K-Pop in India: South Korean cultural wave hits Indian millennials

Hallyu whirlwind of Korean food, fashion and famous idols

Culture

May 31, 2021

/ By / Gurugram

K-Pop in India: South Korean cultural wave hits Indian millennials

Korean bands such as BTS are taking over the hearts of Indian K-Pop lovers (Photo: Youtube – BigHit Ent)

What makes India’s youth so enamoured with Korean culture? From attractive, young musicians to dashing romance heroes on screen, the undeniable statistics reveal India’s fascination with all things Hallyu.

When Spotify, one of the most popular music streaming services in the world, launched in India in 2019, almost a decade after its global launch, Owen Smith, director of product growth, was amazed. “My number one surprise was how big K-pop is in India,” Smith said. But K-pop had been around in India for years before Smith realised it. The first time most Indians came to know about K-pop was similar to when the rest of the world did – in 2012, when Psy’s ‘Gangnam Style’ became a viral hit.

In the past decade, Korean pop music and Korean soaps, more commonly known as K-pop and K-dramas, have exploded among India’s youth. This is a trend that began mainly in the North-Eastern states, where teenagers have closer interactions with East Asian cultures, but now Hallyu, or Korean Wave in Chinese, has spread across India. According to Spotify’s records in 2020, India was in the top 22 pc of K-Pop listening in all of Spotify’s markets globally. Some of the most loved K-Pop bands in India include the world-renowned group BTS and the girl group Blackpink.

Fansites of these artists pop up continuously on Instagram and related topics trend on Twitter in the top 10 or 20 list almost every week. One of the most prominent Indian pages, @Bangtan_india, has 177,000 followers. Sweta, a 27-year old fan in Delhi, runs the fanpage @sweta_kpopindia, which keeps followers updated on new music videos, concerts, and especially on K-Pop related events in India.

“I started the fanpage after being a K-Pop fan for two years. I realised that people really criticise Korea and their culture a lot, even when they don’t know enough about it. In fact, we also get lots of criticism as K-pop fans,” Sweta tells Media India Group.

Although most Indians have become more accepting of South-East Asian cultures, traces of racism towards them still exist, with some people making degrading comments about their looks and language.

“I started the page to give Indian fans a safe platform and to educate my friends about Korean music. I want them to understand what ‘Music has no language’ actually means,” says Sweta.

A particularly captivating aspect of the music created by pop bands like BTS is the recurring storylines told through the lyrics and music videos. One of their recent albums called “Love Yourself” focuses on conveying to fans the message of self-love and acceptance, letting go of bad emotions and spreading kindness to the people around them.

“There are so many songs that gives us strength, confidence, love, assurance. I could see myself in them and feel I’m being understood by them.” Prakriti, a nineteen-year-old student who runs the page @_dramamaster and has more than 26,000 followers, tells Media India Group. “It works like medicine. I can relieve my stress and anxiety.”

Korean pop culture starts to attract mainstream attention

Fans gather at the airport to welcome KARD for their first concert in India (Photo: sweta_kpopindia)

Outside of music, Korean dramas have also captured the hearts of many Indian millenials, so much so that Netflix India’s 2020 records showed an increase of 370 pc in the viewership of K-dramas and movies. This may be due to the similar cultures in Asian countries; after all, when 3 Idiots was released in Korea in 2011, it became an unexpected hit since Koreans could also relate to the flawed and cutthroat competition in education systems. Certain themes are also very similar between Indian and Korean dramas –dramatic romance scenes rife with pauses, slow motion sequences, and lilting background soundtracks. One of the first dramas that became internationally recognised, 2013’s “The Heirs,” featured strict, wealthy parents who interfered in their children’s love lives – another common Indian trope. However, there are also certain differences that attract youngsters and shift their attention from the Indian serials shown on television. Prakrati explains their curious appeal.

“I do prefer Korean entertainment better nowadays because K-dramas are much more sensible, realistic, and not problematic. K-dramas don’t objectify women much, which happens in Bollywood a lot,” she tells Media India Group.

“Bollywood before 2014-2015 was really better than nowadays. Even the famous songs are all just about remixed stories of women or alcohol, because a lot of Indian youngsters like listening to that, so it’s nice to have an alternative.”

This is not how all fans feel, however. Sweta believes her love for one culture does not take away her passion for her own.

“I was born in India. I have listened to Indian music and watched Indian movies since forever. I would say I just added one more genre to my collection,” she says, adding, “both industries are mostly focused on emotions, realities of life, a little comedy and fiction. They both have their own charm and you can’t select one.”

Regardless of the reason for their success, it is clear that the inability to understand the language does not deter the fans from thoroughly enjoying and being inspired by Korean entertainment; as award-winning director Bong Joon-Ho said in his Oscar speech, “Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”

For many Indian fans however, movies and subtitles are not enough. According to the 2020 language report given by Duolingo, a language-learning app, India figured in the list of top 5 countries with the most Korean learners. The Centre for Korean Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi became an independent department in 2013 and has grown into one of the largest Centres of the SLL & CS at the university. In 2020, the National Education Policy announced that Korean was to be introduced as an option for second-language at secondary schools, a decision helped by petitions brought via the South Korean Embassy and Korean Cultural Centre.

The influence of Korean culture has extended beyond the entertainment industry. Increasing numbers of Korean grocery stores, restaurants are popping up all over the country as a way to satiate Indian fans who want to try the same cuisine as the protagonists in their favourite dramas. A shift away in interest from Western-style makeup and fashion trends to K-beauty has also expounded the growth of commercial brands such as Innisfree and The Face Shop in India.

“Korean culture is not limited to K-pop or K-dramas in India anymore. So many young fans have started learning the language because many of them plan their future in Korea now,” says Sweta.

The future of Hallyu in India

IN2IT prepare a special Bollywood performance for Indian fans (Photo: Ruchi Sawardekar)

K-pop groups such as KARD and VAV have had successful concerts in India, but the most popular bands like BTS and EXO are yet to add India to their list of countries for world tours, though millions of fans may be eagerly waiting for them.

“The experiences I had at the concerts were amazing and memorable. We always get lots of love from Korean artists,” says Sweta proudly. “All of them always prepare an Indian song to show their love to Indian fans. I want this to happen again and again and again.”

Millenials like Sweta and Prakrati hope that Korean culture can become more easily available in India. The intense choreography and songs have even inspired a yearly contest held by KCC where applicants from all over India compete by singing and dancing to songs by their favourite idols on stage. Z-Pop, a reference to Generation Z fans, is a project that is following a format similar to Korean idol training, and is giving Asians of all nationalities a chance to follow their dreams.

“Every K-Pop group has its own charm on stage which attracts the dance lovers like me a lot. In Z-Pop, two of Indian artists are already shining as K-Pop idols. I just hope we get more opportunities to audition for Korean entertainment companies in India as not many fans can move to Korea for auditions,” Sweta explains.

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