In order to understand the spread of the Korean music scene in Southeast Asia, it’s necessary to examine the history of Korea’s relationships with Japan and China. Korea is located between these two superpower nations, contributing to tumultuous relations with them throughout history. Much of Korea’s resentment towards Japan derives from Japanese colonial rule (1910-45) during WWII. Their harsh and oppressive rule included measures such as forcing Korean men to work in factories and fight in the war, as well as drafting Korean women as “comfort women” for Japanese soldiers. Colonial authorities also pressured the conversion to Japanese names. However, Japanese rule also resulted in the urbanization of Korea, making it the second most industrialized nation in Asia after Japan by 1945. Post WWII, Japan left Korea in a state of unrest with controversy over government establishment (Korean War), ending in its division.
During the Korean War, China supported the Communist principles of North Korea and provided military assistance. More recently, China has aided North Korea with food and energy resources, and become their leading trading partner. Instability arose after the Cold War when China increased trade with South Korea and expanded in general into the capitalist market, isolating North Korea. South Korea improved technologically and elevated their position in the world market. Their focus on education and hard work has led to a consistently increasing standard of living and made them a top exporter to China.
K-Pop has pervaded Japan and China’s pop music scenes despite past relations with Korea. The “Korean Wave” began in the 1990s as a result of media liberation. It started with Korean television, and Channel V especially contributed to the spread of K-Pop. Korean pop stars quickly became the new Leonardo Dicaprios of Southeast Asia. The extreme popularity of Korean figures resulted in the spread of Korean culture to many other aspects of life as well. In Japan, K-Pop built a fan base of young girls who saw these pop idols as what they should aspire to be. The quality of K-Pop artists and music surpassed those of J-Pop beginning in the 2000s. J-Pop’s main issue was being stuck in the past, while K-Pop proved more appealing due to its relative novelty and uniqueness.
The Communist Chinese government has strictly monitored the music industry and media in order to promote a positive attitude among the population. The Ministry of Culture can veto a song before recording if they disapprove of the lyrics. C-Pop has made attempts to imitate the choreography, catchy tunes, and style of K-Pop bands as an avenue to escape the monotony of the brainless happy songs of “boy bands.”
Hybridity and the Rise of Korean Popular Culture in Asia (Full length version of chapter in book)
Sources (not required reading):