K-pop — along with K-drama soap operas — has been one of South Korea’s most successful cultural exports to date.
A key part of the “Korean Wave” which has swept Asia and beyond in the last 20 years, the K-pop industry is now estimated to be worth $5 billion, with boyband BTS its latest high-profile exponent.
The South Korean government has financed a variety of K-pop themed events in what CedarBough Saeji, a visiting professor at Indiana University Bloomington in the US, said was a form of long-term “soft power diplomacy”.
“When you are covering you get to ‘become’ those idols for the three and a half minutes of the song,” she said, adding that performers will go so far as matching their clothing, accessories and hairstyle to their heroes and heroines.
“The cover dancers of today will be diplomats, news reporters, and business leaders in forty years,” she went on.
“And hopefully they’ll still have a soft spot in their heart for Korea. Korea can’t win the world through hard power – armies, economic bullying – but with soft power even a small country like Korea has a chance.”
The music also provides an artistic alternative for overseas fans, especially those in developing countries, Saeji added.
“The West, especially the United States, has been so dominant culturally for so long, and having a different cultural pole to look to provides hope that one’s own country can experience similar success in the future.”