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TikTok star Devin Halbal takes Korea and Japan by storm

May 16, 2024 - 18:02 By Tammy Park

TikToker, Devin Halbal, also known as “Hal Baddie” on social media, is traveling around Asia, causing a sensation wherever she goes.

Halbal (left) takes a photo with one of her fans (right) at a meet-and-greet in Seoul. (Hugh Hong/The Korea Herald)

On Jan. 27, Halbal posted a video of herself in Japan singing, “sushi kudasai,” meaning, “give me sushi” in Japanese. The video went viral, and within days, Halbal was suddenly being recognized by locals all over Korea and Japan.

Videos of Halbal bumping into her fans and spontaneously singing the catchphrase with big crowds of people in the middle of the street have amassed millions of views on TikTok and Instagram. The fan meetups have gotten so intense that, at one point during one of her meetups in Jeju Island she was required to be escorted by the police.

Halbal said she remembers the day she woke up and saw that her video was getting picked up by TikTok’s algorithm in Asia.

“I guess the way the algorithm works, it pushes it out to the countries near you. So it wasn’t just Japanese people seeing my videos. It’s now Thai people, Malaysians, Indonesians, and Koreans. Prior to me coming to Japan in January, I didn’t really have that much of a presence in Japan,” she said in an interview with The Korea Herald.

In response to her newfound fame in Asia, what she thought would be a short vacation away from her home in New York to Japan turned into a full-blown Asia tour.

Halbal (center) takes a photo with a Korean student at a meet-and-greet in Seoul. (Hugh Hong/The Korea Herald)

While it may seem like Halbal suddenly rose to fame, she is no overnight sensation.

Halbal first started creating content back in 2021. She started with content about a transgender woman traveling alone, but she became known for her selfie stick and her knack for making people laugh with her positive energy and catchy mantras. During her years of creating content on TikTok, she connected with her audiences with catchphrases like, “doll check-in,” “Met Gala behavior,” and “I’m a butterfly."

This fact was evident during her offline meetups in Korea.

While there were fans who had come to see her after recognizing her from the “kudasai” video, she was also greeted by many international supporters who had been following her content and journey for years. One of them included Bill Le from Wisconsin who happened to be visiting Korea for a couple days. He believes that Halbal achieved international fame because her positive energy transcends language barriers. “I’ve been following her for a few years now,” he said. “I got to stop by and see her, and it felt very magical. She just has a lot of energy, she’s a ball of light. Just felt very excited to be there for her.”

Young Korean fans, Kwon and Park, show The Korea Herald the "kudasai" video that went viral along with a selfie that they took with Halbal. (Hugh Hong/The Korea Herald)
Young Korean fans, Kwon and Park, show excitement after getting a selfie with Halbal. (Hugh Hong/The Korea Herald)

When asked about some of her next adventures, Halbal responded that she hopes to visit many more countries and meet more people who resonate with and find strength from her videos, “I’m ready to enter my K-pop era," she said.

Watch Halbal “enter her K-pop era” in a recent video on The Korea Herald’s YouTube channel, StudioH. The episode features Devin Halbal and Choi He-suk, and is produced by Tammy Park, Hugh Hong, Jihun Ye, Bumjun Bae and Yena Lee.