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(News Focus) K-pop, K-dramas to embrace universal values to increase appeal

2016/10/31 15:56

By Chung Joo-won, Lee Eun-jung

SEOUL, Oct. 31 (Yonhap) -- "Hallyu," or the global popularity of Korean pop culture, will advance to embrace universal values that all cultures can freely enjoy, Korean cultural experts estimate.

Korean cultural experts predict that embracing ideas that "click" with people of every culture will become the strongest tool to expand K-culture's global distribution channels and the diversification of its consumers.

The official poster of MBC's hit romantic television series "My Love from the Star" (Yonhap) The official poster of MBC's hit romantic television series "My Love from the Star" (Yonhap)

"We need to present more universal values in order to elevate hallyu to the next step," said Bae Kyung-soo, the chief producer of KBS' hit television series "Descendants of the Sun."

   "Some such ideas in the 21st century are universally accepted virtues like liberty, equality and fraternity. Since the (global) market evolves in a way to embrace diverse cultural genres and values, we ought to keep up with the move by developing broader and deeper cultural diversity," he continued.

Aired from February to April 2016, the military-romantic series has added a new chapter to Korean drama history by reaching a stunning 38.8 percent viewer rate for the first time in four years. In China, the accumulated number of keyword searches for the drama on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, amounted to an astonishing 7.5 billion.

The official poster set of KBS' hit romantic television series "Descendants of the Sun" (Yonhap) The official poster set of KBS' hit romantic television series "Descendants of the Sun" (Yonhap)

Looking back, a large part of the present glory of the Korean pop culture industry and its global following stemmed from the so-called "386 generation" who entered college in the 1980s. Their college life came amid great socipolitical turbulence, with students and grownups rushing to the streets to participate in group protests for Korean democratization.

The two seemingly different fruits -- the most recent constitutional amendment of 1987 and the rise of Korean popular culture -- came out of this historical decade. Increasing emphasis of freedom of expression and other democratic rights have championed individuality and diversity among the generation including JYP Entertainment chief Park Jin-young and YG Entertainment chief Yang Hyun-suk.

Technological support, in the form of "noraebang," or karaoke lounges, and the mass distribution of i386 personal computers with color displays and Internet access stimulated culturally enriched individual lifestyles.

South Korean pop singer Psy, widely known for his song "Gangnam Style" and its horse-riding dance moves, performs during a K-pop concert held on a street in southern Seoul on May 8, 2016. (Yonhap) South Korean pop singer Psy, widely known for his song "Gangnam Style" and its horse-riding dance moves, performs during a K-pop concert held on a street in southern Seoul on May 8, 2016. (Yonhap)

Then K-pop and K-dramas began booming in the late 1990s in neighboring Asian economies such as Japan, China and the countries of Southeast Asia.

By the early 2000s, the popularity of South Korean television series began exerting extensive influence on the mainstream culture of Japan and China. One of the best-known examples is the mega-hit romance series "Winter Sonata," broadcast from 2003 to 2004, starring hallyu star Bae Yong-joon and actress Choi Ji-woo.

The popularity of Korean television series, or K-dramas, was naturally followed by the rise of K-pop music, a powerful driver of K-culture in the global arena. Some of the present-day first-tier K-pop hallyu bands like BigBang, SHINee, 2PM, Wonder Girls and Girls' Generation emerged triumphant in the middle and latter half of the 2000s, spreading K-pop further to Southeast Asia and the Middle East.

The global reception of hallyu, however, has not always been positive.

The biggest hurdle for K-pop in Japan came with the ups and downs of Korea-Japan diplomatic ties. The intensification of Japanese rightist powers has turned its followers away from K-pop culture on its soil by generating "cultural feuds" over K-pop content based on diplomatic discord. Such bilateral problems shot up particularly high with disputes about the Japanese claims on the Korean islets of Dokdo and the Japanese wartime sexual enslavement of young Korean women.

The estrangement of K-pop culture and Chinese people particularly intensified early this year when Beijing denounced Seoul's decision to host the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), or missile defense system, to fend off the North Korean nuclear threats.

South Korean boy group Monsta X poses for a photo during the 30th Golden Disk Awards in Seoul on Jan. 20, 2016. (Yonhap) South Korean boy group Monsta X poses for a photo during the 30th Golden Disk Awards in Seoul on Jan. 20, 2016. (Yonhap)

K-pop cultural experts, however, hope that the rise of online and mobile distribution of creative K-pop content will be able to break through such international political persecution.

This involves K-pop's "glocalization," a word that combines globalization and localization. K-pop glocalization is seen as "growing K-pop cultural content into a globally enjoyed 'local culture' around the world."

   Lee Seong-soo, the head of the production unit of S.M. Entertainment, said, "The development of personalized media has begun to undo the Great Wall of China between different cultural content."

   Lee urged that the generators of hallyu culture must work to create the best "blend of content" to create distinctive cultural products.

"If we succeed in the creation (of glocalized content backed up with media technology), Seoul may become the 'next Hollywood' in the future," he added.

jwc@yna.co.kr

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