The Korea Herald


Hallyu and K-pop: the boundary blurs

By Claire Lee

Published : Jan. 24, 2012 - 19:09

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Hallyu sees new turn as more K-pop stars dominate TV drama and performing arts scene

This is the last of a five-part series on hallyu. ― Ed.

For Girls’ Generation fans, the year 2012 must come as an exciting one.

Not only are they going to see their favorite hallyu singers on YouTube music videos and K-pop shows, but they are also going to find the girls on the small screen, as TV drama actresses.

Four members of the group -- Yoona, Jessica, Yoori, and Sooyoung -- have recently announced their upcoming foray into the TV drama scene, each participating in different shows for different broadcasters. Among the four, Yoona, who made her TV debut through KBS1 daily drama “You Are My Sunshine” back in 2007, is teamed up with rising K-pop hallyu star Jang Keun-suk for “Winter Sonata” director Yoon Suk-ho’s upcoming show “Loverain.”
K-pop stars Yoona (left) and Jang Kuen-suk star in “Winter Sonata” director Yoon Suk-ho’s upcoming TV drama series “Loverain.” (Yoon’s Color) K-pop stars Yoona (left) and Jang Kuen-suk star in “Winter Sonata” director Yoon Suk-ho’s upcoming TV drama series “Loverain.” (Yoon’s Color)

“I am so excited,” said Cho Hyung-jin, a 24-year-old male fan of Yoona. “She’s a proven star. She’s got the looks, knows how to entertain, and showed off her acting skills with ‘You Are My Sunshine’ already. I don’t see this as a sloppy idol star being forced to act for the sake of popularizing the show. These days, idol stars are not what people used think. They are all trained hard-core to be solid multi-players.”

Speaking of multi-players, Girls’ Generation isn’t alone. Countless K-pop idol stars are making their way into the TV drama scene this year, blurring the boundary between hallyu drama stars and K-pop singers.

KBS’ upcoming dance-and-music teen drama “Dream High 2” features popular girl group T-ara’s Jiyeon, boy band 2AM’s Jin-woon, SISTAR’s Hyo-rin and After School’s Kahi. The show is produced by Holym, a joint venture between JYP Entertainment and “Winter Sonata” heartthrob Bae Yong-joon’s agency Keyeast along with CJ E&M.

Cable channel tvN’s upcoming band-drama “Shut Up Flower Boy Band” stars K-pop boy group Infinite’s L, and Superstar K3 star Kim Min-suk. Boy band ZE:A member Siwan currently appears on MBC’s epic drama series “The Moon Embracing the Sun.”

“I’m very cautious to say this, but I’d say there hasn’t been many successful hallyu dramas after the 2003 epic “Dae Jang Guem,”” said Yoon Suk-ho, director of the 2002’s ‘hallyu-pioneering’ drama “Winter Sonata.” He is currently shooting his upcoming drama “Loverain.”

“K-pop, on the other hand, has its dynamic and energetic side. Jang Keun-suk, who stars in my upcoming drama ‘Loverain,’ and is a rising hallyu star in Japan, is in fact very different from Bae Yong-joon. He’s very one-of-a-kind, isn’t afraid of being himself, and doesn’t have that ‘mysterious’ quality which Bae used to charm his fans in Japan. Jang’s fans in Japan are much younger than the ones of Bae. I think K-pop stars bring energy to the TV drama scene, and attract young people worldwide.”

Yet some are cynical toward the trend, including scholar Jang Gyu-soo, who recently published a book titled “Hallyu and Star-system.”

“People should be aware that most K-pop content is being distributed by Japan’s giant record companies, including the Avex Group, not the Korean agencies,” Jang told The Korea Herald. “So the foreign distributors -- who usually do a good job as the stars’ PR -- take most of the profit, while local agencies of the stars produce press releases that very often overstate about their popularity overseas. Korean media outlets usually publish what they receive from the agencies, and the result is the idolization of K-pop as the major hallyu promoter.

“Yet K-pop album sales are generally low overseas (according to my research), and most foreign fans consume their music online -- especially through YouTube,” he continued. “So it’s inevitable for them to go onto the world of TV, as that’s how they make more money.”

The TV drama scene isn’t the only area where K-pop stars are starting to dominate. Girl group T-ara members are currently starring in homegrown musical “Roly Poly,” which is based on their 2011 retro-heavy hit single of the same title. A member from hallyu girl group KARA, Park Gyu-ri, last year starred in the musical “200 Pounds Beauty,” which was performed in theaters in both Korea and Japan. The Japanese edition was a huge success, selling out its first three performances in Osaka back in July.

Last year, the Korean adaptation of Austrian musical “Mozart” cast hallyu star group JYJ member Junsu as the leading role. Thomas Drozda, president of the show’s production company United Stages Vienna, visited Korea upon the opening of the show in May last year, and expressed his satisfaction with Junsu’s casting. 
Popular hallyu boy band JYJ member Junsu stars in “Elisabeth.” (Theatro) Popular hallyu boy band JYJ member Junsu stars in “Elisabeth.” (Theatro)

“In Austria, idol stars never appear on musical stage,” he had told local reporters. “Junsu has fans all across Asia and his participation in the show attracted more people into the performing arts scene.”

The K-pop singer, who also appeared in last year’s blockbuster musical “Tears of Heaven” and won numerous rookie musical actor awards, is starring in another upcoming Austrian show “Elisabeth,” which is slated to open in February. EMK Company, the show’s local distributor and production house, said they are expecting a large response from Junsu’s overseas fans.

“We’ve already been getting a lot of calls and inquires about group ticket purchases from Junsu’s overseas fans, especially from Japan,” said Lee Bo-eun of EMK Musical Company. “We’ve been certainly expecting such a response from Junsu’s fans, as we’ve already seen what happened with his previous work ‘Mozart.’”

“In China, all actors and actresses sing as well (largely to promote their movies or TV shows),” said scholar Jang. “In Korea, popular K-pop stars get into the TV scene as an alternative for the increasingly difficult music market.”

By Claire Lee (