As Korean movies, TV dramas and music and dance shows gain popularity worldwide, there are calls for greater government support to accelerate their dissemination, preferably through the work of overseas Korean cultural missions. We believe there are better ideas.
It is true that popular entertainment products contribute a lot to a country’s overall profile and their so-called brand power. Koreans, anxious to gain prominence in the global society in economy, trade, sports and all other aspects, are quite encouraged to see their pop stars make inroads into faraway markets beyond Asia.
Following the successful performances in Paris by “K-pop” groups directed by SM Entertainment, other Korean idol groups are planning shows in major European cities. Korean cultural centers in and near these locations are rendering support for those projects, networking with fan clubs and providing publicity materials.
In New York, Los Angeles, Paris, London, Berlin, Tokyo and Beijing, Korean cultural centers, under the wing of the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Sports have been working on introducing Korean culture to their respective communities. Each has the new task of supporting “hallyu,” as the Korean pop culture products are collectively called.
Cultural centers in these and other places have invariably concentrated efforts on art exhibitions, chamber concerts, special lectures, Korean language courses and distribution of history and culture materials. Cultural exchange programs between notable artists, musicians and writers are another major area of their activities.
Demand is growing from within the government as well as from the cultural sectors for the expansion of facilities and staff at overseas cultural centers so that they can better help the rise of hallyu. The proponents point to its strong direct positive effect on the national image. They noted that there is only one Korean culture center in Latin America ― in Buenos Aires, Argentina ― while at least five or six more are needed.
There are plans to open new cultural centers in Mexico and Brazil and a few more in other continents. We certainly need more overseas cultural promotion, but Korea cannot have as many and as large cultural centers as those operated by Japan or China in the world’s population centers. Besides, shifting the focus of their activities to pop culture projects from more conventional genres may not be too desirable.
K-pop groups and other Hallyu stars go on world tours through meticulous preparations by their management enterprises. Behind their U.S. and European debuts, there were years of long, hard training as promising young talent with huge investments and strict individual contracts. Success in this business is due largely to the charms of young Korean entertainers being promoted through all kinds of electronic communication channels and social networking services.
Korean cultural officers and their local staff could help, but their contributions cannot but be limited in the world of pop culture. In London last week, their efforts to create a “flash mob” of local Hallyu fans ― similar to those in Paris ― prior to a K-pop performance produced an embarrassing scene as much fewer people than expected turned up.
Lee Soo-man, representative of SM Entertainment, said that the flash mob at the Louvre plaza which was totally spontaneous heralded the success of the K-pop show at Le Zenith de Paris last month. He emphasizes that K-pop’s competitiveness lies in the strength of systematic talent search and training and that strenuous corporate investment combined with artistic development and tech-savvy marketing would ensure the success of Hallyu in Europe and elsewhere.
Our officials need not be too hasty to get involved. It is rather recommended that Korean cultural centers continue to provide support for artistic and cultural activities overseas which can rarely be given corporate sponsorship. K-pop, which enthralls young people from Hong Kong to Budapest, from Cairo to Durban, can better help the nation’s influence when it is left to our creative and venturesome entertainment enterprisers.