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'Hallyu' goes global: South Korean pop culture booms in Europe

The latest annual report of the Korea Foundation, realized in cooperation with the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, attests to the meteoric rise of hallyu outside the borders of the Asian country

Published: Mar 15, 2023 02:41:30 PM IST

'Hallyu' goes global: South Korean pop culture booms in Europe There are 178 million hallyu fans around the world in 2022. Image: Adek Berry / AFP©

Music, cinema, TV series... A cultural wave from South Korea has swept across the globe. Europeans, in particular, have been seduced by these offerings, according to a recent report by the Korea Foundation.

Some 178 million people around the world have been won over by this "soft power" from Seoul in 2022, according to the Korea Times, which cites figures from the South Korean organization. This estimate is 19 times higher than the 9.26 million counted in 2012, when the Korea Foundation began measuring the international impact of hallyu. This term, which literally means "wave," refers to a wide variety of cultural products (K-pop, K-dramas, K-films or Hallyuwood productions, etc.) whose only common point is that they are produced in Chosun, or the Land of the Morning Calm. Vincenzo Cicchelli and Sylvie Octobre outline in their book "K-pop, soft power et culture globale" (PUF, 2022) that hallyu is one of the major cultural phenomena of the early 21st century.

The latest annual report of the Korea Foundation, realized in cooperation with the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, attests to the meteoric rise of hallyu outside the borders of the Asian country. First of all in China, where there are no less than 84.3 million fans. Thailand and Vietnam also proved to be key sources of fans, with an estimated 16.8 million and 13.3 million South Korean pop culture aficionados respectively. On a global scale, Asia is the continent most enthusiastic about cultural productions coming straight from Korea.

However, Europe is increasingly catching up. The Korea Foundation's survey reveals that there were no less than 13.2 million hallyu fans on the Old Continent in 2022, an increase of 37% in one year. Figures that highlight why the South Korean government has every interest in intensifying its efforts to increase its soft power in the region. "We could utilize Europe as a bridgehead for expanding Korean wave to the West in the future," the organization said in a statement, accessed by The Korea Times.

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But what exactly are the factors responsible for the rise of hallyu abroad? First of all, the South Korean government has been investing massively in culture since the 2000s in order to increase its influence on the international scene, as the United States has done in previous decades. Indeed the budget of the Ministry of Culture  exceeded 7 trillion won (6.05 billion dollars) in 2022, according to the Korea Herald. This is a first in the history of the Land of the Morning Calm. Fan clubs also play a key role in the spread of South Korean pop culture: there are 1,684 fan clubs outside of South Korea in 118 different countries. In comparison, there were "only" 1464 in 2021.