What is Hallyu?

Hallyu refers to the Korean Wave, a sudden but continuous boom of Korean pop music (or K-pop) and drama, which started roughly from 1996 in Taiwan and Hong Kong. Although it was initially predicted to be short lived, Hallyu has continued until the 2020s, and the year 2016 demarcated the 20th anniversary of Hallyu.

Although K-pop initially led the Hallyu boom in the Chinese speaking countries, Hallyu had the biggest success in Japan, where such Korean dramas as “Winter Sonata (Fuyu no Sonata)” and “Daejanggeum (Changumu no Tsikai)” appealed to a massive number of Japanese female viewers. Japan until today remains the single most important Hallyu country in the world in terms of total Hallyu consumption. The Hallyu boom in pop music and TV drama genres has soon spread into Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, Europe, North America, and even Africa in the 2000s and the 2010s. The 2020s are super successful for Hallyu, as the film, Parasite, won four Oscars, the boy band BTS kept the first place on Billboard Hot 100 for several weeks. Furthermore, K-drama “Crash-landing on You” became #1 on Netflix for several months.

Hallyu can be defined as a female universal pop culture genre, meaning that the pop culture content promote female universalism vis-à-vis Western or Asian male universalism. Female fans dominate the fandom all over the world, as they pursue happiness through empowerment and healing from gendered, racial, and postcolonial suppressions of all sorts. Although producers of K-pop and K-drama are male dominated, drama writers, dance choreographers, voice teachers are predominantly women.

Furthermore, Hallyu is epitomized by its glocal strategy, which relies on the method of “kaizen” (improvement) of imported contents from the West and Japan for exports back to the West and Japan though Korean production systems that mastered the principle of female universalism.

The future of Hallyu is not always bright, as many countries, including Japan, China, and some Muslim countries, are actively censoring and even banning the Korean pop culture. Furthermore, many critics argue that Hallyu is based on harsh exploitation of young artists who are bounded by long term “slave” contracts. They also criticize it for lack of creativity. However, Hallyu’s longevity is proven to be tenacious, as different genres of Hallyu are being invented one after another, creating different boom cycles.