What is Hallyu?

Hallyu refers to the Korean Wave, a sudden boom of Korean pop music (or K-pop) and drama, which started roughly from 1996 in Taiwan and Hong Kong. Although it was initially predicted to be short lived, Hallyu has continued until the 2010s, and the year 2016 demarcated the 20th anniversary of Hallyu. Although K-pop initially led the Hallyu boom in the Chinese speaking countries, Hallyu had the biggest success in Japan, where such Korean dramas as “Winter Sonata (Fuyu no Sonata)” and “Daejanggeum (Changumu no Tsikai)” appealed to a massive number of Japanese female viewers. Japan until today remains the single most important Hallyu country in the world in terms of total Hallyu consumption. The Hallyu boom in pop music and TV drama genres has soon spread into Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, Europe, North America, and even Africa in the 2000s and the 2010s.

Hallyu is often said to have stages of evolution, the first stage being the era of the K-drama boom in Japan and East Asia. The second stage started by the K-pop boom in 2005 beginning from Kara’s unprecedented success in Japan. The third stage refers to the emergence of Psy and his mega hit song, “Gangnam Style,” as a global music since 2013. Most well known K-pop singers, including Big Bang, Girls’ Generation, Shinee, TVXQ, Sista, G-Dragon, and others are now enjoying global followers and fans unlike their stage one and two predecessors who had fans only in East and Southeast Asia.

The future of Hallyu is not always bright, as many countries, including Japan, are actively countering the Korean pop culture through outright racist bashing and organized demonstrations against it. Furthermore, many critics argue that Hallyu is based on harsh exploitation of young artists who are bounded by long term “slave” contracts. However, Hallyu’s longevity is proven to be tenacious, as different genres of Hallyu are being invented one after another creating different boom cycles. For example, Korean hip-hop is now sweeping through the globe as a new attraction among youngsters, in addition to Korean street fashion staged by the “fappies” or fashion people.