Unstoppable Hallyu: The Korean Wave

The majority of people in India have been attracted to the Korean culture for years now. Yet, their obsession with it keeps growing. What is it about the Korean culture that drives Indian masses crazy?

Words Amisha Shirgave

The exponential growth of South Korean culture including music, movies, drama, beauty, and food all over the world is known as the Korean wave or Hallyu (Chinese word for Korean wave). The Korean Wave started in the late 1990s when the South Korean government lifted various restrictions on its citizens and caught the attention of the world at the beginning of the 21st century spreading initially to Japan, China, and then various parts of the world. South Korea is one of the few countries which is a leading exporter of its culture which it can use as a “soft power”. Harvard political scientist Joseph Nye coined the term which refers to the intangible power a country wields through its image, rather than through hard force. The United States of America has been using it to facilitate its trade and commerce activity all over the world.

In India, the Korean Wave made inroads in the North-East region. Among the factors contributing to the popularity was the ban of Hindi movies and TV channels by the Revolutionary People's Front in 2000. As an alternative form of entertainment people started watching pirated Korean movies which most probably came across the border from China. The Korean Wave in India is mainly propelled by 3 factors K-pop, K-drama, and K-beauty. There are other smaller and relatively minor elements such as Korean cuisine, automobiles, and electronics that have been distinguished for a long time.

In 2012 when ‘Gangnam Style’ hit took the world by storm India wasn't an exception, since then several music bands like BTS and BLACKPINK had created millions of loyal fans around the country. The all-girl band BLACKPINK has broken five Guinness World Records including those for the most-viewed YouTube video in the first 24 hours of release (with 86.3 million views) and the most viewers for a video premiere on YouTube (reaching 1.66 million viewers for the live premiere). BTS is consistently garnering record-breaking admiration, especially from Bollywood celebrities like Diljit Dosanjh, Ayushmann Khurrana, Tiger Shroff, Kajol, A.R. Rahman, Bhuvan Bam, and Disha Patani who have publicly acknowledged their liking for the band. 

When the pandemic began, people looked for good content on streaming platforms to invest their time into. It didn’t come by surprise that the majority was suggested to watch Korean dramas and many even enjoyed watching it. ‘Crash Landing on You’ beat several records and made it to Netflix’s top 10 in India. The K-dramas with their mass appealing themes, world-class production, exotic, and serene locations along with well written scripts, and a complete depiction of all facets of modern life are involved.

A few years ago, it took someone who knew the language to watch the whole drama and then translate it to subtitles but now the OTT platforms, due to an increased demand have brought the Hindi and English dubbed versions directly to the audience. Due to their growing popularity and increase in demand the producers now don't have to depend upon domestic funding from within South Korea. Now, foreign funding is also easily available and accessible to them apart from numerous subsidies from the government to facilitate cultural export. The repetitive storyline of the mainstream Indian drama with family problems with endless twists and turns had annoyed the young Indian viewers. They were looking for a change and experimenting with different content online with the assistance of OTT platforms and it has led viewers to a culturally diverse content. 

Now, turning to Korean beauty products, they are a little more expensive than the Indian or Chinese products which are more popular in the Indian market. The price-sensitive Indian customer however is slowly and gradually accepting them. Though K-beauty has been selling in India for a long time, the recent rise in K-pop and K-dramas by people has led to a rise in demand for K-beauty products. K-Beauty products focus mainly on sheet masks, serums, chia seed masks, and sleeping masks, for clear glass skin which is considered desirable in South Korea. In the competitive space of beauty products, K-beauty products have upped their standards through comprehensive research and development taken up to offer higher efficacy.

 I’m sure many must be wondering how I can mention the Korean wave without describing the craze Indian masses have for the very popular K-pop band- BTS! It is the most popular boy band from Korea and have a huge fan following across the globe. BTS fans like to be known as ‘ARMY’. The BTS Army is extremely loyal and are also known for being aggressive when it comes to defending the band amongst any rumor of debate. BTS is the first K-pop band to make it to the Grammy Awards Nominations in November 2020. There are a lot of achievements I keep on mentioning, but what's impressive is that BTS has managed to gain enormous popularity in India despite Bollywood and Western pop being the country's key musical outlets. Their distinctive music, spectacular music videos, and striking sense of style have snatched up a sizable following across the world. Both as a group and as individuals, BTS is actively defying gender roles and tearing down toxic masculinity barriers. They've effectively normalized men wearing makeup, which is a refreshing change of pace for youths who are often conditioned into gender stereotypes at a young age.

The Hallyu in India seems to be unstoppable and it is also rapidly growing towards the Korean food and language. Videos of Korean foods, their varieties in them, and their flavors seem to have attracted the Indian audience. Among the popular food items are Korean desserts. There are many varieties in the desserts they make and they are all extremely tempting. When viewers are super involved in K-dramas, they want to adapt the lifestyle of their favorite character. Hence, they want to eat the food the character eats and also dress like them. The use of repeated elements in dramas such as the tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes) ramyun (Korean spicy noodles), mandu (dumplings) and soju (alcohol) have led to an increase in Korean food demand in the country. Also, there is a rise in demand for learning the Korean language. People want to grasp the language so that they can understand the Korean music and dramas even better. The Korean wave keeps hitting one of the most densely populated countries, India, and it won’t be a surprise if the Korean Industry has the largest fan base in India in almost all sectors.