“South Korea, by targeting youth, has been shaking up global pop culture for twenty years”

Emmanuel Macron, to emphasize that youth is a goal, celebrated his victory by marching with children. How to seduce this fragmented and contradictory youth, many of whom have deserted the polls, out of disinterest or hostility? Let us recommend to the re-elected president a wonderful book: K-pop. Soft power and global culture (PUF, 324 pages, 22 euros), sociologists Vincenzo Cicchelli and Sylvie October. Or how South Korea knocked out by the economic crisis of 1997, rebounded through entertainment: the country was able to capture the imagination of young people to unite a nation, before setting out to conquer Japan, then Asia and finally the world, with armed arms TV series and pop music.

This is a feat for a democracy of 51 million inhabitants with uninhibited capitalism and penalizing language. It is even the main upheaval in world pop culture for twenty years, to the point of seeing Korea titillate the Big Three – United States, Japan and Europe.

Some emblems hide a slew of other names. The BTS group is the number one record seller in the world. Series Squid Game captured 111 million viewers on Netflix – a record. The cinema has for flagships Bong Joon-ho and his film Parasite, Palme d’Or at Cannes. The latter embodies a creation as lively in Korea as heritage. The strength of the country is to have developed alongside a popular culture named hallyu (“Korean wave”), uniting the youth.

miraculous alchemy

The triumph owes nothing to luck, everything to hard work, say Cicchelli and October. It also has several driving forces: a very proactive state, powerful industrial conglomerates with creative branches, communication giants like Samsung with its XXL-screen mobile phones, solid companies specializing in music or series. That everyone has been advancing hand in hand for years, each in their role, is miraculous alchemy.

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Transforming youthful emotions into merchandise is more like a martial system. Companies, some listed on the stock exchange, create in-house stars in this way: 100,000 auditions, 0.1% elected, monstrous training, a private life under control. They are 20 years old, are both actors, singers, dancers, performers, models, animators…

Crossing disciplines suits a young public fed with the Internet – even more so in a Korea where broadband is widespread – which has taken cultural outings in favor of online music and images, and also video games. In this logic, Korean pop culture is intended primarily for domestic screens, via YouTube or platforms, without going through a hard place. The webtoon are the best example, a kind of Korean manga distributed only on the Web.

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“South Korea, by targeting youth, has been shaking up global pop culture for twenty years”