Korean Culture Coming, Changing and Diversifying

By CJ Entertainment

By Naiwen Cui



Walking in Times Square, you may see a billboard showing K-pop or K-drama stars, maybe congratulating them on their albums or birthday. Going into CVS, you may see the make-up products from Amore Pacific and skincare products from Dr. Jart. K-beauty is going into American beauty stores. Their looks are similar to the looks of stars showing in the music videos and K-dramas. K-fashion is starting to show up on the streets of the United States. A new wave of Korean culture is everywhere  – but most people may not know it.

“The Korean wave” also called Hallyu or Hanryu, is the word created by Chinese journalists to describe the phenomenon of Korean cultural influences in Asia, especially China and Japan. With the increasing of Korean wave in the countries speaking English, it was translated to Korean wave in English.

“The Korean Wave, at first, only encompassed media products such as Korean pop music, television dramas, and films, but today, Hallyu encompasses every aspect of Korean pop and traditional cultures from Korean cosmetics to the Korean language and Korean food,” said Sherri Ter Molen, the adjunct instructor of the College of Communication at DePaul University in Chicago.

From 2015, the Korean wave grew quickly and spread throughout the industry with K-pop leading the way.

“K-pop is the leading edge of the Korean wave in the United States, along with K-drama, but it is more interested in K-pop than in K-drama,” said Crystal S. Anderson, the director of the office for cultural studies at Longwood University.


The development of the Korean cultural wave is changing the national image of South Korea in American people’s mind gradually.

Korea is not always viewed favorably in the U.S., especially for older Americans who remember the Korean War. When Jenna Gibson was going to move to Cheonan, South Korea in 2011, she said her family was really scared, especially her grandfather who was in the Navy during the Korean War. Her parents were also fearful, because they thought North Korea could attack at any time.

“Those concerns or images are still there, especially for the slightly older generation. But the younger generation who does not remember anything about Korean War,” said Gibson, the associate director at Korea Economic Institute of America. She added, “They see these real amazing artists that they start following and really loving. And that will stick with them more than something that happened 70 years ago. Over time, especially as K-wave becomes more mainstream in the United States, it will change more.”

Gibson, like many others engaging in the Korean wave, holds a very optimistic opinion that the Korean wave will help South Korea’s image in the future.

Asian Influences

Wanting to understand the language, many fans tend to learn Korean to enjoy the Korean wave more.

“Almost every single foreign language in the United States is declining. Americans are not really learning foreign languages as much as they used to on the college level. But the only one that increased was Korean,” Gibson said.

(The chart does not include American Sign Language, Latin, Greek-Ancient, Hebrew Biblical, because of none data in some years.)
Source: “Enrollments in Languages Other Than English in United States Institutions of Higher Education, Summer 2016 and Fall 2016: Preliminary Report” by Modern Language Association

“It is really due to the popularity of Korean culture products, like K-pop and dramas,” Gibson said.  “When you listen to K-pop, you want to know what they are singing. When you listen to the interview that your favorite stars are doing, you do not want to wait weeks for translation to come out. It inspires them to learn the language,” she said.

“In some ways, they can also communicate with their favorite idols. They have Twitter and Instagram. Maybe you want to leave a comment in Korean for your favorite stars. A lot of people are inspired by the fact that they could hypothetically communicate with their idols,” Gibson said.

Source: “Enrollments in Languages Other Than English in United States Institutions of Higher Education, Summer 2016 and Fall 2016: Preliminary Report” by Modern Language Association

Many fans say the Korean wave makes society more diverse and unifies different races. Fans often like to say, “As long as we love the same idol, no matter where you come from, we are friends.”

Mileena Santiago, the dancer of Harmonyc Movement, said, “It is breaking down borders for people. I never met so many friends before. I fully immerse myself into K-pop. We do not have a lot of friends share these with, so we come together a lot through K-pop. It brings people together and it is very universal.”

Molen said she  interviewed a 42-year-old Texan who replaced the forks in his home with chopsticks, changed his diet to rely on the five colors of Korean cuisine, and exchanged his cable television subscription for an online service that streams Korean dramas.

With the Korean wave spreading in all areas of the United States, more and more American are exposed to different types of culture and people.  People like Eric Nam, CL and Jay Park, who are Korean-American, have built great careers and got a lot of experience in the Korean market. They started to come back to the United States with their big fan bases, creating e a new way for Korean-Americans to present on the stage.

Although some experts think it is not very simple for Korean-American to make it big on the stage, because the Korean-American experience is different from the Korean experience, they do believe the Korean wave could be helpful.  John Lie, the professor at the University of California at Berkeley, noted  “it is improving, but very, very slow.”

On Times Square, Harmonyc Movement, a K-pop dance cover group, shows the dance and looks in the music videos. The background is the billboard showing Korean stars’ photos and the Sephora ad   shows K-beauty products. No matter whether you are aware of it or not, the Korean wave is just as a wave taking you in it.

About Naiwen Cui 4 Articles
Naiwen Cui, from Beijing, China, is a graduate journalism student at Emerson College. She has a passion for music and hopes in working as an art reporter.