I myself also wonder why Korean pop and dramas especially is so popular worldwide. Why not Chinese pop and dramas? Why not Japanese pop and dramas? Why specifically Korean? a small country of 50 million people speaking a language that literally does not have any connections to any other language (its a language isolate and no other language is in the same family as Korean; although Japanese has similar grammar). Why are millions of people worldwide suddenly interested to learn Korean?
I’ve pondered this for years. I think there are few key reasons though:
- South Korea is EXTREMELY effective at marketing their culture. Hyundai is a top 5 automaker in the world. Samsung is the #1 IT company in the world. Let me remind you. South Korea has just 50 million people! The fact that it can compete and exceed other global brands from US and Japan and China is absolutely amazing in itself. Koreans are extremely good at marketing everything from their electronics to their culture. They are masters of it, and part of the reason perhaps is because they are a small country, everyone must learn how to market and trade well. Every Korean knows how to speak at least two languages since they have to learn English + either Chinese or Japanese in high school. This lends itself well to marketing globally.
- Koreans are appearance obsessed. Their fashion, makeup style and attention to their appearance is legendary. Everyone around the world knows about the popularity of Korean cosmetics and plastic surgery. Appearance ultimately matters a lot, especially when marketing. Ugly people are not going to be popular. Of course good looking people will be more popular. That’s how humans work, we judge based on appearance. and Koreans prioritize appearance over everything else.
- Kpop and Kdramas are already tailored to international markets. ever notice that Kpop songs always contain a few English words in them? Chinese and Japanese songs certainly don’t. But Korean songs always make sure to add a little bit of English for the international crowd. What’s more, Koreans know how to dance very well. Ultimately lyrics matter very little in these type of songs. You don’t need Korean to appreciate upbeat dance music. Compare this to Chinese songs, most of which are ballads. You need to understand the lyrics for ballads. Not for electronic dance music. Also dancing is something that transcends language barriers. So they made Kpop in a way that doesn’t require you to understand Korean to enjoy it. If Gangnam style was not so upbeat, it would definitely not have been so popular.
- Kdramas are also tailored to a huge female fanbase. They always make sure to weave a story that tugs on the heartstrings. They cast very handsome actors and beautiful actresses, then get them to say very sweet and romantic things because they know these types of scripts appeal very well to females. Korean guys (even if they are very different from the ones in the dramas) are seen very positively in other parts of the world mainly due to the effect of these dramas.
Ultimately I’d say that Korea’s status as a small super competitive country forced it to develop very effective marketing techniques in a way that China or Japan could not. Uniquely amongst foreign songs, you don’t need to have an understanding of Korean to enjoy Kpop. Kdramas are scripted very well in a way that resonates to a global fanbase. And Korean’s natural focus on appearance and style just adds to it. Puts the cherry on top as you will. Hope that helps.