|K-pop boy band BTS. Courtesy of Big Hit Entertainment|
By Dong Sun-hwa
Hallyu has a relatively short history, with the first generation of hallyu born in 2003 thanks to the pan-Asian popularity of TV series including "Winter Sonata." Actor Bae Yong-joon and actress Choi Ji-woo starred in the drama.
In that short period, the Korean wave has come a long way.
There are more than 35 million foreign fans worldwide. That was an estimate by the Korea Foundation in 2016 so the fandom has since grown far larger without a doubt.
Korea Foundation for International Culture Exchange also revealed that hallyu exports in 2017 reached 8.8 trillion won ($7.8 billion).
So it is a growth industry but what remains underexamined is what ordinary Koreans think about it.
"I think most Koreans are not that much interested in hallyu," said a marketer at a beauty and health company who is in his 20s. "I have been quite pessimistic about it too, as I thought Korean media was exaggerating its effects and popularity."
He added: "In particular, the aggrandizement was more obvious when it comes to the West ― the media claimed that some singers gained great accomplishments in the West, but I do not think they were really world stars as the news claimed."
Still, the marketer was impressed by BTS, the K-pop titan which wowed the world after topping the Billboard chart recently.
"It was surprising to see BTS on the BBC ― now, when I think of hallyu, BTS and Psy come to my mind first," he said. "With the group's success, I am now realizing the influence of the phenomenon."
A man in his 40s, who is currently working at a semiconductor company, disclosed that although he is uninterested in hallyu, he knows something about it because of his daughter, who is a K-pop fan.
"However, I am anxious since young Koreans nowadays seem to be excessively obsessed with this fever," he said. "Too many of them desire to be entertainers, and the media is encouraging such a trend." He added that children and teenagers are not given enough chances to appreciate diversity and dream of something different.
His co-worker who is in his 30s also shared a similar viewpoint, saying, "Because of hallyu, kids begin wearing makeup from early on and are getting preoccupied with dressing up."
He added: "This could promote lookism and make youngsters judge people only based on appearance."
|Psy, the singer who rocked the world in 2012 with his hit song "Gangnam Style." Yonhap|
On the other hand, there was another group of people who paid more attention to positive aspects of hallyu.
A history graduate student in her 20s also disclosed that she is quite indifferent to hallyu, and yet believes the phenomenon will be more dominant in the future.
"I heard an American version of the popular Korean show King of Mask Singer is set to be aired," she told The Korea Times. "This could be another opportunity to power hallyu up ― in fact, I believe the phenomenon has already made massive contributions to the growth of Korea's economy in a myriad of fields, including culture and tourism."
Teenagers were comparatively more optimistic about the phenomenon.
"I am in the deepest love with K-pop and have been a fan of K-pop boy band B.A.P., although I am currently busy preparing for the college entrance exam," a high school girl said.
"I think attractive appearances and fan services of stars are major factors that enthrall people across the world. I anticipate hallyu to flourish even more ― these days, I can spot a surging number of grownups showing their interest in hallyu and K-pop."
"Hallyu helped Korea to have a more sophisticated image around the world," a housewife in her 50s said.
"Psy seems to be the frontrunner hallyu star, and thanks to him, I felt that music was the universal language that ties people together. I think the government should take a more active role in promoting the fever, so that hallyu can be long-lasting."
"Despite my unfamiliarity with hallyu content, I know it has enhanced national prestige," revealed a tax accountant in his 60s.
He also highlighted the need to recognize the enthusiasm of singers and actors.
"They sacrifice their youth from early days on as trainees, to show off the best performances," he said.