In the last decade, the attractiveness of South Korean everyday and pop culture has increased around the world. The popularity of this Korean cultural wave (hallyu) is largely the result of state cultural policy. Through globalization, new technologies and cooperation between the public and private sectors, mass culture has become an important driver of South Korea’s economic development. Hallyu also strengthens South Korean soft power, building a positive image of the state. The global popularity of hallyu will grow, and its elements will increasingly penetrate the pop culture of other countries.
Hallyu is a socio-cultural phenomenon associated with the growing popularity of South Korean culture, especially popular. It was initiated in the late 1990s in connection with the success of Korean television series (K-dramas) and movies in east and southeast Asia. At the beginning of the 21st century, popular music (K-pop) gained importance and remains to this day the largest vehicle of hallyu. Currently, the Korean wave also includes, among other things, online games, comics and animations, literature, cuisine, cosmetics and fashion.
In the last decade, hallyu has found audiences beyond Asia, becoming a global phenomenon. According to the estimates of the Korea Foundation, there are 1,799 Korean wave fan clubs (social media groups) in 94 countries, connecting approximately 99.32 million people (end of 2019). Most fans are in Asia and Oceania (71.81 million, 479 fan clubs), while in Europe there are the most fan clubs (624), connecting 15.5 million people. The Korean wave is becoming increasingly popular in the Americas (about 12.15 million people in 542 fan clubs). The fewest fan clubs and members (154 and 320,000, respectively) are in the Middle East and Africa. Recent successes on the U.S. market, including four Oscars for the movie “Parasite”, and multiple chart-toppers by the K-pop band BTS, confirm the strength of hallyu. Its success is due to the cultural policy of the Republic of Korea, initiated in the 1990s, which uses globalization and technological development.
Hallyu’s global popularity will grow due to the constant expansion of the offer, with new fields, mastery of the mechanisms of digital distribution and consumption of cultural content, greater orientation towards foreign recipients and the use of new technologies. Elements of hallyu will increasingly penetrate the pop culture of other countries, affecting their cultural industries (such as the film industry in the United States, following the success of “Parasite”).
South Korea has become one of the global pop culture centers also thanks to the involvement of fans around the world. They increase the reach of hallyu through social media activity, and translations of TV series and lyrics of songs. They can also act as a lobbying group. This was shown by the example of one of the Polish TV stations, which, for its negative opinions about a K-pop singer, was flooded with a wave of critical comments in social media and forced to apologize. Hallyu will also have a greater impact in Poland, where, according to the Korea Foundation, there are around 115,000 fans. The growing popularity of hallyu in Poland may prompt South Korea to increase the export of cultural content and related consumer goods and services to the Polish market. The South Korean example may encourage deeper cooperation between the public and private sectors for the development of creative industries in Poland.