The Rising Influence of Asian Popular Culture: The K-pop Wave

It is interesting how the perceived cultural flow is usually from the West to the East. In recent years, the resurgence of the K-pop wave, or also known as Hallyu, however defeats this structuralism, in which has further built a new transnational cultural flow in the global market. As depicted by Thussu (2000), the increasing contraflow in the international media annihilates the one-way flow of information. (Shim, 2006) One evident example can be seen is PSY, who has made a remarkable breakthrough into Hollywood with “Oppa Gangnam Style”, in which further creates uproar of the K-pop culture.

psy  Image: Carbonated TV

Shim (2006) mentioned that “globalization encourages local people to rediscover the ‘local’ that they have neglected or forgotten in their drive towards Western-imposed modernization during the past decades”. For the case of South Korea, it was more apparent in the 1990’s when the Korea music industry tried to reform the local music market with global trends. (Shim, 2006) Therefore, hybridization took place and resulted most of the current K-pop tunes that are more musically dynamic. As stated by Shim (2006), “hybridity reveals itself as new practices of cultural and performative expression” in today’s context. K-pop music does not sound traditional at all, albeit it still contains Korean features that can be identified distinctively. The usage of native language yet with an embedment of modern twist assembles the speciality in the Korean songs, thus receiving well response from many K-pop fans. Although there may be language barrier, the versatility and the culture crafted behind the song is what that appeals to the masses.

Image: Kpopped

On the other hand, one of the factors the K-pop scene has become increasingly prominent is thanks to the rise of the second generation K-pop idols namely Girl’s Generation, TVXQ, Big Bang, 2ne1, Wonder Girls, etc, who have substantially contributed Hallyu into a worldwide phenomenon. Aside from their songs that are usually upbeat and catchy, this could be because they offer a refreshing image, which their styling is quite contradictory to the mainstream American pop culture. The boy bands in Korea especially tend to carry out the “pretty boy” image and wear makeup, whereas the Americans emphasize more on masculinity.

  Image: Blog Skin

“The industrialization of the star-making process in K-pop” is also taken account for increasing the popular culture. (Shim, 2006) It is known that the K-pop industry owns a strategic and organized framework where the record labels are not just labels, but a brand on its own, which includes SM, JYP and YG. As compared to America pop, these labels place much emphasis in initiating specific properties into their idols to capture the market. Depending on the respective labels’ management, the usual practice in the K-pop industry is that these idols are required to go through a certain period of training before debuting.

  Image: Koreaboo

Just like any other music industry, South Korea has always owned its entertainment music scene even decades ago. It is only today in this digitalized world, thanks to the advanced technology; Hallyu has generated a universal audience. Typically, most assumed the West to be more trendy and hip, but K-pop manages to transform this shift in the global binarism.


Shim, D (2006) ‘Hybridity and the Rise of Korean Popular Culture in Asia’ Media, Culture & Society Vol 28:1, pp. 25-44.