Mangas, K-pop, series, films… Why is South Korea a hit?

Strange, this passion for South Korea, is surprised Fabrice, 48, flabbergasted by the enthusiasm of his 16-year-old son for everything that comes from this small country facing the west of Japan. He takes taekwondo lessons, wants to learn Korean to better understand the singers he listens to over and over again and even tried to prepare kimchi, fermented cabbage, for us, he who has never been able to make broccoli swallow. ! A passion that brings together well beyond the younger generations. A sign: in 2022, American series have been dethroned. worldwide success, Squid Game was the most-watched in Netflix history last year, followed immediately by another South Korean hit, All of Us Are Deadpreceded by My Name,Kingdom, The Silent Sea, Vincenzo

Ditto in the cinema with Parasite, the film by Bong Joon-ho, quadruple surprise victory at the Oscars and the most profitable Palme d’or in France for fifteen years (1.67 million spectators). As for international music rankings, K-pop (South Korean pop) groups have been in the firmament for several years now. In 2021, the clip for the last single Butter by boy band BTS was viewed 108.2 million times on YouTube in twenty-four hours. An unequaled record! This general enthusiasm has a name: “ hallyu “.

From manga to manhwas

The pattern is the same for at least 80% of enthusiasts, women and men: first attracted by video games, manga, series from Japan or J-pop, they then discovered their ‘made in Korea’ counterparts. ‘: manhwas (South Korean manga), K-pop, K-dramas… Love at first sight concludes Gilbert, a thirtysomething geek whose passion feeds on an overabundant K-production.

South Koreans always know how to fill boredom “, emphasizes Lucile Riffet, 22, who chose hallyu as the subject of her thesis. ” K-pop groups take turns; when some take breaks, others replace them. There is always something new to watch on the networks! A paying strategy against the Japanese rival who thought he didn’t need anyone. ” They locked everything down. From the 2010s, they only put a short version of the clips online and the rest was paid for, even sharing photos of celebrities became impossible, explains Rihana, a thirtysomething fan who knows her subject well… » CQFD: the worshipers of the country of the Rising Sun have migrated to that of the Morning-Calm.

Chaebols and soft power

This wave is therefore not the result of chance, as analyzes Barthélémy Courmont, research director at the Institute of International and Strategic Relations (Iris). ” The South Korean state is committed to promoting the cultural industry and the chaebol he says. Chaebols? These South Korean industrial groups form influential conglomerates in all sectors. ” They concentrate production, promotion, distribution and spin-offs in cosmetics, fashion, tourism, etc. “, explains the specialist. Thus, young people who believe they are joining an alternative “subculture” are more likely to be influenced by a large-scale commercial strategy.

Like Japan before it, South Korea has, for example, funded cooking classes all over the worldillustrates the sociologist Vincenzo Cicchelli, author with his colleague Sylvie October of K-pop, soft power and global culture (PUF). Soft power is a form of cultural diplomacy that goes hand in hand with economic power. To play a role in the great arena of globalization, South Korea has bet on its stars, witnesses and actors of its international success, by offering cultural products that stand out from international standards. This soft power is not exclusive to Asia. ” This is what France has been doing for centuries, a country where culture has an international influence which reflects on its economic and military power. “recalls the sociologist Sylvie October.

The strength of the collective

You still have to know how to stand out. ” South Korean series succeed in this because they mix genres: romance, social chronicle, humor… They show realities without watering them down, create complex and endearing characters. », Analyzes the sociologist. Westerners find values ​​that attract them. ” The music is “fun”, the videos sublime, the dancing hypnotizing with ultra-synchronous groupssays Lucile Riffet, an early fan with her sister Annabelle. We have the impression that they are our friends, like with BTS, which has helped a lot of young people to come out of a depressive state. They too have gone through an existential crisis and dare to talk about it. They are friendly, sincere, hypercommitted. Boy bands and girl bands get along like brothers and sisters and that touches us. »

And the South Koreans take care of the staging: giant castings of candidates and intensive training in boarding schools under the gaze of ” netizens “(citizens of the Net) sprinkled with solidarity values, messages on inclusion, tolerance, sisterhood…” It is thanks to this that they achieve perfectly synchronized choreographies, which suppose to know each other very well.summarizes the sociologist Vincenzo Cicchelli. In the West, we seek to highlight individuals, while South Korean production houses aim for the collective. »

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The South Korean fantasy?

These are new methods for a high-tech society whose modernity is a source of fascination. ” They are so far ahead of us! remarks Gilbert, who has twice visited his El Dorado. All is not rosy, but they have achieved a quality of life far superior to ours “, he judges. Vincenzo Cicchelli explains: “ They have faith in the future: it is an attractive image for the West, which is more defeatist. Who would have thought, forty years ago, that South Korea would become such a modern nation? She acquired the image that America had in the 50s and 60s: the country where everything is possible! Even its status is a bit apart among the great powers. It is a democracy that has never been an imperialist and conquering state.

On the contrary, South Korea was occupied by Japan and knew how to be reborn…” However, all this has its downsides. “warns Sophie October. Annabelle is aware of this: It’s an elitist, perfectionist, high-stress society with a high suicide rate. “, she says. Rihana, for her part, observes: South Koreans are very closed to LGBT issues and feminism, they have a lot of social problems! This does not prevent requests for Korean language courses from exploding and European students from testing the quality of universities considered to be among the best in the world. Besides, Annabelle plans to spend at least a year there. The South Korean dream is there.

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Mangas, K-pop, series, films… Why is South Korea a hit?