Move over, Psy! Here comes G-Dragon style

South Korea has its sights set on Western markets for its popular culture, and Gangnam Style was just the start

Susie Mesure@susiemesure
Saturday 16 August 2014 21:45

The pop star Psy might have sparked a worldwide phenomenon with "Gangnam Style", the song that spawned countless parodies, but now his native South Korea is preparing to mount a global takeover.

It's time for the West to say hello to Hallyu, the term coined to explain a wave of South Korean popular culture that's flooding our airwaves in the form of K-Pop and K-Pop culture. The Korean wave will mirror the "British invasion of the 1960s and 1970s" predicts Euny Hong in The Birth of Korean Cool. So, get ready for G-Dragon, Psy's likely musical successor as the K-pop star to watch. He has already worked with Justin Bieber and American DJ Diplo.

"G-Dragon was the frontman for the boy band Big Bang and is one of the few pre-fab band members to do really well in a solo career," Ms Hong told The Independent on Sunday. "His music is cool and catchy and uses surprisingly idiomatically correct English. Primarily, though, I think his influence will be in fashion.

"His look is continental, colourful, highly edgy and vaguely dandy-esque, reminiscent of Elton John, Bowie's Ziggy Stardust, and the Sgt Pepper look. His makeup and appearance are vaguely effeminate in a way that American male pop stars would avoid at all costs, but the androgynous look is quite typical of the K-pop boy band."

Her book details how South Korea's government is behind the country's soft power push, which has already seen it supplant Japan as the Asian continent's coolest child.

Hong, who was born in the US to Korean parents and moved to Korea aged 12, credits the 1997 Asian financial crisis with forcing the country to reinvent itself – and its creative industries. South Korea's then president, Kim Dae-jung, who won a Nobel Prize in 2000 for a historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, set his sights on a pop-culture revolution and hoped to emulate the economic success of the US film industry and the UK's prosperity from stage musicals.

Today, South Korea's Ministry of Culture has a $1bn investment fund to push its popular-culture programmes. According to a ministry official, the country wants to more than double its collective cultural industry exports to $10bn within just five years. Around 20 to 30 per cent of the fund comes from the Korean government; investment banks and private companies such as music labels make up the rest.

The K-pop culture invasion also includes television shows such as My Love From Another Star, which is hugely popular across the Middle East. "There's an aversion to sex in these countries, so K-dramas are an obvious import; characters don't end up kissing until episode 10.

"Koreans have made a science of market research. Their exports are based on local taste and climate whereas the USA doesn't take different attitudes into account."

In the UK, the Korean Cultural Centre is holding a K-Pop contest on 30 August but with a twist: entrants have to be non-Korean. The winner will represent the UK later this year in the K-Pop World Festival – in Korea.

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