The Third Korean Wave (Hallyu 3.0) & its Cultural Significance in the U.S by Paola Fernandez

Photos from left to right: TWICE: PopSugar Magazine BLACKPINK: Youtube Music BLACKPINK WebpageBTS: Getty Images

Designed by: Paola FernandezInspiration from: Najeebah Al-Ghadban:WIRED Magazine May I Borrow Your Covid Immunity?

South Korean pop music or “K-POP” has revolutionized the 21st century world with its effortless choreography and smoother than butter vocal performances. Fans feel a profound connection to KPOP performers or “idols”. KPOP idols act as cultural and moral symbols for both South Korean and International audiences. 

Aesthetics, musical composition and product placements entice audiences. Idols cannot show indecency like swearing, smoking and tattoos. Women groups like F(X), Girls Generation, and BLACKPINK are thin and wear mini-skirts, booty shorts and crop tops in their music videos and live performances. Their general aesthetic is conservative yet sensual. Men groups like BTS, Monsta X and NCT have clean cut looks with dress pants, blazers, designer coats and sweatpants. It’s a mixture of streetwear and a formal aesthetic. It exudes swagger. Aesthetics show a window to a culture different from one’s own. Visuals speak louder than words. 

South Korea’s skincare industry also known as “K-beauty” has exploded in the United States. Beauty is accessible in all cultures around the world and all cultures have their own standard of beauty. Promoting beauty products has proven to be more profitable than promoting KPOP toys and lunchboxes because those products are not versatile in usage. In 2018, K-beauty exports increased up to 31 percent and the United States became the third global nation to consume K-beauty products. American consumption habits value at almost 6 billion dollars. KPOP groups like TWICE and Monsta X have collaborated with companies to promote their own facial foams and sheet masks. Having commercial success in the beauty industry has helped promote what is valuable in South Korean culture and amongst KPOP idols. 

Along with product placements, idols go through a series of KPOP bootcamps”. Their schedules are jam packed with vocal coaching and choreography lessons. Once a group debuts, most of their songs are written by their company’s lyricists and producers. Some idols in the group can write their own songs but they need approval from their management.. These standards mold the blueprint on how audiences view South Korean culture through the lens of music. 

KPOP’s lyrical style revolves around romanticism. Romanticism can be dated back to the 19th century in Europe and the United States. It became a philosophical movement that encompassed literature, music and drama amongst social sciences. Throughout centuries, romanticism in music has morphed into different sounds from classical to Celin Dion’s “It’s all Coming Back to Me Now”. One thing remains the same: emotion. KPOP lyrics often become emotional and self-reflective. BTS’s discography has tackled introspective topics like spiritual concepts of “shadow work” and psychological concepts of the “inner-child” and “ego” by psychologist Carl Jung. TWICE’s song titled “Feel Special” talks about making someone feel special through admiration. Lyrics like “You make me feel special/No matter how the world brings me down/Even when hurtful words stab me” speak on vulnerability. KPOP audiences who are mostly minors and young adults form an interpersonal connection with their idols through their lyricism, allowing for the audience to feel a level of relatability with their idol. 

In Hollywood, audiences are sadistic. Audiences like to pick apart musicians and see their downfall on social media. Modern artists like Justin Bieber, Lizzo and Ariana Grande have experienced public downfalls and scrutiny in their careers. In 2014, a petition was made to deport Justin Bieber back to Canada. The White House later dismissed the petition. Ariana Grande’s notorious donut licking incident got blasted all over social media in 2015, and in 2020 Lizzo experienced backlash for posting her juice cleanse journey on social media. 

I propose that the sadism stems from how individualistic American culture is. In an individualistic society, everyone is entitled to their own behaviors. In this scenario, both the audience and the musician are entitled to their own actions. Audiences fueling a musician’s downfall can feel entitled to their criticism. Being hyper fixed on fueling the fire comes at a cost. Apathy and lack of mindfulness take hold. Each mainstream American musician does not represent the United States. Rather, they represent themselves. They are an individual brand and they do not need to be loyal to their audience. On the contrary, South Korea is a collectivist society. Loyalty is highly valued. In the KPOP sphere, loyalty is expressed through a connection to the idol, the community of fans, and one’s own country. Every year, South Korea’s government group “Korean Culture and Information Service”  employs one KPOP group to be the face of cultural entertainment. The goal is to represent South Korean entertainment outside of its home country. 

KPOP is more than a catchy song. It represents a country. A culture. It is breaking oversea barriers in being an entertainment powerhouse. Hollywood is not the only player in entertainment anymore.

About the Author:

 Paola is a collector of all trades. She loves philosophy, music, design, writing, sociology. Living in Miami, she feels at home next to a palm tree and a couple of mojitos. As a Digital Communications/Sociology undergraduate, she incorporates her writing and design with sociological teachings. She is a big believer in duality and hopes to be a powerhouse in what she does. Instagram: @paology_

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