Why the past decade saw the rise and rise of East Asian pop culture (2022)

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Why the past decade saw the rise and rise of East Asian pop culture (1)

Why the past decade saw the rise and rise of East Asian pop culture (2)

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(CNN)The year was 2009, and the thudding electronic beats of Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" played everywhere.

Around the world, people flocked to see futuristic sci-fi flick "Avatar," and tuned in to watch fun-loving housemates get wild on reality television show "Jersey Shore."

A decade on, and the English-speaking world remains dominated by American-made music, films and television. But there's been a noticeable shift: a steady rise in the influence of South Korean and Japanese pop culture exports.

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    In 2019, Japanese consultant Marie Kondo taught us how to declutter our lives in her Netflix hit "Tidying Up with Marie Kondo." South Korean pop groups BTS and Blackpink showed us big-budget, action-packed music videos -- and smashed YouTube records in the process. And "Parasite" became the first South Korean film to win a Palme d'Or -- and then the film's director Bong Joon-ho appeared on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" speaking mainly in Korean.

      That capped off a decade that's seen the rise of East Asian pop culture in the West, including the catchy "Gangnam Style" by flamboyant South Korean rapper PSY (2012) and the glacially-slow romances in Japanese reality show "Terrace House" (which came to Netflix in 2015).

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      Top English-language fashion magazines like "Vogue" and "Elle" now regularly feature South Korean beauty products, apparently endorsed by actresses Drew Barrymore and Emma Stone.

      "Asia is becoming an increasingly significant cultural force," consulting firm McKinsey noted in a 2019 discussion paper. "In contrast to the past when the region was largely a recipient of Western culture with Asian citizens enthusiastic consumers of Hollywood movies and British pop music, for instance, today cultural flows go in both directions."

        So what changed?

        Why the past decade saw the rise and rise of East Asian pop culture (3)

        Marie Kondo in season 1 of "Tidying Up with Marie Kondo" on Netflix.

        (Video) Notable shift in entertainment industry over past decade is steady rise of Northeast Asian...

        The growing influence of East Asian pop culture

        A decade ago, Japanese anime like Pokemon and Digimon was already a fixture in the West.

        Hong Kong martial arts stars Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee were household names. Analysts were already using the phrase "hallyu" -- or "Korean wave" in Korean -- to refer to the spread of South Korean fashion, beauty products, television dramas and music in other countries, especially in Asia.

        "(People say) 'the East is coming.' In fact, it has been for a while," said Anthony Fung, an expert in pop culture at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

        Why the past decade saw the rise and rise of East Asian pop culture (4)

        Jackie Chan, left, and Bruce Lee wax figures are pictured during a photo call in the heart of London's Chinatown on January 29, 2014, ahead of Lunar New Year celebrations.

        But in the past decade, East Asian pop culture -- particularly from South Korea -- has really taken off. Now there's not just one kung fu star or one anime, but a range of different East Asian exports. And, say experts, there's a few reasons for that.

        Jung-Sun Park, a professor and coordinator of Asian-Pacific studies at California State University at Dominguez Hills, says social media and the internet have "totally transformed the transnational flows of pop culture."

        "The various social media platforms have revolutionized the ways in which individuals encounter and consume pop culture and have greatly diversified the routes of pop cultural flows and influences," she told CNN. In the past, traditional media platforms like television and radio stations have controlled what we see and hear.

        East Asian pop culture also offers something else: diversity.

        Susanna Lim, a professor of Asian studies at the University of Oregon, says Western fans are demanding greater diversity than they did in the past. She points to K-pop fans as an example, noting that many are from diverse backgrounds, and may also feel marginalized by American mainstream culture.

        "The growing interest in East Asian pop culture reflects these changing demographics and cultural awareness in the US and the West," she said.

        K-pop is packed full of Western influences, so it can feel both familiar and unfamiliar to Western audiences, Lim added.

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        Of course, there's also been a big push from governments.

        With a population of 51 million, South Korea didn't have a big enough market to sustain its entertainment industry, so needed to go abroad, said Fung, from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. South Korea's government has backed the country's cultural expansion, seeing it is a vehicle for soft power and a way to boost the nation's reputation.

        In 2010, Japan announced it would pump 19 billion yen (then equivalent to $237 million) into the creative sector in 2011 to make more money from the country's creative industries, like anime, graphic design, film and fashion. Opinion is divided over the plan's success.

        But to fans, the real reason Japanese and South Korean culture exports have taken off is simple: they're entertaining.

        As David Kim, a co-host of K-pop YouTube channel DKDKTV, said in a recent Instagram video: "My question is, why can't (K-pop) be a thing in Western culture?"

        Why the past decade saw the rise and rise of East Asian pop culture (6)

        Fans react as they arrive for a concert of the South Korean K-pop boy band BTS at the Stade-de-France stadium in Saint-Denis, on the outskirts of Paris, on June 7, 2019.

        The effect of the East Asian spread

        Western fans of K-pop and other cultural products might initially be drawn in by flashy dance moves and edgy fashion, but it's having a ripple effect in other areas.

        Enrollments in Japanese and Korean programs in the United States increased between 2013 and 2016, even as admissions to all other language courses apart than English declined, according to a study by the Modern Language Association of America. Enrollments for Korean language programs rose by 13.7%, by far the largest increase of any language being taught.

        K-pop is also boosting tourist arrivals to South Korea.

        According to Korean think tank Hyundai Research Institute, K-pop group BTS helped inspire an estimated one in 13 tourists that visited the country in 2017. That same report found that, if BTS maintain their popularity, they will contribute a projected 56.16 trillion South Korean won ($48 billion) to the country's economy by 2023.

        It's no surprise then that South Korea uses K-pop to market itself to tourists. South Korea's largest airline, Korean Air, features K-pop group SuperM in its latest in-flight video, and Visit Seoul -- the city's tourism agency -- has collaborated with BTS.

        And there are broader impacts too.

        Jo Elfving-Hwang, an associate professor of Korean Studies at the University of Western Australia, said that Korean Australians she had interviewed hadn't been interested in Korean pop culture, but started paying attention after being introduced to it by their non-Korean friends.

        "(The rise of Korean pop culture) made Korea really cool," she said. "This is an interesting example of global popular culture that has been driven by external recognition of the cultural attractiveness rather than a push by local diasporas."

        The rise of K-pop has also had a positive impact for Asian male representation, she said. More Asian males have been brought into the public consciousness -- a contrast from the past, where Asian male characters were often villains or kung fu stars, like Jackie Chan and Jet Li.

        "I think there is absolutely a shift happening in that there is more visibility for Asian Americans, Asian Australians, Asian Europeans," she said. "I think definitely it has had at least some impact, because now it is not unusual to see more Asians in the West on screen. I'm quite excited about that."

        Why the past decade saw the rise and rise of East Asian pop culture (7)

        President Donald Trump talks with South Korean boy band EXO as South Korean President Moon Jae-in stands during a dinner at the presidential Blue House on June 29, 2019 in Seoul, South Korea.

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        What the future looks like

        Experts say there's every reason to think Japan and South Korea's cultural exports will continue to have an impact in the coming decade. The big question mark is over China.

        Although China's rising economic and political influence has made it much more prominent on the world stage than it was a decade ago, it has barely made a dent on the West's pop culture landscape.

        For instance, China's highest grossing film, the 2017 action movie "Wolf Warrior 2," raked in over $854 million domestically, but only brought in $16 million overseas.

        Fung says China's limited impact is partly because there's less of an economic need for Chinese entertainment companies to look abroad -- it's the most populous country in the world, so there's already a huge domestic market.

        Another reason, though, is the strict control that China's Communist Party imposes on Chinese media. Regulators have banned actors with tattoos and censored song lyrics. Chinese state media outlets have also criticized male celebrities who appear effeminate.

        Elfving-Hwang says it's "harder to imagine" the Chinese music industry ever having the same international appeal as K-pop. "But you never know," she said.

          In the next decade, Elfving-Hwang thinks East Asian pop culture will keep going strong -- and she sees that as a good thing.

          "If K-pop can actually make people curious enough to take quite a big step like learning a language," she said, "And then through that gain more understanding about the culture ... I think that will have a really significant impact on how we can communicate in the future."

          CNN's Jake Kwon contributed to this report.

          FAQs

          What is popular culture in Asia? ›

          As a result, Asian popular culture can be understood as an umbrella term for the study of various facets of culture (such as film, television, lit- erature, music, animation, social media, digital media, advertising) across Asia using a range of methodologies and approaches.

          Why is East Asian history important? ›

          East Asia's rich history, vast population and diverse cultures make it a fascinating area of study. Its growing economic power and influence also make it an important pathway to employment.

          Why is Korean pop culture so popular? ›

          Pop music would be nothing without catchy hooks and sing-along lyrics. K pop is no different, making use of melodies that are instantly stuck in your head. Boy and girl groups alike have appealing song writing down to a science, which makes their music appealing to fans no matter what language they speak.

          What defines East Asian culture Why? ›

          Some of defining East Asian cultural characteristics are the Chinese language and traditional writings systems of Hanzi as well as shared religious and ethical ideas, that are represented by the Three teachings Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism.

          How do you define pop culture? ›

          In the modern West, pop culture refers to cultural products such as music, art, literature, fashion, dance, film, cyberculture, television, and radio that are consumed by the majority of a society's population. Popular culture is those types of media that have mass accessibility and appeal.

          Is pop culture and popular culture the same? ›

          Popular culture (also called mass culture or pop culture) is generally recognized by members of a society as a set of the practices, beliefs, and objects that are dominant or prevalent in a society at a given point in time.

          What important contributions has East Asia region specified to the civilization? ›

          It was the Silk Roads (land and maritime) that allowed many of the ideas and technological inventions of East Asian civilization — paper, printing, gunpowder — to reach the West, where their impact was profound. China's two river systems have also greatly influenced its history and culture.

          Why is pop music so popular? ›

          According to the musician, pop music is inherently popular because it creates a sense of familiarity for listeners. Therefore, when they hear the same 'woop' throughout the genre, they're more inclined to ease into a piece of music they've never heard because it sounds familiar.

          Why do people like BTS? ›

          The very first reason: the BTS band is highly artistic. It consists of competent vocalists like RM, J-Hope, Jungkook, V, Jin, Suga, and Jimin. These artists are highly capable and skilled in their area of excellence be it dancing, singing, or performing. This is what has made the BTS fandom obsessed with them.

          How popular is BTS? ›

          Each member has over 34 million Instagram followers on their personal accounts, and the group's 64 million followers make them the most-followed group on the app. On Twitter (where the group has 46 million followers), each of their posts garners around 2 million likes. There are many appeals to BTS.

          What are the characteristics of East Asia? ›

          East Asia's physical characteristics include large mountains, including Mount Everest and Mount Fuji. The deepest canyon on Earth is the Yarlung Zangbo Grand Canyon in China. There are also long rivers in East Asia, including the Yangtze in China and the Amnok in North Korea.

          Why have many countries in East and Southeast Asia been behind the rest of the world economically? ›

          Among the many reasons suggested to account for the East Asian success, the investment rate and the export orientation of these economies enjoy enthusiastic support. These are often called "engines of growth" because their strength seems to be pulling the whole economy forward.

          What are some of the ways in which China has influenced the culture of East Asia? ›

          Imperial China was certainly the source of considerable cultural, as well as political, influence throughout East Asia. It contributed elements of Confucian statecraft and a popular Confucian religion, as well as Confucian ethics in family and personal relations, to the surrounding states.

          What is pop culture and why is it important? ›

          Popular culture is, in the historic use of term, the culture of the people.” Popular culture allows large heterogeneous masses of people to identify collectively. It serves an inclusionary role in society as it unites the masses on ideals of acceptable forms of behavior.

          What is the impact of pop culture on society? ›

          Pop culture affects society in many ways. The first and most rudimentary effect of pop culture is how it builds and strengthens interactions with people who are also into the same kind of things. Events to celebrate pop culture such as Comic-con help foster bonds among people of different background.

          What is pop culture essay? ›

          The book definition says pop culture is a collection of thoughts, ideas, attitudes, perspectives, images, and more preferred by the mainstream population. Popular culture, regardless of the generation or era, consistently focuses on music, fashion, expressions, and values.

          How does popular culture rise? ›

          Films, broadcast radio and television all had a profound influence on culture. So urbanization, industrialization, the mass media and the continuous growth in technology since the late 1700s, have all been significant factors in the formation of popular culture. These continue to be factors shaping pop culture today.

          How does popular culture affect our economy? ›

          As popular culture is fluid, it constantly entices the consumers with new goods as per the necessities of the consumer and it keeps the market vibrant in most of the situations.

          How does pop culture affect students? ›

          Leveraging popular culture opens dialogues and helps students engage with classroom topics. Educators know that when they find a way to engage students by making lessons relevant to students' real-world lives, they've scored a win. Bringing popular culture into the classroom is one of those winning strategies.

          What is the importance of Asia to the world? ›

          Asia is home to the world's earliest civilizations. Its indigenous cultures pioneered many practices that have been integral to societies for centuries, such as agriculture, city planning, and religion. The social and political geography of the continent continues to inform and influence the rest of the world.

          What were the most important contributions of early civilizations? ›

          Some of the important contributions made by ancient civilizations are summarized as follows: Assyrians & Mesopotamians - Farming, agriculture and metallurgy. Aztecs - Geometry and astronomy. Egyptians - Ancient architecture, art of writing, medicines and surgery.

          What makes Southeast Asia unique from the rest of the world? ›

          Pristine beaches, compelling history, sprawling rice terraces, and an abundance of activities to suit every type of traveler – Southeast Asia has these things in spades. It's also steeped in rich, ancient customs and traditions that are remarkably different from those of the West.

          When was pop most popular? ›

          The 80's was the decade when pop music experienced a true revolution of its kind. Digital recording came into play, making pop music grow exponentially. Legendary pop artists rose into the pop scene, including Michael Jackson and Prince.

          Why does pop music continue to remain powerful today? ›

          The reason for this is that louder songs get the attention of people more easily and quickly as sounds catchier to the listeners. The louder and catchier a song is, the more attention it gets from the audience. As more and more people listen to a song, its popularity increases.

          Why do you think pop music appeals to younger individuals How has the industry promoted this idea? ›

          Pop music appeals most to younger individuals because it reflects the current trends in society, and the pop icons are typically more relatable to the youth. The industry has promoted this idea through the creation of billboard which shows the most popular music at a given time.

          What BTS means? ›

          Name. The septet's name, BTS, stands for the Korean phrase Bangtan Sonyeondan (Korean: 방탄소년단; Hanja: 防彈少年團), literally meaning "Bulletproof Boy Scouts". According to member J-Hope, the name signifies the group's desire "to block out stereotypes, criticisms, and expectations that aim on adolescents like bullets".

          Who is the first BTS ARMY? ›

          Whether you're a baby ARMY or a fan from Day 1, BTS' ARMY meaning has one heck of a story. As fans know, ARMY was established as BTS' fandom name on July 9, 2013, soon after the release of the band's first single, “2 Cool 4 Skool.” The word is an acronym for “Adorable Representative M.C.

          Why is BTS called BTS? ›

          BTS was formed by Bang Si-Hyuk, a successful songwriter and music producer who established his own studio, Big Hit Entertainment, in 2005. In 2010 he began to assemble talent for a group he was calling the Bangtan Sonyeondan (“Bulletproof Boy Scouts”), which would later become better known as BTS.

          What date BTS disband? ›

          Topline. K-Pop supergroup BTS announced Tuesday they are going on hiatus to focus on solo projects after nine years together, but they said they're not disbanding and will return to making music together. BTS attends the 64th Annual GRAMMY Awards at MGM Grand Garden Arena on April 03, 2022 in Las Vegas, ...

          What is popular culture in the Philippines? ›

          The common cultural practices in the Philippines are as follow: Bayanihan Filipino culture – Among the most popular Filipino customs and traditions that are still practiced to this day. Harana – This was one of the most popular things about Filipino culture. Harana is when a guy serenades the girl he's courting.

          What is the common culture of Southeast Asia? ›

          People in southeast Asia are known to place a high value on community and social harmony which manifests in their disposition. They're mostly easy-going and non-confrontational. Much of it is based on strong values passed on from shared high regard for tradition and religion, which brings us to our next section.

          What is popular culture in America? ›

          Popular culture is defined here as popular written literature and broadcasting, popular music, popular dance and theater, certain decorative arts, sports and recreation, and other cultural aspects of social life distinguished by their broad-based presence across ethnic, social, and regional groupings.

          What is the culture of Central Asia? ›

          Central Asia is where middle-Eastern Islamic culture meets Russian Soviet culture. The countries of Central Asia were once the center of multiple nomadic empires and tribes, including the Scythians, Mongols, and Turks. This had a big influence on the traditions and cultures of many Central Asian countries to this day.

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