Hallyu (한류) refers to the consumption of Korean popular culture across the globe. This includes Korean dramas, movies, music, and even food.
The Korean Wave actually started with the exports of Korean dramas such as Winter Sonata into East and Southeast Asian countries. Eventually, movies and music were also exported, and not only to Asian countries. Audiences were moved to listen to K-pop because of their unique and beautiful soundtracks (Ryoo).
I can say first-hand that the main reason why most “foreigners” (외국인) choose to learn Korean is because of the popularity of Korean popular culture. Most foreigners who choose to study the language do so because they want to understand dramas without subtitles and want to understand the music they’re listening to. This was actually discussed at length during a presentation in my Korean Culture class, and many students seemed to agree. Certainly one of the reasons why I chose to study the language is because of the strong desire to understand what I’m watching and what I’m listening to, though I also fell in love with the language upon learning it.
Anyway, the point is whether people understand Korean or not, they seem to love Korean popular culture – specifically the music. Perhaps this is because of the unique fashion-forward styles worn by idols, or the intricate dances performed by them, or simply the beat of the music, but for whatever reason, not only Asian countries, but Western countries and countries all over the world are enjoying K-pop. Psy’s “Gangnam Style” (싸이의 강남스타일) is just one example – many Americans don’t even know what “Gangnam” is, but they love the song.
There is an easy way to show how involved everyone is getting in administering and showing their love of K-pop – dance crews and dance/vocal covers. If you go on Youtube you will surely find an endless number of dance covers, as well as vocal covers, of many idol groups’ songs. Many of these covers come out only a few days or weeks after the song is released.
I myself do these dance covers just for fun, because the dances provide a new and interesting way to enjoy the music. Most Western celebrities and singers don’t have choreographed dances, nor do they have “dance versions” of their music videos from which fans can learn the dance.
Here is my latest cover, if you wish to check it out:
The demand for learning K-pop dances is actually quite high. I teach female idol group dances at University of Toronto’s Korean Club.
I get to meet new people – people who share my love of Korea and Korean culture, and all of my students get the same opportunity. Furthermore, some Koreans and Canadian-born Koreans also like joining to meet foreigners and learn about us and why we like their culture. Plus, they also enjoy learning the dances. So we get to interact and enjoy our time together, while learning and broadening our minds.
I have another friend who, like me, shows her love of K-pop through K-pop dances and teaching K-pop dance to the York University 한류 동아리 (Korean club). Her name is Peony Yeung. I asked her about her experience teaching K-pop dance, instead of solely learning the dances on her own, and she said, “I love teaching and watching my students grow each week. These classes aren’t just to learn the dances, but to grow. I want to see my students come out of their comfort zone. We are all too insecure about ourselves, which restrict[s] us from dancing. Of course, it is [a] fun class where you can meet new people”.
I asked Peony how she got into Korean culture, to which she replied that a friend introduced her to the song “Lies” (거짓말) by Big Bang (빅뱅). This is how she started learning about the culture and language. I then asked Peony, why dance? To which she replied: “I started talking about these groups with fellow K-pop lovers at my high school. The student council (which I was part of), were planning a multi-cultural show. We had a feeling there wouldn’t be any East Asian representations, so I grouped up a few girls and formed the Wonder Girls of our school. That was when I learned how much fun it was to dance and developed a passion for it. We weren’t the best dancers but our goal was to grow and improve ourselves with each performance”.
Now Peony has improved greatly and has won many awards for her performances.
Now, let me introduce some friends who have formed their own “family”, while enjoying K-pop together. Together they build friendships and share their experiences and love of K-pop, while helping each other improve.
They live in Toronto and their company is called “Brand New Style” or “BNS” for short. It works almost like an agency, where there are “idol” type groups of friends who do dance and vocal covers. My friend, Brian Seo, is mostly a singer and rapper. I’ve seen him perform many times, and he’s amazing! Together with BNS, every year they hold an event called “Popkon”, where people of all nationalities get to share their love of K-pop with the world through performing their favourite songs and dances. Popkon gives all lovers of K-pop and Korean culture their chance to shine.
One group that is part of BNS is called “Cherie”. Cherie’s leader is Carrie Moy. Carrie and another member named Myla Dimagiba are my friends as well. They are amazing dancers and they practice really hard. Carrie is a dance major, and Myla is still in high school (pretty impressive, huh?). As a full group, there are three other members named Valerie Wai, Raquel Jazmin Romans, and Kalli Magura.
Check out their cover of Exid’s “Every Night” (매일 밤):
Lastly for BNS I’d like to show a vocal cover by one of their groups (with whom I’m actually unacquainted), called “CX25”. They recently did a vocal cover of SNSD’s (소녀시대) “I Got a Boy”:
People’s love for K-pop and Korean culture in general can be viewed through their active participation in their viewing of K-pop performances and their listening to K-pop music. K-pop fans tend to learn the dances, sing-along, and get together to go to karaoke (노래방) or some other kind of Korean club (한류 동아리) in order to share their love of Korea and Korean culture. Hallyu (한류) may have started in East and Southeast Asia, but, certainly, with the help of “Gangnam Style”, as well, it has traveled across the globe, gaining popularity as it does so.
Woongjae Ryoo (2009): Globalization, or the logic of cultural hybridization: the case of the Korean wave, Asian Journal of Communication, 19:2, 137-151
Interview with Peony Yeung