Hallyu or Korean wave and the amazing culture of entertainment fandoms

One of the results of the rise in global popularity of South Korea's contemporary culture, Hallyu or the Korean wave is a new term that emerged in China in the mid-1990s.

Hallyu or Korean wave and the amazing culture of entertainment fandoms
K-pop entertainment culture. From Wikimedia Commons

Hallyu or Korean wave is a neologism that emerged in China in the mid-1990s as a result of the rise in global popularity of contemporary South Korean culture. Globalization and the media boosted the export of music, television programs, and films from that Asian country, thus reaching all corners of the planet. This wave was not an isolated event; one of its triggers was the financial crisis in Asia in July 1997, which mainly affected the manufacturing sector.

As a strategy for economic recovery, South Korea decided to bet on the entertainment sector and restricted cultural imports from Japan. Its Ministry of Culture also increased its budget, creating 300 cultural industry departments in colleges and universities throughout the country. The strategy, which included another series of elements, had good results and today South Korea is the tenth-largest economy in the world.

K-pop is a style of Korean popular music that is immersed in the aforementioned process, which had as key antecedents, a first big wave in 1992, while in 1995 the big entertainment companies that grew up after the crisis of 1997 emerged. One of the first boy bands, known as H.O.T., became the first modern K-pop band to gain exposure and success abroad. The second big wave of k-pop took place in the middle of the 2000s, the latter having a great impact on young people all over the world.

The k-pop industry produces more than 50 boy and girl-bands a year, so it has been criticized as a "star factory", not something that can be generalized to all entertainment companies, but it is definitely a highly commercial and highly competitive industry.

K-pop is only a small part of the South Korean culture, but it is currently the one that breaks the transnational barriers and reaches all sectors of the population, but it is the young people who have appropriated it the most, and it generates more economic income for the entertainment industry as well as the tourism sector.

K-pop and fandoms

Thanks to globalization, the K-pop entertainment culture has been captured and is in constant cultural exchange with the cultures that adopt it, thus creating subcultures. Latin America is not the exception, in Mexico and specifically, in Morelos, there are people, mainly young people who incorporate Korean popular music into their lives and reflect it in their daily lives.

Capitalism and globalization, with mass media, especially social and entertainment networks, facilitate the consumption of fashions and trends thus incorporating new symbolic forms and collective identities, k-pop culture and its global influences are mixed with the culture that receives it, one culture is not exchanged for another, it is modified generating cooperation and communication between both parties that build identities and new ways of relating to their peers, both virtually and in-person, these relationships are strong in fan clubs.

The fandoms or fan clubs are those that are formed by the supporters of groups, in this case of the hallyu (Korean wave). Forbes in 2018 calculated an estimated 90 million people worldwide within this group, these numbers continue to increase, from 2016 to the present there was an increase of 30 million, and is expected to reach 100 million people by 2020, just in the American continent (both North and South America) have registered 11. 8 million members in 712 fan clubs; Asia and Oceania have 70.59 million in 457 fan clubs; Europe has 6.57 million in 534 fan clubs, while Africa and the Middle East have 230,000 members in 140 clubs, these numbers do not consider unregistered fan clubs.

Again, each group of fans of a specific k-pop group is known as a fandom, and each has its own name. Social networks have allowed these people with similar tastes and the common motivation to grow their idols and the fandom itself to break through national and language barriers, agreeing to make donations on behalf of the group they follow, hold events, mass voting, and so on.

Dance cover is one of the main activities of fandoms, which consists of replicating dances from the groups' music videos, uploading them to platforms such as YouTube or social media, or dancing them at k-pop themed events and competitions, where other dance cover groups from all over the world can give their opinions and share in the hope that k-pop groups will see them.

Statistics show that the South Korean group BTS is the biggest culprit in the rise of this hallyu fan population since 2016, thanks to their stereotype-breaking origin as an idol factory and their extensive involvement and control of their songs, as they write and produce them themselves, with lyrics that include positive messages, awareness and struggle about issues such as depression, success, social pressure, gender roles, among others. Some consider BTS, and not the Korean wave in general, to have become a cultural movement in its own right.

The group's fandom is known as ARMY, an acronym that stands for Adorable Representative Master of Ceremony for Youth, which plays on the word army in English, to denote the idea of defending and caring not only for the group but also for the fandom. With this example, it can be pointed out that, in general, the members of these collectives are characterized by communication and effectiveness on a global level, which promote a greater sense of union among them, through the affinity spaces of social networks, where they engage in a particular sense of belonging through K-pop.

Thus, belonging to the fandom means belonging to a family, having unconditional friends from all corners of the world, an example of this are the WhatsApp groups, where members are of different states and nationalities, here they not only share information of the group they idolize but also their concerns, dreams, memes and other information that they do not share with other people in their daily lives outside the fandom, they find in the advice and words of encouragement or simply to talk about the likes they share.

Unfortunately, both the followers of the Korean wave and other similar groups, such as otaku or cosplayers, Japanese anime, and manga lovers, are also socially marginalized, so it is in these virtual environments where they find themselves belonging to a group or a community, thus reproducing this sense of collaborating with fandoms of other groups, as long as there is reciprocity of support.

The virtual communities of the fandoms, when there is an opportunity, become non-virtual, the followers of the hallyual find their similar ones and organize events where they reinforce their friendship and form stronger bonds of emotional and recreational support, as well as of cultural consumption.

Globalization is a worldwide phenomenon characterized by the expansion of capitalism and cultural consumption is a consequence of this, thus generating inevitable acculturation processes as in the case of the incursion of k-pop music in our local cultural reality.

K-pop currently "works with global resources via local artists, aiming at a global market where the aim is to "sell" not only K-POP but all Korean cultural production. The South Korean government even chooses one K-POP group each year to represent and promote South Korean culture to the rest of the world.

In this and many other ways, the cultural consumption of Asian culture is visualized as a product of globalization, which allows the emergence of new identities, where people adapt to their daily life some customs, behaviors, tastes among other things, and mix them with those to which they already belonged, generating processes of cultural mixing, which happen as part of our daily life.

By Yamina Nassu Vargas Rivera