Riding the Hallyu Wave from adolescence to adulthood
Wikipedia describes the Korean wave, or the Hallyu wave, as ‘the increase in global popularity of South Korean culture since the 1990s, which was first driven by the spread of K-dramas and K-pop across East, South, and Southeast Asia during its initial stages.’ It aptly depicts that the Hallyu Wave initially evolved from a regional development into a global phenomenon, carried by the Internet and social media and the proliferation of K-pop music videos on YouTube.
As most young Sikkimese, I was introduced to the Hallyu wave through the initiation into the world of k-dramas in the late 2000s, with my first k-drama being Boys over Flower, which has a cult following of its own, I was hooked. Like most teenagers, my age, my friends and I would pool our allowances and spend it on K-drama DVDs found near Lal Bazaar, taking turns watching it.
With that began the fascination with South Korea- from oppas to noonas, ramen, and tteokbokki. It was in late 2008 that most Sikkimese youth, like those from all around the world, we were fixated, from the hairstyles, both girls and boys rocking bangs, to the dressing sense, you could see the Hallyu influence everywhere. That influence is seen still, as much as one would like to show that they have nothing to do with South Korea, from the Korean skincare stores to constantly popping restaurants in Gangtok that specialize in Korean food- kimbap, bibimbap, kimchi, soondae, or blood sausages, red bean buns, bean sprout soup, and japchae or glass noodles.
One cannot deny that they haven’t watched a K-drama ever, even if begrudgingly. For me personally, after being initiated into the world of K-dramas then began my obsession with K-pop, heightened by a particular friend who only lived and breathed South Korea. Idol groups such as Big Bang are responsible for bringing k-pop into the world’s radar, along with its sister group 2NE1. Even after entering adulthood, my sister and I are stans of these OG K-pop groups, like other stans around the world.
While initially, people made fun of this fascination with South Korea, my above-mentioned friend and I unabashedly still, even though we are now in our mid-20s, do not care. In my final school year, a teacher and I upon bonding over our shared love of K-dramas would spend most afternoons gushing over them. This is why I think there is no age bar, the Hallyu wave swept everyone from all ages to all genders, even though men would like to deny this --- I mean who hasn’t heard Psy’s Gangnam Style?
Initially, the Hallyu wave was most popular in parts of North-East in India, but it cannot be said the same anymore, I have met and made so many friends both in real life and virtually during my college days in Kolkata thanks to South Korea, so much so that when I took a 6-month course for writing and speaking in Korean, hoping that someday I would get to use this new-found knowledge, the classes would be jam-packed, and guess what brought them there: Korean culture.
I cannot even get started with the stans, which means ‘an overzealous or obsessive fan of a particular celebrity.’ Each fan or a fan club of a particular group or idol have specific names, like for me as a fan of EXO, I would be called an EXO-L, BTS fans are referred to as Armys, Blackpink fans are called Blinks and Twice fans are called Once. Now, K-pop stans are a force to be reckoned with, they can make or break someone’s career, they can add heavily to a cause, like earlier with the K-pop stans hijacking Twitter accounts of the white supremacist #WhiteLivesMatter hashtag, and flooded it with K-pop videos.
When BTS made a contribution of $1 million to the Black Lives Matter movement, BTS stans in a bid to raise another million or the movement, did so in a mere 24 hours through crowdfunding. This isn’t an isolated event, according to data from Vice, over the past five years, various BTS stans- ARMYs have come together and have supported more than 630 charity projects across the world, from charity projects for the beluga, humpback, and false killer whales—and one sea turtle— which have all been adopted in honour of BTS.
During the pandemic alone, according to Vice, Jungkook fan accounts donated $1,000 to the Medical Teams International for relief efforts for COVID-19. Furthermore, BTS's Singapore fanbase contributed to Project Love, which gives financial assistance to vulnerable Singaporean families; "a global coalition of fanbases" for BTS singer V donated to a choir for hearing-impaired children; the Texas BTS Army raised $315 for the North Texas Food Bank; and the Indian fan group Bangtan India made its fourth monthly contribution to the Sahodari Foundation, which supports the country's transgender, intersex and gender nonbinary community.
Female K-pop artists like IU, Hwasa, Jessi, and Hyuna taught many like me that it’s okay to be different and one should aspire to set new beauty standards to accommodate all instead of nitpicking and adjusting yourself to fit in.
The pandemic and the lockdown that ensued, for me personally, has shown how indispensable k-dramas and k-pop are for my sanity. Netflix, Viki, sites like kissasian and myasiantv were more essential than books for me to get through the almost 5-month-long lockdown. After testing positive for COVID-19, and having to isolate for 21 days, guess what came handy? Through body aches to groggy headaches, for 21 days they were there for me, so much so that I made a list of k-dramas to binge on the day I tested positive since that was the only upside of being COVID-9 positive.
Many like me were finally able to catch up on binge-watching the latest k-dramas thanks to the lockdown, or just rewatching their favourite series, I have since 2009 rewatched Boys over Flower over 20 times, same with timeless dramas like Reply 1988 which is the common factor between me and older sister and will always bring us back to each other. I can for certain say that even after 20 years, I will still be engrossed passionately with k-dramas and k-pop and I along with the million others can say that proudly.
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