Korea, cultural powerhouse

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Korea, cultural powerhouse

Yang Sung-hee
The author is a columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Las Vegas was turned into a theme park for K-pop phenomenon BTS over the weekend. Sin City turned purple to celebrate BTS. BTS-themed rooms were decorated in 11 hotels, and the Bellagio devoted its signature fountain show to BTS to indulge the fans arriving to see the concert. The “city project” included concerts, exhibitions, shopping venues, themed accommodation, dance parties and dining.

Media raved that no celebrities have ever received such city-scale treatment. ARMY fans camped out or lined up for hours to buy BTS goodies and beamed that they had never been happier with money well spent.

BTS lost out in the Grammy Awards last week, but the septet stole the show with their impeccable performance. Some scorned the West-centered Grammys, but many non-white artists took awards this year. BTS last year mostly sold singles and light pop. However, as RM of the team has said, BTS hardly is groaning about it “cause I’m a grown-up.” Some said, “Its the Grammy’s loss not BTS’” to suggest how far K-pop and culture has come.

The latest winner on the K-content front is “Pachinko,” a TV adaptation of the international bestseller by Korean-American author Min Jin Lee. Streaming on Apple TV+, the drama chronicles a family of Korean ancestry surviving in Japan across four generations from 1910 to late 1980s.

A Korean-American dream is behind it, with showrunner and writer Soo Hugh, directors Kogonada and Justin Chon and actors Youn Yuh-jung, Lee Min-ho, Chung Eun-chae, Kim Min-ha and Steve Sanghyun Noh. 

Although the author was approached by multiple filmmakers, she chose Apple TV for promising Asian casting. Apple TV challenging Netflix with the epic Korea-Japan series has enthralled global audiences. Reviews raved about the beautiful Korean saga portraying an entirely different aspect of Korea.
Korea's iconic boy band BTS performs in its "Permission to Dance On Stage" concerts on April 9. [Hive Media Corp.] 
Many far away from the East Asia learned of the tragic past between Korea and Japan. When some Japanese called it a fictional fabrication, foreign viewers responded that Japan must learn history better and apologize to Korea. Japan’s violence and cruelties were implied in a subtle tone instead of an explicit description. The details on Korean food and other culture also were wonderfully precise. It is a pity that Korea’s tragic history had to be introduced by an American producer to global audiences.

As in the case of Minari — which earned actress Yoon an Oscar for her performance as a grandmother to an immigrant couple in America — Pachinko represents another diaspora story in different settings. K-content has expanded on the aesthetic adaptation of the diaspora. Pachinko has a universal theme of the hardship that immigrants, outsiders and minorities globally can empathize with. The drama also features a strong female character. The making was possible because it was led by overseas Koreans sensitive to their ethnic identity. At home, the modern history theme is less visited as it could stoke ideological disputes.

BTS, Pachinko and Lee Su-ji, who won the Hans Christian Andersen Prize for children’s literature with picture book “Summer is Coming,” are just a handful of latest winners in terms of content and creations from South Korea. Seven Korean titles made the top 10 list on Netflix in Japan on Monday. It is hard not to be proud of being a Korean today. Korea could soon find itself as a cultural powerhouse.

Politicians must keep abreast with the times. K-pop stars should no longer be mobilized for political events. Taking BTS along on a state visit by the president or having them perform at the presidential inauguration ceremonies must stop. President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol’s transition team only irked fans by considering inviting BTS to his inauguration ceremony next month. Thinking that K-pop stars should attend state events is outdated.

A government aspiring to become a host of a cultural powerhouse must respect the individuality and opinions of artists and stop using them for political show.
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