The Korean wave is the spike in the worldwide popularity of the culture of South Korea in the form of entertainment, music, TV drama, movies, beauty products, and Korean foods. Today, it has permeated all popular cultures and transcended all boundaries (even language!) to become a topic that has unified people residing in different parts of the earth. It is also referred to as the 'Hallyu wave' (a term coined by a Beijing journalist in 1999 after being surprised by the rapidly rising popularity of Korean culture in China).

The appeal to Asian countries is significant as the national image of South Korea has not always been positive amongst the neighboring countries and has often been linked with the Korean War, cycles of poverty, and political instability. Moreover, most Asian countries connect with former colonial empires and developed western countries rather than their neighboring countries. The wave created a ripple effect that has extended much beyond the economy. Today, South Korea has become a hub of both economy and soft power with several western countries with few parallels in non-western nations.

Some of the most popular Korean songs are- 'Gangnam Style,' 'Dynamite,' and 'Butter.' K dramas like 'Vincenzo,' 'Squid Game,' 'Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha' 'Descendants of the Sun' have received international acclaim, and success.

Parasite, the highest-grossing Korean film ever made, swept away four Academy Awards.

A few reasons for the proliferation of Korean Culture are:

  • The country has a rich legacy of singing, dancing, and entertainment
  • People being the only natural resource in South Korea, the Government spends a considerable sum on their development
  • The trainee system (entertainment companies hunt for talented individuals who later live together while training for singing, dancing, and public relations) involves tough competition to choose the best people. Thus, there is an endless supply of prospective stars.
  • The audience adores the flawless choreography, catchy melodies, and attractive performers.
  • K-dramas evoke emotions without violence or vulgarity, making them suitable for other Islamic and Asian countries that are less interested in Western culture.


1) In the 2006-2009 period, Se7en, Rain, and BoA were three of the biggest Kpop stars in the west. BoA ended her American activities later and returned to South Korea. Rain's fame in the west was cut short by his two-year mandatory military service in October 2011.

2) Another band, Girls' Generation, next aimed at successful globalization. It released an album, The Boys, in the US in October 2011. The release was supported by TV performances on mainstream talk shows. However, it failed to place on the Billboard 200.

Two main reasons stacked the odds against K-pop breaking in the west. First, racism- the music charts were dominated by white artists. Secondly, the audience preferred those musicians whose videos and audios carried US sound and look.

3) Psy’s “Gangnam Style" is credited with paving the path of the Korean Entertainment Industry in the west. It was the first video to cross the milestone of a billion views on YouTube, owing to its supercharged beats and glamorous visuals.

4) Meanwhile, back in South Korea, a 7-member boy band, BTS, debuted in 2013. Little did they know that they would redefine the face of the K-pop industry and, in turn, soar it to stratospheric heights that no one could ever imagine. The group consists of RM, Jin, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, V, and Jungkook. Big Hit Entertainment, a South Korean entertainment company that manages them, first discovered them in 2010. Their songs are massive hits in the country. A year after they debuted, an official fan club called "ARMY" (Adorable MC for Youth) was formed to support BTS.

Their immense popularity is often credited to the messages around social issues that their songs carry. The appeal to the youth has become a part of the group's musical identity. For instance, their song "No more dream" can be interpreted as a commentary on the pressures of growing up as a teenager in Korea. BTS also firmly embraces its identity as Korean artists in its music. BTS fans have grown their presence in the age of social media. The band first gained international prominence with it’s single, "I Need U," which marked it’s shift from hip hop singing style to a more diverse pop sound. The song garnered world-wide critical acclaim and success.

Since then, the group has continued to shatter records. Recently, the group released 3 English Singles, "Dynamite," "Butter," and "Permission to Dance."

It is currently the “fastest Korean group music video to achieve 1 billion views” and the "longest-charting song in Billboard's Hot 100 history."

Owing to their massive popularity, the South Korean President appointed the members as his special envoys at the 76th UN General Assembly. In April 2022, the group was featured on the cover of TIME Magazine for the third time. In an interview with TIME, BTS leader RM said, "The idea was to release new music to console people and heal their minds through our music during these hard times (the pandemic) when it's difficult to physically meet and interact."

5) Blackpink is a girl group that debuted in 2016, but it managed to become the biggest girl group in the world with just a few songs. Its members are Jisoo, Jennie, Rosé, and Lisa. In 2019, they became the first-ever idol group to play Coachella and the first idol group to rack up 1 billion views on a music video ("Ddu-Du Ddu-Du"). Their debut album dropped in October 2020 and rose to No. 2 on the Billboard 200, making it the most successful debut from an all-female group in more than a decade. In 2020, they collaborated with Selena Gomez for their first English single, “Ice Cream."

6) In 2019, Parasite premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, where it became the first South Korea n film to win the Palme d'Or. Several critics consider the film the best film of 2019 and one of the greatest films of the 21st century. Shot with a budget of $15.5 million, it grossed over $263 million worldwide. Parasite won four awards at the 92nd Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best International Feature Film, becoming the first non-English language film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. It's a clever and thrilling commentary on the capitalist ideology that dominates the Western world today.

7) This massive win was instrumental in attracting the audience's attention to Korean dramas. Lately, several kdramas have been on the watchlist of people worldwide. Some of these include 'It's Okay to Not Be Okay,' 'Vincenzo,' 'Home Town Cha-Cha-Cha,' 'What's Wrong with Secretary Kim,' 'Hwarang’ (which starred BTS member Kim Taehyung), ‘Itaewon Class' and 'Nevertheless.'


The Asian Crisis hit the South Korean economy in 1997, and it led to stock market decline, reduced import revenues, and government turbulence.

The Government accepted a $12 billion bailout from IMF. It also took loans worth $55 billion from Asian Development Bank and World Bank. This money was used to restore the financial system, which was in shambles, and the country managed to repay its debt in mere 5 years with some assistance from about 3.5 million citizens who voluntarily donated their gold jewelry and other gold possessions to help the Government.

As the Government gained sovereignty from IMF, the economy was not yet fully recovered. As a result, the Government decided to inject funds into Korean Film Council to promote pop culture and push universities to churn out talent.

At the end of 2018, there were reportedly 89.12 million 'Hallyu' fans worldwide.

'Gangnam Style' was a significant relief to the economy as it helped relieve stress that had intensified since the crisis. It earned $ 8 million on YouTube alone. The film 'Parasite' made $ 258 million the world over. The South Korean economy has developed $9.48 billion in export. A large share of this export belongs to K-pop merchandise. BigHit Entertainment, the management company of BTS, earns 23% of its total revenues (approximately $114.5 million) from the merchandise.

Moreover, the revenues have prospered further as many international brands are lining up to collaborate with the Kpop idols as their brand ambassadors. BTS is the brand ambassador of Louis Vitton. The band also collaborated with McDonald's for a limited period BTS meals. Overall, such deals have upped the revenues by $3.6 billion.

The wave has also promoted tourism and culture. 'I.SEOUL.U' is a brand developed to create a buzz regarding the country and attract tourists. It has been highly endorsed by several K-pop artists. Korean cosmetics and walking tours across the cities have successfully intrigued the people about their nightlife. As of 2019, it has brought about 17.5 million visitors to the nation and earned about 59.83 trillion won.

The concerts have been highly fruitful for the economy. In October 2019, BTS held 3 concerts at Seoul Olympic Stadium. These 3 nights alone brought in an income of 922.2 billion won. During the pandemic, the band had a virtual concert attended by 993000 people across 191 countries and generated a revenue of 50 billion won. Overall, BTS is responsible for generating 0.5% of South Korea’s economy.

The K-pop revolution also drove up the sales of the country's other major companies, such as Samsung and Hyundai Motor Company.

At least 80 K Dramas are ready to watch on Netflix UK. They have contributed USD 9.5 billion in revenues.

The Big 4 entertainment companies are- BigHit Entertainment, JYP Entertainment, SM Entertainment, and YG Entertainment.

SM Entertainment manages iconic groups such as SHINee, NCT, and Girl's Generation. It has global sales revenue of 320 billion won. YG Entertainment, which manages Blackpink, is worth $32 million. JYP handles TWICE, Got7, and Stray Kids, all of which have become highly popular in the west.

BTS alone earned the economy a whopping sum of 5.6 trillion won. 'Dynamite,' their first English single, earned $1.43 billion.

Moreover, the revolution has fueled the demand for Korean beauty products and Korean food products.


The Korean wave helped the South Korean economy get past the negative impact of the Asian crisis. The way the economy boosted the cultural sphere can act as an essential precedent for India to inspiration from. The Indian Entertainment Industry has currently experienced a setback due to the degrading content and controversies involving mega-stars. Most of the television content has been directed toward the rural population and is found to be regressive and quite often illogical by the urban audience. However, the Korean wave is the standing example of how good content starved the audience is and that it is ready to welcome genuine content with open arms. With a population of 1.3 billion, India is a talent powerhouse, but most of them fail to get an opportunity due to nepotism and campism. India needs to leverage all platforms- television, movies, and OTT- to maximize the audience. Sincere efforts must be taken to improve the quality of Indian content in terms of screenplay, script, and cinematography to match the standard of international content as it once used to.

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