Fifteen entrants from around the world showcased their talent and love for Korean pop music at the K-pop World Festival on Sept. 30, the culmination of contests held at over 80 locations around the world, with a total of 13,000 having participated.
In the age of short attention spans and children playing video games, it was an amazing sight to see young people from around the world coming to Changwon, South Gyeongsang Province, showing off the results of hours of practice to display their skills.
All the contestants showed amazing dance moves, and singing voices to match. Hallyu is showing its long reach, as this year’s contestants came from Mexico, the US, Sweden, Vietnam, Nigeria, Russia, China, Malaysia, Nepal, Japan, Hungary, Israel, Indonesia, India and Italy.
In a previous diplomatic assignment in New Delhi, India, I attended the local K-pop festival sponsored by the Korean Cultural Center.
We witnessed a packed arena of mostly young Indian men and women watching their fellow Indians show off their singing and dancing skills and a clear love of Korean music. It was fascinating, in a country known for its own cultural wave of Bollywood, to see young people compete to sing in Korean and dance like the latest Korean boy bands.
How many countless hours of practice must have been put in by these dedicated young men and women in Changwon? More importantly, what an amazing demonstration of soft power public diplomacy. All these young people are learning about the Korean language, culture and more through K-pop songs.
Building on Psy and Gangnam style, years later the reach of K-pop continues to grow. As more young foreigners search the web for K-pop videos and try to sing-along, interest and knowledge about Korea itself, as well as the Korean language and culture keep growing.
This in turn allows “Brand Korea” to reach an important and influential market of people around the world.
|Priyanka Mazumdar of India, winner of the 2016 K-pop World Festival, sings in the final of the global K-pop festival on Sept. 30. (Francesca Peterson)|
Since I recently moved back to Korea after a long absence, I am not yet an expert on the latest wave of Korean artists and their popularity. So, I brought along an expert to help me interpret the performances and understand the current scene -- my own 16-year-old daughter.
My daughter, being half Korean, has always had some interest in Korean pop culture. Yet even she was amazed at the performances and mastery of Korean lyrics demonstrated by this year’s contestants.
And, after she posted pictures, video clips and brief summaries on social media after the show, her phone buzzed for hours as likes and comments came in from around the world. Former school classmates from other countries, close friends and past acquaintances reached out, enviously reacting to the fact that she was able to attend such a show.
For those who think that K-pop is mostly watched by Koreans overseas, just look at the pictures and names of the contestants for this year’s world festival. There is not a Korean face or name in the bunch.
Pop culture and music tastes change, and I cannot predict how long the influence of the Korean wave will continue. However, I do know that its reach and popularity continues to soar, and thanks to YouTube and the growing connectivity of the internet, young children in India, the United States, Europe, Latin America and other parts of the globe can all tune in to their favorite Korean stars and songs.
What is harder to measure is what long-term positive effects will come from tomorrow’s influential people and leaders who have a positive view of Korea thanks to Hallyu. This is an effect that billions of won spent on government awareness campaigns could not even begin to approach.
While there is a lot more to public diplomacy than K-pop and the Korean wave, one cannot discount the value of reaching such a diverse international audience. Today’s Korean stars are serving as ambassadors of public diplomacy and helping to spread information and understanding about Korea as a brand.
I urge the government of Korea to take advantage of this phenomenon and harness this interest and goodwill to help raise interest in all things Korea.
By Brian Peterson
Brian Peterson is a US diplomat attached to the regional public diplomacy division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. – Ed.