“Hallyu Part Two”: Yale Students Discuss Rise of Korean Entertainment Industry in US

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Netflix US has seen an increase in the popularity of Korean media and films, especially with recent hits such as Squid Game and Hellbound.

Yeji Kim

12:21 am, November 30, 2021

Contributing journalist


Those who tapped into Netflix anytime over the past few months have seen “Squid Game” take the number one spot in most-watched shows, spending 46 non-consecutive days at the top since its release in September. Soon after, the South Korean dystopian drama “Hellbound” reached the number one position, overtaking Squid Game within 24 hours of its release.

In 2021, Netflix has pledged to spend $ 500 million on films and shows produced in South Korea, which may have resulted in an increase in the number of South Korean shows shown on the platform. But while the rapid popularity and consumption of these shows by American viewers was seen by many as unprecedented, a number of Yale students told The News they saw the increase coming.

“Squid Game went to three major Korean TV broadcast companies and was turned down every time,” explained Haze Yi ’23, who grew up in South Korea. “And it was when Netflix came in and the investment took place that they were able to put on the show. I think part of that is with these platforms there is a growing international market. As this trend continues, there is more freedom for the artistic expression of Korean artists and screenwriters. “

“Hallyu” is a Chinese term meaning “Korean wave,” in reference to the worldwide rise in popularity of K-culture from the 1990s to the 2000s. Eugene Kwon GRD ’24, a fourth year PhD. A student in Yale’s Combined Film and Media Studies and East Asian Studies program said the current phenomenon can be considered “Hallyu 2.0”.

Grace Kao, professor of sociology and ethnicity, race and migration at Yale, explained that Hallyu had an impact for some time, especially in the music industry. From the first K-pop song to hit the US charts in 2009 – “Nobody” by The Wonder Girls – to BTS having four number one singles on the Billboard Hot 100, it looks like this increase is going to be long-winded, Kao said.

Kwon echoed these sentiments, telling the News that this new increase in the popularity of K-drama is “the culmination of a very long process of domestic efforts in Korea to make their products sell well abroad. “.

He added that platforms such as Netflix have helped spread this success.

Kwon cited Korean media conglomerate CJ as an example, as they have been making efforts since the 1990s to target the global market and audience. CJ is the company behind “Parasite” and “Snowpiercer” and is the Korean distributor for Paramount Pictures. Kwon pointed out that these Korean media companies seek to reach out to the masses and realize that it is crucial to be audience-oriented and consumer-oriented in their performance.

“The creators and producers of these shows now really understand what motivates viewers and audiences around the world,” Kwon said.

The boom in Korean entertainment is also partly linked to South Korea’s economic growth. In the 1950s, South Korea was largely an agricultural economy dependent on foreign aid. But thanks to rapid industrialization and urbanization, South Korea’s per capita income has more than a hundredfold since then. In the meantime, the Ministry of Culture has been formed to help boost Korean tourism and support domestic entertainment industries.

These efforts were only reinforced with the rise of streaming services. Since 2016, Netflix has added $ 4.7 billion to the South Korean economy, creating 16,000 jobs.

Kao explained how some shows and films, such as “Squid Game”, have been able to overcome the language barrier to gain international popularity.

“I think Squid Game appealed to a lot of people because of its simplicity,” Kao said. “Games for children are universal and the desperation of people in poverty is felt by people all over the world as well… The pace is faster than most K-Dramas and it’s engaging for you to want to see the next episode. . “

For Yi, a possible explanation for the popularity of “Squid Game” has to do with the obvious themes of wealth and inequality. Yi said that there is a pretty big gap between the rich and the poor in South Korea, evidenced by the small size of the country. There is also a huge divide in the United States, Yi noted, but it is one “where the poor can’t really imagine how the rich live because they live in such different areas.” As the wealth gap in the United States grows, Americans relate more to Korean movies and shows on these issues, she said.

“Squid game” is currently the most watched show in Netflix history, with 2.1 billion hours watched worldwide. Director Hwang Dong-hyuk has announced that a second season is in the works.

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