MenStyleFashion was invited by Korea Tourism Organisation (KTO London) to fly to Pyeongchang, South Korea. The purpose of this journey was to promote the ‘Pyeongchang 2018 Winter peyongchang 2018 logoOlympic Games’ and to get an insight into South Korean culture. This pre-visit to the Gangwondo Province which includes Pyeongchang, Gangneung and Jeongseon was a trip I was looking forward to and this was my first visit to South Korea.


How Korea Became Cool

With his slicked-back hair, powder blue suit and goofy horse dance, South Korean rapper Psy, turned Gangnam Style into one of the musical hits of the decade. With well over 800 million views on YouTube, Gangnam Style has become a cultural sensation, but K-Pop has been around longer than Psy and its influence has lent a hand in elevating South Korea in the consciousness of Asia and the world, with effects that go well beyond the entertainment industry. Culture is helping to bolster the country’s “soft power” and build its influence. It’s a success story that may offer important clues for China as it seeks to use culture to bolster its own soft power and a reminder of the halcyon days when Hong Kong’s Canto-pop stars seemed destined for global fame.

Psy has topped the charts in Britain and been welcomed in New York by his fellow countryman, UN chief Ban Ki-moon, who conceded with a grin that he was no longer the world’s most famous Korean. Korean films are becoming more and more popular among the mainstream – Park Chan-wook’s hit Oldboy is getting a US remake next few years – while television shows are winning fans in unlikely corners of the world. ” Huh Jun, a Korean epic historical drama is one of the most-watched shows in Iraq,” says Peter Kim Eyungpyo of the marketing department of the Seoul Metropolitan Government. Korean dramas, he says, are proving popular in the Middle East.

But arguably the biggest influence of the Korean Wave, or Hallyu as it is called in Korean, has been in Asia. In Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh, a television station that only broadcasts the latest in Korean music is one of the most popular entertainment channels. Korean celebrities such as Rain sell cosmetic products while companies such as Samsung have been on the ground for years selling their wares to the Cambodians, including phones marketed using K-pop stars.

South Korea -K Pop Fashion

South Korea -K Pop Fashion

South Korea -K Pop Fashion

Korean Culture Fashion

Korean dramas beam into the homes of Cambodians, becoming a hot topic of conversation. “They tend to discuss the relations among family members, culture, lifestyle, Korea’s development and so on,” said Sokharo Hang a 20 something-year-old media student in Phnom Penh. “Korea is a developed country in the world. There are so many places to visit, many things to learn, many wonders to remember in Korea. Korea is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. That’s why we want to visit Korea.”

It’s this image of opportunity and development that Hallyu has presented to Cambodians that has translated into greater collaboration between the countries. In the past five years, thousands of Cambodians have been going to Korea as labourers and the number is expected to continue to rise. The number of Cambodians joining the Korean workforce this year is expected to increase by 40 per cent, filling jobs Koreans will not take in small-to-medium-sized enterprises. The Cambodian government expects these workers to remit up to US$80 million back to the country this year. There are also other areas where Koreans and Cambodians come together. More Cambodian women are marrying Korean men, with just a handful of marriages in the early 00´s, going up to almost 1,000 each year now, according to the Korean embassy in Phnom Penh.

South Korea -K Pop Fashion

In Japan, Korean dramas and groups such as Girls Generation and Kara have been a sensation. Their popularity, however, has turned into a major headache for the government as it tussles with Seoul over the sovereignty of the Dokdo islets, known to the Japanese as Takeshima. Officials from the Liberal Democratic Party even demanded a ban on Korean content and K-pop after South Korean president Lee Myung-bak set foot on Dokdo, and the airing of two dramas was postponed after actor Song Il-guk participated in a swimming protest to defend his country’s rights to the islets.

Despite growing political pressure, broadcasters admitted it was difficult for them to ban Korean content which is now very much a part of everyday life. There is an even more straightforward way to quantify the soft power benefits of Korean culture – it’s bringing in cold, hard cash. South Korea’s music industry earned revenue of just US$120.5 million back in 2007, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, a decrease from a year earlier as a previous Korean cultural wave declined from its 2005 peak. But as K-pop’s influence spread, profits increased. Revenue reached US$199.5 million last year, a 65.6 per cent increase on 2007.

The country has largely outperformed China, including Hong Kong’s Canto-pop industry, and Japan, which dominated the Asian music industry in the 1980s and 1990s respectively. The mainland only earned half of South Korea’s music revenue last year. Japan, the world’s second biggest music market after the United States, also saw sales shrink by one-fifth. The number of exported music titles – songs and albums – dropped from 9,095 in 2009 to 7,640 in 2010 amid a global decline of physical album sales, according to the country’s trade association.

South Korea -K Pop Fashion

South Korea -K Pop Fashion South Korea -K Pop Fashion South Korea -K Pop Fashion

Tourism In Korea

Tourism in Korea has also had a major boost. “We had 10 million visitors from overseas in the past years. They bring an economic contribution to society,” says Peter Kim. Tourism to the country has been growing by double digits over the past five years, around 75 per cent of it driven by Asian visitors, says Kim.

While Kim says it’s hard to draw a direct casual link between the spread of Hallyu and the increasing number of tourists, since 2008 the Seoul government has been branding the city as the “Hub of Hallyu,” much like Memphis sells itself as the home of Elvis Presley, and plans to spend US$1 million to promote this image to overseas visitors. The Korean government as a whole has been actively providing funding and support to its creative industries, listing culture as a pillar industry since as far back as 1998. In 2005 it set a clear aim of making the country one of the world’s top five cultural exporters. It’s the kind of investment music veterans in Japan can only envy, especially with the Olympic preparations taking place in earnest.

South Korea -K Pop Fashion