THE NEW KOREAN POP CULTURE

Year FKDear Readers,

As you might know, this year in France and Korea, it’s a very special year. We are celebrating 130 years of diplomatic relations between our two countries, wich will reflect the joint determination to strengthen relationships in all areas. The event kicked on September 2015, in France and will continue until July 2016. When it officially starts on March 2016 in South Korea until December 2016.

This year will offer a wide range of cultural events, in museums, in theaters but also concerts, literature, art hosted by renowed artists both in France and Korea. To reflect the dynamic bilateral relationship of the two countries. The France-Korea Year will also offer a national visibility and an international opening.

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As part of the France-Korea Year,  I attended to the conference «  The New Korean Pop Culture » held by the World Association for Hallyu Studies, the CNAM and La Gaîté lyrique, day focused on the defining the Korean pop culture through its many different aspects : dramas, music, K-pop, video games and digital. Unfortunately, I could only attend to the morning session but still I will try to let you know what came out of this panel as accurately as possible.

And for the ones who couldn’t attend here is your chance to catch up!

It basically all started with Infinite MV – « Back ».

DEFINING THE HALLYU: THE KOREAN WAVE: #Kpop

The Hallyu, can be defined as a global pop culture consumption pattern including Korean products like : TV Dramas, music, films, webtoons, food, fashion and so on. They are what we call cutural contents.

Without the fast growing development of the Internet and social media in 2000, it would have never become the actual phenomenon as we know it. TV is no longer the main medium, main source from which we consume cultural contents, Internet is and it helped the Korean Wave to spread to the world and made it accessible to international audiences. Internet is a media which has the ability to show contents worldwide and go beyond national borders. It is a mean to export your product or your passion. And we cannot survive without reaching out to the others. Hence, we can imply that Korea based on survival.

Finally, the Hallyu is also the result of a well oiled cross-media industry. Continuously developing through cosmetics, fashion, plastic surgery and aesthetic. And Idols play a very important role as well trained entertainer workers who can entertain the media as they whish.

K-POP BUSINESS MODEL.

In order to understand K-pop you have to understand its business model. In 2000, Korea, almost killed the piracy. In fact, the level of piracy is the lowest in the world. Korea owns the most connected network in the world and the less pirated one. How did they manage ? By giving music for free.

In 2006, Korean digitalised music sales surpassed physical sales. It was the turning point and the rise of digital network as the Korean advantage and financial strength in its policy to push on front and export music.

Sans titre
Credits to Seok Kyeong Hong (Professor at Seoul National University)

The digital revolution led to the emergence of a global fandom which over the years boosted K-pop recognition to the International level. The digital revolution helped the transnational perception of K-pop then. Thanks to Youtube, the major music platform in the world and K-pop has benifited from a huge push to  gain popularity worldwide. And by solving the Internet issue they mastered it. Indeed, let’s take SM Entertainment example. SM Entertainment forms the Big 3 with YG Entertainment and JYP Entertainment.

SMEYGEJYPE

SM Entertainment was the first label to see the potential to partner with Youtube by using this mean as a primary distribution channel and offer unlimited access to a wide range of video contents. This strategy revealed to be efficient and lead K-pop to global exposure and in 2013, the label received an Award for its channel SMTown. SM Entertainment acted as a pioneer and developed a new business model which every entertainment companies now dully follow.

UNIQUE BUSINESS MODEL

K-pop business model is unique as Korea’s strength has been its ability to witness what happened abroad and to build an industry by taking the best of what they witnessed. They kept all the selling points, it was missing a niche : « dancing bands » and where everyone failed they mastered it. It has been a painfull and slow process of what people had created and finding what could be done.

KOREAN FANDOM IS THE REASON OF K-POP GLOBALIZATION.

K-pop provides youthfull, harmless, politically correct and multicultural contents,  which encourages the audience to be more active and activate fandom communities. Beware, Fandom Communities are to K-pop what Anna Wintour is to Fashion. Don’t mess up with them, I swear. The digitalization brought the massive transfert of video contents without using the traditionnal medium. It is pretty enjoyabled and amazing actually to see how people react so vehemently on Youtube comments for example.

« MANUFACTURING CREATIVITY »

The idea of « Manufacturing Creativity », was raised by Gil-Sung Park (Dean of Graduate School, Korea University). How can we actually manufacture creativity ? The K-pop industry proved that it was able to manufacture creativity by actively outsourcing it and then remodeling locally in order to launch hit songs in Korea for the international audience. K-pop has become more hybrid, more Americanized, labels hire American producers, choreographers, Scandinavian lyricists to bring more authencity to the genre. They globalize cultural contents and because the Korean music industry is in a constant learning process they get educated on how to create and produce music. Today, Korean idols are magnets to foreign contents (French products, brands, European composers). When you watch K-pop, you watch the world.

Which leads to the idea of universalized content. To make your content global, you need musical talent and creativity. However, the booming of K-pop, led to mass production. And Hallyu is a product of this new global, new mass product system.

KOREAN SOFT POWER :

The Korean Soft Power on the Rise : from K-pop to K-dramas and K-food : How does Korea project its Lifestyle onto the World ?

When talking about Korean Soft Power, the idea of how Korea packages its lifestyle to the  world comes up. Because, Korea has been strong in protecting its lifestyle. Lifestyle packaging is one of the success of Korean expansion, it’s very difficult and it’s a learning process on how to communicate about lifestyle. When visiting Korea for example, you realize how diverse is the culture. But what part of the Korean culture travels and don’t ?

It’s difficult to quantify because the spread mainly occurs through SNS contents sharing. And it is very ambiguous in my opinion, because when sharing through social media, how can you exactly define what you are sharing is just lifestyle or masked mass product content ?

Plus, Korea has history of colonization. Korea is not Japan, they are not the same culturally but at the same time they look very alike. Heavily inspired by Japanese culture, lifestyle, language still Korea has maintained a very strong culture.

misaeng-poster-1During this panel, the drama « Misaeng » was mentionned as an example of soft power content driver, due to its ability to easily relate to. Which actually proves a slight change in Korean behaviour because it creates products that show both strengths and weaknesses of the society according to Claire Solery (Korean Culture blogger and consultant on Korean Trends). The fact that « Misaeng » was a webtoon ( very popular medium among Koreans these days) shows a different way of how Koreans product TV contents. In the end, even though webtoons and TV dramas are different sources you still go through the same thrills and perceptions. You may transfer from one media to another, you experience the same thrill.

TO WHAT EXTENT PUBLIC POLICY TRY TO REGULIZE SOFT POWER TO THE WORLD ?

The Korean government didn’t expect this expansion, actually it was a surprise said Ingyu Oh (Professor at Korea University). And today, the government is the first to spend money on Youtube and Entertainment in order to get listed in top trending topics.

In France, the perception of K-pop may be seen as too mainstream, it’s not really art, what would be more considered as art is the Korean cinema which imposed itself through the years. There is a different treatment and yet Korean cinema benefits from an « élite » status.

In Korea, on the contrary, behind the K-pop there is a whole nationalism. Korean government benefits from the success of Entertainment and artists and not the other way around. Which is one of the reasons why there is so much competition within the market. The production rate is higher that anywhere else in the world. Hence, the idea of manufactured creativity.

Finally, K-pop has developped faster than Japanese culture and China doesn’t have yet content. Korea occupies a very special position in these two countries and for example, the Chinese government has been very cautious in supporting K-contents because they were perceived as dangerous. But even in a strongly controlled country like China, Korea found a way to break through because of the power of internet. In Japan, it’s a different story. Initially, the government was not very welcoming to imported products and this is the reason why this nation has been loosing ground.

HOW CAN THE K-POP INDUSTRY SUCCESSFULLY  BE SUSTAINABLE IN THE NEXT DECADE?

Does K-pop can be more than just Entertainment ? K-pop has somewhat become the new cool. Nowadays, the new cool is to be a fan of a Korean artist. They rank high in popularity in the Middle East and South America and K-pop has the way to grow in people’s head.

The idea of the emergence of the Indie culture as a new mean to sustainability was raised. Stating that if you explore Indie culture, you could perceive that Korean creativity emanates from underground.

HYUKOHAt this point, I must say, my point of view totally diverged from the speaker’s one. To me the Indie scene that developed recently, with the rise of Hyukoh for example is just a new trend. It is just part of the K-pop phenomenon. I guess people are looking for something new nowadays. They might have saturated from the highly manufactured bands and they are looking for more authentic music, different from the popular music flooding the music charts. But Indie music is no different from actual K-pop. It is indeed disguised K-pop. I mean, this year YG Entertainement invested the so called Indie scene by introducing a new sub-label headed by Tablo called: HIGHGRND.HyukOhHIGHGRNDJYP Entertainment opened Studio J, studio-j-jypSM Entertainemnt recently launched Taeyeon « I » first solo debut which sounds and look way different from what they have been producing lately. I just think that they found a new « niche » and took advantage of it. The same goes with all the TV programs such « Unpretty Rapstars, Show Me The Money…» claiming the emergence of a strong Hip-Hop scene. This Indie culture didn’t have time to develop that it was swapped in the K-pop frenetic run. Claiming there is a strong underground scene when it’s just that this scene hasn’t been exploited yet is wrong. It was always there.  The idea is that to be sustainable, they have to explore new activities, new markets. Just like the rise of musicals which can be seen as transition for renowed artists, which was the same for dramas and webdramas. Now TV programs are flooded with talents (entertainers), which gives less room to « real actors ».

The market is in transition and in order for the Big 3 to maintain at the top, they have to be pro-active and look for new markets as many new labels have entered the market (Jelly Fish, FNC…) and they compete on the same grounds as the Big 3.

To the question, do you think K-pop is something that can be reproduced ? The answer was mixed. It represents a small Hollywood. But the government interfere too much in the business which should not occure. Still it is considered as a unique model. There is a Korean model for sure and it’s trendy. The difference between Korea and other markets is its expertise and quality. You can verify it by comparing K-pop to other Asian countries trying to replicate the genre. It lacks of competency and technicity and looks cheap.

Finally, the world standards aren’t reachable for all Korean talents. Reason why they promote systematically abroad, in Japan, Thailand, Taiwan, Hong Kong where the fandom is strong. Plus, by doing so Korean artists earn more than in their domestic market. They earn 20 times more in Tokyo for example than in Seoul. And this is the reason why Japan is falling behind, because artists are too much paid domestically and don’t see the need to go abroad, they are not eager to promote outside, they feel self sufficient. In that way, French system is closed to the Japanese one.

INTELECTUAL PROPRETY RIGHTS

The K-pop industry puts ressourceful revenues on events. The K-pop market doesn’t rely on music but on the extra earnings from idols images, endorsements, gifts, fanclub subscriptions. They are like football players. The idea, is to gather all the licensing rights in order to grow. Once you own all the licences you can flood the market and in that way Korea has a step ahead. They produce locally for the international and it generates strong revenues.

To finish, I must say, I felt a bit disapointed by this panel because I had great expectations I guess. I felt like we were to much in the descriptive not enough in the analyze. There were many points raised such as the rise of a new masculinity, performance of Black music without Blackness, the idea of « White Face » without the Whiteness. I would have loved going deeper in the analyze. Same with the speakers who were lacking of key figures and strong arguments, it felt somewhat messy. And overall I really felt that we didn’t learn much more that what is already available on the internet. We explained facts without going further and it was a pity.

Anyways I tried my best to retranscript what had been said during this panel. Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend the afternoon session and I am looking forward to reading about it.

If you have any comments and want to react feel free to do so, I am all ears and eyes.


 

France-Korea Official website: http://www.anneefrancecoree.com/

French Institute : http://www.institutfrancais.com/

The World Association of Hallyu Studies : http://eng.iwahs.org/

CNAM : http://www.cnam.fr/

Attendants :

  • Gil-Sung Park (Dean of Graduate School, Korea University)
  • Ilshik Loh (Director of the Korean Cultural Center in Paris)
  • Frédéric Martel (Writer. Author of Mainstream and Smart)
  • Claire Solery (Korean culture blogger and consultant on Korean trends)
  • Ingyu Oh (Professor, Korea University)
  • Seok Kyeong Hong ( Professor, Seoul National University)
  • Guillaume Crisafulli (International Sales Manager, Reed Midem)
  • Patrick Messerlin ( Professor and Director, Groupe d’Economie Mondiale et Sciences Po)
  • Jean -Baptiste Soufron (FWPA Avocats)
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