If you're a movie buff or a "Bachelor" fan, you might've noticed a sudden, steady trickling of popular culture from a certain nation entering your worldview. That's because, as journalist Euny Hong explains in her new book, The Birth of Korean Cool, the exportation of music, fashion and technology has been a nationally-sanctioned focus in South Korea since the 1990s. Called Hallyu ("The Korean Wave"), this very intentional push to popularize Korean culture has only caught wind in America in recent years.
"Hallyu is literally just the Korean word for Korean wave, and it described what most people don't realize is a Korean government backed and financed national project," Hong told The Huffington Post. "It is currently the nation's number one priority, to export Korean popular culture to the world."
Although K-dramas and K-pop singers like Shinhwa have been smash hits across Asia since the early 2000s, the few attempts that have been made by such groups to gain popularity in the West were largely unsuccessful, until Psy's "Gangnam Style" blew up in 2012.
When asked about "Gangnam Style," Hong asserts that Psy both is and isn't the harbinger of the Korean wave. "It came as a surprise to everyone that his video was the first in YouTube history to hit a billion views," she explained. "He's actually sort of an outlier. He didn't come through the K-pop factory where you're picked at age 12 and groomed." Hong goes on to say that Psy writes his own songs, which is uncharacteristic of Hallyu artists, and that he has the "wrong look" for k-pop.
Hong notes that she and Psy attended rivaling schools in Gangnam, which she calls a present-day "Rodeo Drive of Seoul." But, when she lived there in the '80s, the city was still in the throes of political tumult, and was less noticeably affluent. "As soon as I saw this video, and that he was mocking the excess of the nouveau riche, I realized that the area has probably changed," she said.