Hallyu, a term we may not be familiar with by name but certainly are by output, is a Chinese word literally translating as “Korean Wave”. It refers to the transcendence and increasing popularity of South Korean cultural exports, firstly picked up by countries such as China and Japan, and now more recognisably across Western countries too. It is a collective term used to refer to the phenomenal growth of Korean culture and popular culture encompassing everything from music, movies, drama to online games and Korean cuisine just to name a few.
South Korea is one of the only countries in the world, if not the only one, that has a dedicated goal to become the world’s leading exporter of popular culture. It is a way for Korea to develop its “soft power”. Soft power is a popular term coined in 1990 by Harvard political scientist Joseph Nye. It refers to the intangible power a country wields through its image, rather than through hard force. Hard force refers to military power or economic power. An example of soft power in play is how the US enticed the world to buy its Levi’s jeans, Apple iPhones, Marlboro cigarettes, Coca-Cola soft drinks and Hollywood movies, by leveraging on a desirable image. A unique image of cool.
Hallyu has been a blessing for Korea, its businesses, culture and country image. Since early 1999, Hallyu has become one of the biggest cultural phenomena across Asia. The Hallyu effect has been tremendous, contributing to 0.2% of Korea’s GDP in 2004, amounting to approximately USD 1.87 billion. More recently in 2019, Hallyu had an estimated USD 12.3 billion boost on the Korean economy.
Over the last two decades, South Korea has become very rich and very futuristic. In 1965, Korea’s GDP per capita was less than that of Ghana. Today, South Korea is the world’s 12th largest economy.
In fact, Korean culture has impacted music, movies, TV, cosmetics, gaming and fashion industries everywhere since the 1990s. Recently, K-pop is one the most popular foreign music genres in the USA, even though most songs are in Korean. K-movies have been consistently good since the 1990s with Parasite winning an Oscar for Best Picture in 2020. K-games actually made more money (6.4 billion USD) than K-pop (513 million USD) and K-movies (437 million USD) in 2018. It’s expected to exceed 16 billion dollars in 2021.
After getting shot down in China during the THAAD controversy, K-drama is set to take over streaming video services with Netflix acquiring 41 K-dramas in 2020. However, K-beauty also has made words like “mask sheet” and “sun cream” mainstream.
All in all, there is no doubt that Hallyu has catapulted Korea on to the global stage. With so much international attention on Korea and its pop culture scene and its creative economy, it is imperative for the Korean government to leverage on all its entertainment and cultural products to further drive the brand equity of Korea as a country.