The Korean Wave does not really exist
The Korean music scene has changed vastly in the past decade. What was once a playground for idol stars and ballad singers has now become a more unique and open playing field filled to the brim with complex artists taking on an array of genres and riding the so-called ‘Korean Wave’. But what is the Korean wave and does it really exist? The field of debate is wide open with this one.
Some will exclaim that no in fact ‘There is no Korean Wave’, whilst others will go all out to protect it and the artists who are considered to be a huge part of what makes it so appealing to international fans. Admittedly I would put myself into the first group is people, there is no Korean wave. But my reason for stating this are entirely different from those stated in the article linked above and the writers’ follow-up to this discussion as featured his own blog. You see, there is no Korean wave but not for the reasons many have stated.
If you look at the way in which the term has been used, it could very easily be mistaken (and it has been countless times by international press) that many Korean stars have only become popular because of the apparent wave. This seems to insinuate that the careers of the idols, artists and actors that fans so closely follow could well come to an end as soon as the wave has passed (or the next big thing has come along). It is fairly shocking in a way as it completely disregards the careers they have built up in Korea as trivial and less important than one outside of their own country.
But this is not the only issue that comes along with the constant use of the term Korean Wave. It becomes apparent, when reading many articles about K-pop, that some journalists feel that this wave entitles them to proclaim the artist’s careers as only worthwhile whilst they have a western fan base closely following their work. This demeans everything they work for and begs the question of whether the wider population feels that without international response to their careers they should be deemed worthless.
But I do not put the blame for this misunderstanding onto the fans. No, they have simply bought into what is being sold to them by the record companies of the very artists they have come to love and idolise. Companies have highlighted their groups, from the rookies to the older ones, as key elements of what makes this so-called wave so appealing to the fan population and this is where they make their money internationally.
The Korean wave is simply a marketing tool that ensures the government is able to pass a message internationally without doing a lot of work. After all, who could turn down a bunch of pretty girls and boys dancing about and singing fantastically catchy songs? They show the very best of what Korea has to offer… don’t they? Even I have found myself having a hard time differentiating between what is real and what is just nationalism that the government is attempting to sell to me. If we went by what we were being sold with this so-called wave we would think that each and every idol group to debut during the highest point of this influx of international acclaim are all examples of just what it is to be the perfect Korean. Meanwhile the government and record companies continue to sell this idea.
However it’s all overhype. And this overhype could be the very thing that is holding K-pop back internationally. Take Psy, for example. It would be hard to deny the fact that Psy only became a hit because of the hilarity of his MVs and the catchiness of Gangnam Style (helped along by the fact that he portrays a stereotypical viewpoint of how the western world views 50% of Asian men). But if you were to ask many if they saw him as the face of this so-called wave they would deny it.
But why? He holds the very key to the international acclaim it seems many of these K-pop companies are striving for and yet at points they work as hard as possible to distance themselves from the very basis for western fame they continuously fight to break into (Yes…I’m looking at you JYP).
But regardless of everything, including my own opinion on whether the wave exists or not, the big question in all of this is why the discussion of its existence has started up to begin with. Could it have something to do with the fact that it is starting to look like the actual companies are shying away from their self-created wave and attempting to better distinguish between K-pop and Korean culture? Because whilst to most K-pop and Korean culture go hand in hand I do hope at some point that companies stop relying on it to sell their artists. It would appear that’s not bound to happen anytime soon but it feels like 2014 will be a year for big changes in the world of K-pop. Hopefully it will begin with them dropping the use of the term Korean Wave and allowing their artists to just be.
So what’s your view? Does the Korean Wave exist or not? Leave your comments below! (Please remember that the opinion shared is that of the writers and that it is just that, an opinion.)