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K-pop (Korean popular culture

K-pop is the latest and biggest instance of the so-called Korean Wave, as the South's popular culture gains overseas recognition - epitomized by the global success of boyband BTS, who topped the US Billboard singles chart earlier in 2020. The phenomenon earns billions of dollars for the world's 12th largest economy and scores of groups are launched each year to try to capture a slice of the pie. The potential returns are huge - the agency behind BTS, Big Hit Entertainment, since renamed Hybe, floated on the South Korean stock exchange in 2020 and now has a market capitalization of more than $7 billion.

The K-pop industry has been accused of consuming young hopefuls with only a tiny minority surviving to stardom, with former Nine Muses idol Ryu Sera in 2020 likening it to a "factory-like mass-production system". Unlike many groups elsewhere, K-pop bands are not normally formed by the members themselves who then try to secure a record deal, but are instead usually assembled by their managing agencies. They put the members through intensive training programs and control everything from their music and lyrics to their looks and many aspects of their daily lives. But most acts quickly disappear, leaving barely a trace on the score of musical history. The K-pop industry has a factory-like mass-production system. There are so many trainees, so many artists, so many young people that want to get into this industry, that managers y sometimes consider artists as replaceable products.

South Korea is an intensely competitive society and has an unusually high suicide rate, with recent celebrity deaths including singers Goo Hara and Sulli, both of whom had been subjected to vicious cyber-bullying, and Kim Jong-hyun of the boyband Shinee. Countless teenagers flock to entertainment agencies aspiring to become stars but no one looks after those who do not make the cut. The business uses a "high-risk, high-return" formula that generates "countless also-rans" in the process. Former idols and trainees take the brunt of their failure in the market.

The Korean Foreign Ministry continues to work to help Korean people unleash their capability in realizing the vision of “building a charming Korea trusted by the global community” by developing and conducting a range of public diplomacy projects. Public Diplomacy emerged recently as a new area of diplomacy in full scale. In May 2010 the year 2010 was declared the first year of Public diplomacy. In September 2011 the government appointed an “Ambassador for Public Diplomacy”, and in January 2012 established “Division for Public Diplomacy Policy” in the Foreign Ministry. Public diplomacy is now one of the most important elements of the diplomacy in Korea - to promote attractiveness of Korean culture, to have support for Korea's foreign policy, and to raise the image of Korea as a reliable partner.

With recent world-wide popularity of K-pop and Korean television dramas, South Korea is part of the new pop culture. Psy's "Gangnam Style" surprised everyone when it became the biggest YouTube hit ever in 2012. Americans drive Korean cars, eat Korean cuisine, read Korean-American literature and watch K-Pop on Korean electronics. Korean pop music -- along with the rest of Korean pop culture -- has been on the rise for years, gaining fans in the United States and worldwide. The confident reach of South Korean culture followed that country’s emergence from a century of terrible upheaval, in which it was caught up in the territorial ambitions of China, Japan, and Russia as well as the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Korean pop culture has enjoyed tremendous popularity since 2000, initially in East Asian markets and expanding later to the Middle East, Europe, and the Americas. Dubbed the “Korean Wave,” this cultural phenomenon reached its most recent apex in 2012 when rapper Psy’s hit “Gangnam Style” became an overnight hit, earning the singer a performance before US President Barack Obama. At the forefront of the Korean Wave has been “K-pop,” or Korean pop music. The development of information technology has allowed Korean pop groups to win enthusiastic followings overseas. A 2011 K-pop concert in Paris, for instance, sold out in just 10 minutes, prompting organizers to put on a second show. Girl and boy bands like Girls Generation, Wonder Girls, Big Bang and Super Junior became household names in not just their native land, but also in Japan, China, and beyond.

China offers a powerful, large market place and the government is making sure the entertainment industry is rising to the challenge to match global markets and offerings for its vast consumer base. The music industry is growing, and is challenging to enter due to regulatory restrictions and state mandated censorship approval. Demand for Western music, while popular (especially American music) has not developed to the same degree as K-pop (Korean pop music), and Chinese opera and other local content is still very dominant in the Chinese marketplace.

There’s more than just music to the Korean Wave, however. Korean TV dramas have grown especially popular, especially in Japan, China, and Southeast Asia. The 2002 drama “Winter Sonata,” for instance, turned Korean actor Bae Yong-jun into a superstar in Japan and sparked a craze for all things Korean. Korean cinema, too, has earned a worldwide following, with Quentin Tarantino naming three Korean films to the list of his 20 favorite films released since 1992. The popularity of Korean film is further evidenced by the fact that three Hollywood productions in 2013 were directed by Korean directors.

The popularity of Korean pop culture sparked interest in other aspects of Korean culture, too. Korean cuisine has achieved a worldwide presence, with Korean dishes like bibimbap, bulgogi, and, of course, kimchi earning fans across the globe. More and more people are visiting Korea, too. In 2012, over 11 million tourists came to Korea to take in its many sites, sounds, aromas, and tastes. In March 2013, inbound visitors to Korea surpassed 1 million, a single-month record.

The final round of the “K-Pop World Festival 2015” was held in Changwon on October 30, co-hosted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Korea Broadcasting System (KBS), Changwon city, and the Korean Culture and Information Service (KCIS), and sponsored by Kyongnam Bank.

The “K-Pop World Festival,” which marked its fifth anniversary in 2015, was a global Hallyu (Korean Wave) festival participated by foreigners who like K-pop. In this year’s event, a record-high 12,000 people in about 4,000 teams participated in the preliminary competitions in 84 regions in 67 countries across the world. In the final round of the “K-Pop World Festival 2015,” the finalists from 14 countries*, who advanced to the final round after fierce regional preliminaries and thorough evaluations by experts, staged K-pop performances. The event will also feature performances by leading K-pop stars, such as “Shinee” and “4Minute,” to celebrate the occasion and offer encouragement to the competing teams. The 14 countries are Australia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Finland, Nigeria, Morocco, Romania, Ecuador, Japan, the Philippines, the UK, Mexico, Uruguay and Germany.

During their visit to the Republic of Korea, the 14 teams which made it to the final round not only competed in the final round but had opportunities to learn more about traditional and contemporary Korean culture, including a meeting with K-pop stars, visits to the KBS as guest audience for its music television program “Music Bank” and Korean landmarks, and first-hand experiences of traditional Korean culture.

The final round of the “K-Pop World Festival 2015” was broadcast in the ROK and 100 other countries across the world on KBS 2TV and KBS World, respectively, in November 2015. In addition, a documentary on the activities of the finalists in the ROK was produced and aired across the world. For Hallyu fans around the world, the show was available for viewing in real-time on YouTube, Naver Live Streaming Service and KBS mobile application channels.

It was once again proven by the record-breaking 67 countries’ participation in the “K-Pop World Festival 2015” that K-pop is the flagship “Hallyu” content that is loved across the world. Going forward, the ROK Foreign Ministry would seek to enhance the ROK’s image as a charming Korea in the international community through a variety of public diplomacy projects.

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