The Hallyu phenomenon

The Korean wave, also referred to as the K-wave, or Hallyu in Korea is the emergence of South Korean as an international image of popular culture, starting in Asian countries and spreading into Western countries. The country’s music, film and gaming industries have created global trends, predominantly in Asia, including clothing, alcohol, food, hairstyles, make up.

Psy, the K-pop artist, and winner of World Music Awards ‘World’s Best Video’, ‘World’s Best Male Artist’,’World’s Best Live Act’, ‘World’s Best Artist Entertainer of the Year’  and ‘World’s Best Song’ led Hallyu into the Western world with his song Gangnam Style and so came Hallyu 2.0. The video below shows an UK based film ‘parody’ of Gangnam Style, and highlights how Westerners adapt to unknown cultures.

Video: Frozen Gangnam Style

TheKorean wave was encouraged on social media video sharing platform YouTube, with the popularity of Psy, as shown in the graph below. Viewings peaked on K-pop YouTube channels after Psy’s song Gangnam Style and later Gentleman was uploaded onto the site. According to YouTube Trends, in 2014, 91% of these 7 billion viewings were outside of Korea (2014).


Graph: YouTube Trends

Korea has faced some challenges with illegal piracy due to the complexity of Intellectual Property laws in its new markets. In the past, Korean music streaming sites have been forced to lower their prices in order to encourage pirates to purchase legally. Piracy being in the form of fans downloading illegally, and sometimes making adjustments (ie. adding subtitles).

People argue that without international piracy Hallyu would cease to exist. The adding of subtitles to Korean films, and music videos has opened up a larger market of viewers, and potentially this popularity might lead to an increase in purchases of rights for Korean film, due to the added accessibility for non-Korean speaking fans. Some media corporations have started offering live streaming of the videos on their site, and even adding subtitled versions, including MNET, KBS and SBS.

According to Beyond Hallyu, “Korea reported a surplus of cultural exports for the first time in 2012 i.e. more cultural content was exported that imported, mostly as a result of Hallyu. Yet, undoubtedly even more of this content was consumed in a way which resulted in no return for anyone involved in production” (2013). The illegal downloading however can promote the multiplier effect, causing these pirates to buy CDs, merchandise, concert tickets, as well as provide a ‘word of mouth’ marketing for Korean culture.

So in a broader sense is piracy the reason for the Hallyu phenomenon, or is this only the beginning? Will this be the factor that promotes the idea for consistent international Intellectual Property laws?


Yong Jin, D 2012. ‘Hallyu 2.0: The New Korean Wave in the Creative Industry’, International Institute Journal University of Michigan, Vol. 2, No. 1,viewed August 2015, <–hallyu-20-the-new-korean-wave-in-the-creative-industry?rgn=main;view=fulltext&gt;

Allocca, K 2015. A year since Gangnam Style, K-Pop keeps getting bigger, YouTube, viewed August 2015, <;

Lizzie, L 2013. BH Discuss: Would Hallyu ever be possible without piracy?, Beyond Hallyu, Blog, 14 October 2013, viewed August 2015, <;

Hart, R 2011. Hallyu and Piracy in South Korea, International IP Policy, Blog, 14 November 2011, viewed August 2015, <;


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