in sexual harassment controversies throughout the year. Lee was accused of exposing Kwak Hyun-hwa’s breasts in “House with a Good View” (2012) without her consent, while Jo was accused of ripping and placing his hand down in an actress’s pants while they were filming a movie.
Similar outrage was raised after some films released this year included scenes that many theatergoers deemed unnecessary. Crime drama “V.I.P.” was criticized for using female characters as devices of sexual violence to show the cruelty of male characters. “Midnight Runners,” “Real” and “The King” were also met with backlash by audiences for their depiction of women.
7. Koreans collect major prizes in classical music
Korean composer Unsuk Chin won the prestigious Wihuri Sibelius International Prize in October, becoming the first Asian composer to be awarded the prize, probably the biggest achievement in Korea’s classical music community this year. Her work “Choros Chordon” made its world premiere this year, and toured around Asia with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, as the piece was commissioned by maestro Simon Rattle. Critics around the world praised Chin’s talent this year, as she successfully continues to break glass ceilings in the classical world.
Although they did not cause the frenzy that pianist Cho Seong-jin saw after winning the prestigious Chopin International Piano Competition in 2015, Korean classical music artists continued to shine at major global music competitions this year. Among them is Korean composer and conductor Choi Jae-hyuck, who was the winner of the Composition Prize at the Geneva International Music Competition.
Pianist Sohn Jeong-beum also won first prize for piano at this year’s ARD Music Competition, becoming the first Korean pianist to win the award. Oboist Ham Kyeong won the second prize at the same competition, in which there was no first prize winner. In October, Hong Min-soo came home as the second prize winner of the 11th Liszt International Competition.
8. Spending habits become entertainment
Over the past few years, television shows have been showing how people enjoy their lives to the fullest, suggesting it’s great to spend a fortune on things that make you happy. The so-called YOLO lifestyle, which stands for “you only live once,” became a trend that many young people adopted as a way to better enjoy life, and for once, not think about saving up for the future.
Companies quickly commodified the concept and used it to encourage consumption. Popular JTBC televison program “Hyori’s Home Stay,” which showed a celebrity couple enjoying the comforts of life on the beautiful Jeju Island in June, increased people’s desires to have fun and do what they want in life.
However, the trend saw a backlash later this year as Koreans began to boast how they were tightening their belts thanks to comedian Kim Saeng-min’s guide to frugal living on his show, “Kim Saeng-min’s Receipt.” On the show, which started as a podcast and now airs on KBS, Kim examines the monthly account books of his listeners and scolds them for extravagant consumption. He says it’s “stupid” to buy a bottle of water at a convenience store when you can carry your own bottle from home, for example, and that it’s “great” to live with your parents as long as it allows you to save up for the future.
9. Seoul becomes a global hub for architecture
This year was a special one for the field of architecture, especially due to multiple architectural events taking place throughout Seoul in September. The triennial International Union of Architects (UIA) congress was held at Coex in southern Seoul from Sept. 7 to 10 and many other architecture festivals were planned to coincide with the global event.
The Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism was held from Sept. 2 to Nov. 5, for the first time, organized by the Seoul Design Foundation and the Seoul Metropolitan Government, showing Korea’s potential as an architectural hub. The biennale celebrated the capital’s efforts to revive the city by remodeling facilities that had been completely abandoned or were falling behind, such as the Seun Arcade, the Mapo Oil Reserve and the Yeouido Underground Bunker.
Other architecture events included the Seoul Architecture Festival from Sept. 1 to 24; the Architecture & Design Festival, held from July 28 to Oct. 29; the “Sharable City” exhibition held at Art Center Nabi from Sept. 2 to Nov. 5; the “Evolving City” exhibition at the Seoul Museum of Art from Sept. 3 to Nov. 12; MMCA’s “Young Architects Program 2017,” held from July 11 to Oct. 9; and the Seoul Upcycling Plaza opened in Seongdong District, eastern Seoul, on Sept. 5.
10.Kim Whanki continues success at the auction
The boom of Kim Whanki (1913-1974), the pioneer of Korean abstract art, in the art market continued this year.
Kim’s 1973 painting, “Tranquility 5-IV-73 #310,” fetched 6.55 billion won ($5.75 million), the highest-ever bid for a Korean painting, at K Auction’s sale in southern Seoul on April 12.
With the record-breaking bid, the six most expensive Korean paintings ever sold at auction are all abstract paintings by Kim. They each are part of the so-called dot paintings he made in New York in the 1970s. Kim’s “Morning Star” (1964) sold for 28 million Hong Kong dollars ($3.6 million) at Seoul Auction’s Hong Kong sale in November.
However, a large-scale retrospective of Kim’s work, which had been scheduled to be held from April to August at Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, was cancelled, as the nation’s biggest private museum called off all its special exhibitions for the year. The museum’s move came after Lee Jae-yong, vice chairman of the Samsung Electronics, was arrested in February on charges of bribery and other offenses in the scandal that led to former President Park Geun-hye’s impeachment. Hong Ra-hee. mother of Lee and wife of Lee Kun-hee, the bedridden chairman of Samsung Group, resigned as director of the Leeum for “personal reasons” in May.
BY THE CULTURE DESK [email@example.com]