Why Korean pop culture is making waves


I returned! It is Jenna ryu, former Life and Travel intern, now promoted to Life and Wellness fellow.

You may remember my last takeover of “This is America”, where I broached the myth of the Asian “model minority” and shared my experience with these micro-aggressions. (If not, see here.)

But today I’m here to talk about “Squid Game”, the South Korean Netflix series that everyone can’t help but talk about.

I won’t lie: I was shocked to witness the worldwide obsession with this show. After a year of racial math during the pandemic, I pessimistically assumed that people wouldn’t fancy a “foreign” series with minimal English dialogue (unless you were watching with a dub – in in this case, we didn’t watch the same show. Sorry!).

This is not the first time that Korean pop culture has made a breakthrough in this country. Psy’s “Gangnam Style” and Korean boy group BTS introduced the allure of K-pop to the world. Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite” conquered Hollywood as the first foreign language film to win the Best Picture award at the Oscars. Even Korean cosmetics dominate the shelves of beauty stores like Sephora and Ulta.

There’s K-pop, K-movies, K-dramas, K-fashion, K-beauty, and of course, KBBQ!But what led to this wave?

“Squid game”:Why are we obsessed with the brutal South Korean horror series?

“It always seems surreal”:BTS makes Grammy history whether or not they win on Sunday

But first: the race and justice news we watch

Important Stories from Last Week, from USA TODAY and other sources of information.

The Story of Korea’s Rise in America

Seeing non-Asians take the time to learn my language to sing along with BTS or make our dalgona candy out of “Squid Game” was not something I expected ten years ago.

In just a few short years, Korean culture has shifted from niche to mainstream in the United States. How? ‘Or’ What?

Surprisingly or not, Korean culture attracts Americans in part because it was heavily influenced by American culture itself (Here’s a funny historical fact: The United States had a strong military presence in South Korea). Korean red ginseng in fashionable American skin care products of Korean celebrities influenced by Western designers, what is popular has been intertwined for decades.

The researchers also attribute the cross-cultural recovery to Korea’s geopolitical situation.

“Korea has always played the role of cultural mediator between China and Japan for centuries, and after the Korean War, between East and West – with a strong influence from Korean American culture,” said Inkyu Kang, Associate Professor of Journalism. at Penn State Behrend.

Skincare brand Glow Recipe made the mask that introduced America to K-Beauty.

The United States is also a fascinating example of how a country can take advantage of the diversity of racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds. After all, one in seven U.S. residents is an immigrant, according to a study by the American Immigration Council.

“Today, it would be difficult not to have at least a passing knowledge of someone of Korean descent or Korean things,” says John Lie, professor of sociology at the University of California at Berkeley.

“The growing popularity of South Korean popular culture has normalized Korean culture for many non-Korean Americans, especially over the past decade.”

Korean movies and shows are more than entertainment. These are social critiques

There is no doubt that “Parasite” and “Squid Game” were “good”. They included stellar and alluring storylines. But what made it resonate so loudly with viewers goes beyond these technical achievements.

It’s the deeper, darker social commentary that makes Korean pop culture stand out, Kang says.

Many of these movies and TV shows aren’t afraid to tackle complex social issues that transcend geographic barriers: they tackle the nightmarish reality of social inequality, the grim truths of youth unemployment, and even the taboo subject of the unemployment rate. high suicide in Korea.

Take, for example, BTS’s “Whalien 52,” which deals with depression (in a country that promotes mental health stigma), or “Parasite,” which bluntly describes the gap between the rich and the poor.

Yeon-kyo (Jo Yeo-jeong) is the bored and gullible housewife who hires the Kim's, unaware of their true motives or identities.

Opinion:Why Parasite’s Best Picture win was the diversity victory the Oscars so desperately needed

For years, Korean entertainment has done what others have only scratched the surface. “Squid Game”, “Parasite” and the even lesser known “Train to Busan” (2016) and “Veteran” (2015) don’t hesitate to criticize the dark sides of society to create a disturbing story that you can’t stop thinking.

This is not a particularly new phenomenon in Korean culture. According to Kang, this self-expression dates back to the 1970s and 1980s, when Koreans used music and art to protest during democratic movements in South Korea.

“Social commentary has become part of the DNA of Korean popular culture as Koreans fought tyranny decades ago,” says Kang. “Many songs have been written to convey social messages directly or indirectly and have been sung extensively as protest songs.”

So when Korea finally achieved democracy in 1987, these young Koreans, newly introduced to activism and social consciousness, used this “newfound freedom in the cultural sector, including film, television and music. », Which we can clearly see today.

‘Parasite’ making history:Why Parasite’s Best Picture win was the diversity victory the Oscars so desperately needed

Korean culture is finally considered cool. So why are we always under attack?

Growing up in a predominantly white and homogeneous neighborhood, I spent my childhood being bullied for my culture: my food smelled “weird.” My tongue sounded “funny”. My eyes looked “different”.

Living in this environment that punished me for my differences ultimately impacted my self-esteem and sense of identity, which many Asian Americans can relate to. I found myself doing whatever I could to blend in. I dyed my hair lighter, traded my kimchi fried rice for bland pasta, and finally let go of my heritage just for a glimmer of acceptance.

On the one hand, this Korean cultural wave is gratifying: my traditions are finally adopted. But something about this new appreciation seems strange. Disabled. Almost superficial.

This is because I can’t help but remember that Korean Americans and other members of the Asian American community are brutally attacked and murdered for the very fact of existing. (There were over 9,000 reports of anti-Asian hate incidents from March 19, 2020 to June 30, 2021, Stop AAPI Hate reported.)

A hate crime law aims to prevent attacks on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, who have surged amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

I am “afraid to leave my home”:Asian women live in fear amid rising hate crimes

Following:Cartoon depicting BTS with bruised faces criticized amid rising anti-Asian violence, brand apologizes

“An appreciation of Korean culture can help people open up more to other cultures, but I don’t think it guarantees the reduction or elimination of anti-Asian hatred and discrimination,” Kang said.

After years of intimidation and insecurity, I am grateful that my culture is finally making waves in this country. But that being said, you can’t stand BTS, you can’t rave about “Squid Game”, without also defending its inhabitants.

I hope readers will remember that it is important to embrace all people, languages, foods, and cultures, even if they are different. After all, “as humans we have many more similarities than differences. All human beings are 99.9 percent genetically identical,” Kang recalls.

This is America is a weekly take on current events by a rotating panel of USA TODAY Network reporters with diverse backgrounds and perspectives. If you see this newsletter online or if someone has forwarded it to you, you can sign up here. If you have any comments for us, we would love you to drop them here.



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