The Korean Wave "Hallyu" and Hollywood essay

During the epoch of globalization, the world society faces different challenges of social, political, economic, and cultural nature. Largely, globalization is the result of scientific revolution that allowed to invent communicative devices to make the Earth more compact. Therefore, the spreading of new cultural phenomena is facilitated by the today’s communications; and in this way, the control over technical devices means the domination over the global society and its informational dimension. Globalization particularly serves as a way to share the elements of the Western, especially American, culture because of the Western states’ economic, scientific, and technical dominance in the world. In this way, the so-called phenomenon of cultural imperialism takes on a new form determined by new technologies. At the same time, some cultural phenomena that appeared as a result of the Western influences develop in specific directions that are different from the Western origins, thus becoming principally new phenomena of the global culture. The so-called “Hallyu,” the wave of the South Korean popular media production, especially K-pop and TV dramas, that covered Asia and then the whole world, especially after the song “Gangnam Style” by PSY became the most popular on YouTube in 2012, can serve as an example of such a phenomenon. The “Hallyu” exists since the 1990s when the first examples of K-pop started to replace their Hong-Kong and Japanese competitors in the advertisement market, and it remains a huge cultural phenomenon of the 21st century.

To some degree, the “Hallyu” has common features with Hollywood because both phenomena are based on the production of popular music and films that become widely recognized and frequently requested on the global advertisements market. Besides, through the chauvinistic approach to the Western society shares, the “Hallyu” looks like only a Korean interpretation of the American Hollywood and its adaptation to the Korean reality. Such a point of view relies on the “Hallyu’s” misunderstanding because despite the similarity of its aims with Hollywood, it has another charisma and operates the styles differently from those of Hollywood. The “Hallyu’s” main sphere of culture is popular music, when Hollywood provides mostly movies.

Thesis Statement: Comparing the “Hallyu” and Hollywood, both have similar characteristics: one is a place where good artists and intense music emerge and the other one is a place to produce world-famous movies and actors. Although both have focused on different fields in the entertainment industry, more people consider the “Hallyu” as the Asian Hollywood of this century. Besides, the “Hallyu” has a principally different essence from that of Hollywood because of the differences in the history of appearance and development of both phenomena.

The research paper includes five body parts and the conclusion. The body parts deal with (1) the history of both the “Hallyu” and Hollywood, (2) the reasons for the popularity of K-pop, (3) the analysis of Hollywood influences on K-pop, (4) the in-depth research of the Western elements in K-pop, and (5) the comparison of the “Hallyu” and Hollywood in regard to their main features.

The History of the “Hallyu” and Hollywood

The history of the “Hallyu” starts with the end of the World War II when the American Army temporarily controlled the Japanese territory and in such a way caused the productive synthesis of the Japanese culture with the Western one represented by the American influences (Stevens, 2009). The Japanese interpretation of popular music, the so-called J-pop, became the source that in connection with the direct Western influences induced the appearance of K-pop in South Korea. Therefore, it is important to mention the main stages of the development of J-pop because this process includes the roots of K-pop development; moreover, it is difficult to understand the essentials of K-pop without those of J-pop. As Fukuya claims, there were four main stages of J-pop development: the postwar decade (when East and West met in Japan), the “Beatlomania” (the 1960s), the American countercultural influences (the 1970s), and the appearance of high-quality Japanese popular music (J-pop) (n.d.). In such a way, the Japanese popular culture passed the entire process of the Western influences acceptance and interpretation. As for the Korean one, it did not pass through such a deep transformational process: K-pop was a connection of both American and Japanese popular music with the national specifics of South Korea (Shin, Kim, 2013). This detail presupposes the specifics of K-pop.

One of the main reasons for the appearance of K-pop as a huge cultural phenomenon was the Americanization of South Korea that brought both the newest technologies and the Western forms of popular culture to the land (Jin, 2014). In this respect, it is possible to say that the American (or more generally, the Western) influences paradoxically helped reanimate and reinterpret the national Korean culture that became one of the integral parts of K-pop and in this way determined its specifics. At the same time, along with the cultural influence, the technological development also played a crucial role in appearance and development of K-pop in South Korea. Therefore, as Shim claims, there are three general approaches to globalization: some thinkers interpret it as a form of the American cultural imperialism, some as the modernization, and the point of view of the third group is an attempt to understand the globalized world through the power relations between periphery and the center (2006). In other words, the third position provides the interpretation of globalization as a way to create cultural and political hybrids without the definite dominance of any culture or group. The American as well as the Korean culture accepted some changes as the result of their collaboration. The same is relevant concerning the relations between the Korean and Americanized Japanese popular culture. Such an approach helps understand J-pop development as a deep process of mutual cultural interrelations between Korea and the developed countries of the world. At the same time, it is important that at the very first stages of K-pop development, the latter existed under the cultural dominance of the more powerful USA that in some respect presupposed the vector of J-pop further transformations (Shin, Kim, 2013).

As for the cultural phenomenon of Hollywood, it appeared as an American way to create movies due to the appearance of this genre of art at all. Hollywood started from the collaboration of some independent filmmakers; however,  with its development and further success, it took the form of the American specific form to create popular cinema and in this way achieved the national importance (Wasko, 2003). The most influential American film companies have their studios in Hollywood; consequently, these companies follow the general mass tendencies that Hollywood requires as a popular project (Wasko, 2003). It is important that today’s independent filmmakers mostly criticize Hollywood for its orientation on the mass-culture that occurs through using and sharing of different clichés characteristic of the American motion pictures.

In this respect, the aforementioned statement by Shim concerning globalization as the hybridization is also relevant in the case of K-pop. Besides, the difference here is that K-pop is a cultural phenomenon of a periphery, while Hollywood belongs to the center that possesses much more power and is presented in all spheres of social and cultural life. As Shim could claim through the model that he provided, the plane approaches to the relations between Hollywood and other phenomena of the world popular culture interpret those relations as one-sided Americanization or modernization (2006). The case of the Indian Bollywood that is widely considered to be result of Hollywood influences interpreted through the Indian reality can serve as a good example. Besides, the relevant researches demonstrate that Bollywood influences Hollywood as well as the latter influences the Indian motion picture industry (Matusitz, 2014). In such a way, Hollywood in the context of globalization as well as other cultural phenomena of the world undergoes some transformations despite the fact that it belongs to the economically dominant Western civilization. Globalization is a process of equal collaboration and hybridization but not violent oppression of some cultures by others (Ruoo, 2009). Therefore, Hollywood today is in the same situation of indefinite position toward the approaching transformations as well as K-pop.

The Reasons for K-pop Popularity in Asia

The mentioned phenomenon of K-pop is not unique because such cultural hybrids appeared also in Japan (J-pop) and Hong-Kong (Canto-pop). Besides, the phenomenon of the “Hallyu” has no analogues in Asia; and the main specifics of K-pop lay in its huge popularity: it it remains at the top positions in the world pop-music charts. Therefore, for example, the famous South Korean song Gangnam Style by PSY remains the most watched video on YouTube since 2012. It is possible to underline both internal, depending on the Korean industry, and external, depending on the global factors, reasons for such huge popularity of K-pop. The “Hallyu” exists as the result of successful combination of these both groups of reasons (Shin, Kim, 2013).

There are many possible explanations of the internal reasons for the Korean popular music success and dominance in Asia. As Shin and Kim state, most of the researchers traditionally mention such three factors as South Korean governmental support, the development of technologies, and different cultural factors such as the specifics of Korean musical interpretation of the American pop and the attitude of other Asian nations to the Korean culture (2013). Certainly, these factors properly show some systematic reasons for the “Hallyu,” but the most important one, as Shin and Kim claim, was the productive and promotive role of the central entertainment houses of South Korea that facilitated the development and increase of popularity of the first K-pop performers and in this way helped the phenomenon become institutionalized (2013). Those entertainment houses are SM Entertainment, YG Entertainment, and JYP Entertainment (Shin, Kim, 2013). In such a way, the initiative of private capital holders became the main factor for the cultural development, in contrast to North Korea with its totalitarian regime.

As for the external factors, the main one is the economic crisis in Asia at the end of the 1990s. As a result, the entertainment industries of Japan and Hong-Kong became too expensive for its sharing and export, while the Korean one was cheaper and had the same quality. Therefore, both Japanese and Hong-Kong listeners started to prefer K-pop instead of their native J-pop and Canto-pop. In its turn, this detail led to the further development of K-pop that used specific audiovisual techniques and many elements of the Western popular music in order to attract the listener by any means (Jinm 2014).

There is also another side connected with the origins of K-pop and other Asian national genres of popular music. As it was stated, K-pop is the combination of J-pop, Western pop-music, and Korean national music that served as a prism through which all external influences passed. In this respect, K-pop includes the best achievements of not only the Western but also Asian popular music; consequently, J-pop can be understood as the most modern form of popular music. K-pop takes into account both positive and negative experience from the history of today’s music and creates production with regard to that experience in order to satisfy as many listeners as possible. It is clear that due to K-pop synthetic essence, the representatives of each culture can find something for themselves in it.

Another important detail for the huge popularity of K-pop that led to the appearance of the “Hallyu” is the correct manipulation with the target audience. J-pop began from the appearance of such a phenomenon as “charisma,” the name for those J-pop performers who became idols and etalons for their innumerable fans. In contrast to Japanese popular music that formed the concept of “charisma” unintentionally, just along with the general flow of cultural development, the Korean image-makers and producers created such charismas (or idols) deliberately in order to ensure their popularity on the global entertainment market (Fukuya, n.d.). The absolute maximum of the today’s K-pop bands is created in order to attract the listener by the appeal to his or her hidden desires. That is why, for example, the most popular type of K-pop band is a collective of young and sexually attractive girls (the so-called girlband) and boys (the so-called boyband). Such bands as Nu’est, Big Bang, Super Junior, Wonder Girls, and others may serve as the examples.

In such a way, there are many reasons for the great popularity of K-pop in Asia as well as in the whole world, and it is possible to divide them into four categories. Among those reasons are the capitalism in South Korea, the economic crisis in Asia at the end of the 1990s, the synthetic nature of K-pop that appeals to the senses of many cultures and people, and a relevant PR policy that the Korean image-makers and producers realize. The combination of these factors led to the fast increase of K-pop popularity that became a phenomenon called today the “Hallyu.”

The Influences of Hollywood on the “Hallyu”

Despite the emphasis on the musical side of the “Hallyu,” it has also a great segment of motion pictures production. Along with the American Hollywood and Indian Bollywood, the South Korean filmmaking industry is one of the most powerful in the world. That is the reason for the informal name “Hallyuwood” derived from the Korean “Hallyu” and phonetically close to “Hollywood.” It is clear that Hollywood influenced “Hallyu” to a great degree; however today, the Korean filmmaking exists as an independent cultural phenomenon undoubtedly equal to that of the USA and India. The specifics of the American influences that determined the development of the South Korean dramas and movies at the early stages of their development may help understand the essence of the filmmaking side of such South Korean cultural phenomenon as “Hallyu”.

According to Parc and Hwy-Chang, who researched the “Hallyu” through the filmmaking, “the Korean wave is not a temporary phenomenon but a sustainable industry segment” (2013). They make this conclusion through the analysis of a competitive potential of the Korean motion pictures industry in the context of Asia as well as of the whole world. Parc and Why-Chang propose four variables that determine the competitiveness of the Korean films. Those are factor conditions (the performers of a film), demand conditions (the role of the market), related and supporting sectors (investments, communicative devices, etc.), and business context (an ability for a fair competition) (2013). It is clear that the Korean films should compete primarily with those of Hollywood production because the latter are the most popular in the world. In this way, the variables proposed by Parc and Hwy-Chang demonstrate the total equality between the today’s Korean filmmaking and that of the USA.

As for the derivation of some elements of the “Hallyu” from the American roots, it is clear that the Korean filmmakers learned everything available about the motion pictures industries due to the American influences. The specific camera shots, the use of sound and light, and other technical details are completely Western inventions; therefore, the idea of filmmaking is also Western. Consequently, the Koreans interpret the Western styles and genres as well as technical devices through their national specifics. In this regard, the Western world undoubtedly is the cultural space where the phenomenon of filmmaking appeared. Besides, the Korean culture today accepted this phenomenon as its own integral part; and due to this detail, it is possible to say about the competition between Hollywood and the “Hallyu” that can not be understood through the prism of the Western superiority (Olson, 2000).

The West and the Korean Wave

In order to understand the relationships between the Korean Wave (the so-called “Hallyu”) and the Western culture in general, it is important to research them through the prism of globalization with its specific challenges and characteristic interpretations that the representatives of different political views provide. It is possible to use here the already mentioned approach that Shim uses in his research concerning the “Hallyu” in the globalized world. Consequently, as it was already mentioned, there are three approaches to globalization (Shim, 2006). It is necessary to explain the weaknesses of those that Shim omits before using the approach that he offers as a relevant one.

According to Shim, some researchers interpret globalization as another word for cultural imperialism: in this way, the most powerful civilization shares its modes of culture all over the world in order to control other peoples through their accustoming to the dominant culture (2006). Therefore, through this prism, the “Hallyu” should be understood as the result of the American cultural imperialism because Americans (and other Western people) made a great cultural contribution to the appearance of the Korean popular music as well as filmmaking. At the same time, such a position is irrelevant because the “Hallyu” competes with Hollywood as an independent cultural phenomenon, which has already been demonstrated. Consequently, as long as the “Hallyu” is relatively independent, there is no reason to consider the theory of cultural imperialism of the West.

The same concerns the second approach, according to which globalization is equal to modernization (Shim, 2006). Such a chauvinistic Eurocentric position is irrelevant because it is based on the belief that the only source of progress is the West when all other civilizations are treated as undoubtedly inferior. In this regard, it is important to note that although the Western civilization brought the technologies to South Korea that were needed for the “Hallyu” realization, the technical devices were not the only condition for the Korean Wave. If it were so, there would be such a “Wave” in every nation that has a possibility to produce motion pictures. Besides, the “Korean Wave” is a unique phenomenon that has no precedents and analogues. In this way, the modernization is not a correct explanation of the issue.

Therefore, the only correct approach to the problem is the understanding of globalization as hybridization, the process of relatively equal cross-cultural dialogue through which each culture transforms others (Shim, 2006; Ryoo, 2009). It is clear that the power that each culture possesses plays some role in this dialogue; besides, even in such a case, the main result of such an approach is the escape from the primitive plain understanding according to which an active object changes a passive one and remains unchanged. In fact, the interrelations, especially between such dynamic and unstable structures as cultures, cannot change only one part of them. That is why the interrelations between such cultural phenomenon as “Hallyu” and other cultures and phenomena that belong to them, like Hollywood or Bollywood, undoubtedly affect mutual changes (Matusitz, 2014).

The influence of the “Hallyu” on the Western civilization is obvious because many Asian motifs appear in the Western popular culture phenomena; moreover, the public interest in K-pop and the South Korean motion pictures is increasing as well. The “Hallyu” becomes a well-known brand, and the Western people treat it good not only because of its exotic essence but also because of the high quality of South Korean production.

The Difference between Hollywood and the “Hallyu”

In order to explain the difference between Hollywood and the “Hallyu,” it is important to explain the reason why some people consider the latter to be just an Asian version of the American “factory of dreams.” In fact, the reason is in the approaches described by Shim (2006) and mentioned above. The inability to accept the “Hallyu” as a principally independent and new phenomenon comes from the chauvinistic and doubtful belief in the natural dominance of the Western civilization that is considered the only source of power, culture, and progress while other people have to wait for those times when the Western influences will reach and transform them. The mistake of such a position is clear because it contradicts the essentials of the multicultural worldview that treats all cultures as equal and free in their identity. In this way, the attempt to present the “Hallyu” as the Korean version of Hollywood is at least incorrect and intolerant. The only alternative position to such a chauvinistic approach is the conception of globalization as hybridization proposed by Shim (2006) in order to overcome the limitations of colonial chauvinism.

At the same time, it is clear that even the specifics of the “Hallyu” and Hollywood are different. The “Hallyu” concerns K-pop to a higher degree than the filmmaking (despite the great role of the latter in the “Hallyu”), while Hollywood remains primarily based on the motion pictures production. In this way, there is no reason to speak about any essential closeness between these two cultural phenomena. Certainly, both concentrate their attention on the sphere of entertainment; at the same time, both provide different ways of entertainment.

At last, it is important to regard the situation of both Hollywood and the “Hallyu” within the context of globalization. The difference between the relations of these phenomena to the challenges of globalization perfectly demonstrates that their essences are completely different. Consequently, the main aim of Hollywood in globalization is to share the American way of life through the produced motion pictures and propagate the values of tolerance and multiculturalism that are characteristic of the American worldview. Hollywood appeared because of the emergence of cinema in the world. As for the “Hallyu,” it is rather a reflection of the challenges of globalization, as Hogarth claims (2013). In this way, the Korean Wave has a strong national background because it appears to protect the Korean world from assimilation to ensure the power of the Korean culture. It is clear that Hollywood, in contrast to the “Hallyu,” does not perform such a function because of the differences between the USA and South Korea. The problems connected with the Korean national identity are clear at least through the fact of the state’s division into the southern and northern parts. The Korean culture needs such protective devices as a national Cultural Wave; therefore, it appears (Hogarth, 2013). In contrast, the American nation has a strong political and social feeling of identity; that is why the Americans have more freedom in this case, as well as Hollywood has much more freedom in comparison with the “Hallyu.”


Despite some researchers’ chauvinist intention to present all phenomena of the world culture as just interpretations of their Western analogues, it is clear that the “Hallyu” is not the Korean version of Hollywood but a phenomenon with a specific orientation and different specifics as oppose to the latter one. In this way, the adequate research of the relations between the “Hallyu” and Hollywood lead to the reinterpretation of the chauvinist discourse in which these phenomena are represented as being the same. The understanding of the issue through the prism of the conception of globalization as hybridization allows to accept both Hollywood and the Korean Wave as equal phenomena that communicate with each other through the constant interrelation and sequential transformations. The difference between the USA and South Korea as well as between the American and Korean national identities presupposes distinct missions of cultural projects of these nations. Therefore, the “Hallyu” is not the Korean analogue of the American Hollywood but an independent cultural phenomenon of the epoch of globalization.

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The Korean Wave "Hallyu" and Hollywood essay

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