Korean pop culture has been dominating the Indian scenario for the past three years through K-Dramas, K-pop groups, or even Korean skincare trends, hence becoming an extended part of Indian youth. But, is the youth aware of the dark side of the culture?

Back in 2012, South Korean musician PSY released Gangnam Style, and there’s been no looking back since. People all over the world have been enthusiastically consuming K-Pop content. Recently, BTS, the popular band, scored its first position on Billboard Top 100 with their latest hit, Dynamite, and received a Grammy nomination for the same. Can you imagine the number of streams or sales that were needed to achieve the position, considering only US-based inputs are taken to rank the chart? That’s the impact of Korean music globally.

Aishwarya Iyer, a social media consultant from Mumbai was drawn to Korean movies before she was introduced to Korean music. “My Sassy Girl was the first Korean movie I saw, and I was delighted. This was in 2014, during my college days and I started watching Korean dramas next. Gradually, I started discovering ‘idols’, along with the other ‘oppas’, I was shipping. BTS or Bangtan Boys was my first K-pop Boy Group. I am a proud ‘ARMY’ of BTS, and will be forever.” Along with K-pop, Korean dramas, also known as K-dramas, have a massive following. Along with other cultural ingredients from the country like K-beauty and Korean food, they form a part of the Korean cultural wave, also called Hallyu. Monica Yadav, from Mumbai, is obsessed with Korean dramas and movies. “Five to six years ago, I began watching Korean dramas, and I remember watching this series called Boys Over Flowers. That show was so popular internationally that I ended up watching so many remakes of it in different languages, including the C-drama version Meteor Garden. Their creativity, in any genre, truly makes you want to explore more. Now, watching dramas and movies coming out of South Korea has become a part of my life,” she adds.

According to Economic Times, language learning platform Duolingo saw only an 11 per cent increase in Korean learners in India between October 2019 and February 2020. “Through the month of March, the increase is 98 per cent. But between March and now, we’ve seen a 256 per cent increase in Korean learners in India,” says Michaela Kron, lead PR and social media manager at the company. We have seen K-pop music videos look bubbly and creative, but sometimes, things are not what they look like. Anyone who consumes the culture, knows that the K-pop world has a lot of dark sides, and there are shocking struggles that the stars go through as they put themselves and their lives on the line, in order to achieve their dreams. Any young person in South Korea, who wants to become an idol, has to sign on with one of the many entertainment companies in the country. Later, the stars go through rigorous training that can be stressful, followed by the companies’ evaluations. If they’re not improving, they can be dropped completely. Plastic surgeries are a common solution given by the entertainment agencies to the stars before the debut. It is the face that runs everything.

K-pop

In New Kings Of The World: The Rise and Rise of Eastern Pop Culture by Fatima Bhutto, John Lie, a professor of sociology, says, “Nearly every aspect of K-pop is functional, intended to satisfy the market. It has more to do with Das Kapital than with Korean culture or tradition.” Bhutto talks about how there is no lip-syncing because Koreans find it fake, and trends are scientifically tracked to see whether a potential boy band should debut as gangster tough “beast-dols”, or feminine, lip glossed “flower boys”. Bhutto further added that, now, a standard K-pop contract includes seven to 12 non-negotiable surgeries, from a double eyelid surgery that involves cutting the eyelid skin to create a crease, and jaw shaving. Some men undergo leg-breaking surgery to add a few centimetres of height, while others inject poisons into their necks in order to atrophy their muscles. The Burning Sun Scandal of 2019 is one major example of illegal activities inside the industry. After the club Burning Sun opened in 2018, accusations about the assault, prostitution, and drug distribution to tax evasion, and police corruption started to come out. Seungri was a member of one of the most influential K-pop boy groups, the main member associated with the scandal. When the scandal came to attention, a few text messages revealed that Seungri was involved in a group chat with other male K-pop idols, where they allegedly shared explicit videos of their sexual exploits with multiple women, without the women’s consent or knowledge.

Shweta Ravi, a professional at Woori Bank and a freelance Mandarin and Korean interpreter, says, “It is true that the K-pop industry today has several perils to deal with. One of them is following and propagating rigid, unrealistic beauty standards of 45 kg body weight, pearl white skin, and plastic surgeries to achieve the perfect nose ridge and V-shaped sharp jawlines. Additionally, artistes are severely disciplined and heavily monitored in terms of their schedule for the day, diet control, internet usage, and the people they meet. Rigid contracts prevent them from escaping rigorous training, and several female idols have also claimed to have been sexually harassed during their training period.” Ravi adds that hardcore fans who recognise the issues that their favourite idols go through, show their solidarity through protests and condemn, pressurising the entertainment companies to apologise for any misbehaviour reported. “Unfortunately, such cases often end with the idol and company sending an official statement through their official Instagram/Twitter handle, and the fire dies down. The artiste continues to perform new tracks. Other criminal cases that had recently surfaced have now been muffled into the background, as viewers are distracted with new content,” she says.

Iyer brings to notice the suicide of one of the members of SHINee, Kim Jong Hyun, due to depression. “Being from the news fraternity, I was keen to know why K-pop idols and other celebrities were distressed. I read several international news articles, watched videos, documentaries, and writeups on the same — and was shocked. The glittery industry, which made me head over heels for them, is full of sadness. I wondered if my BTS boys felt the same too?” She adds. South Morning China Post did an extensive report on how the K-pop fans get so obsessed with their idols that they actually threaten them. Kwak Keum-joo, a professor of psychology at Seoul National University, says, “People, especially teenagers in Korea, are lacking opportunities to enjoy cultural activities, which, I believe, is one of the crucial factors that gave birth to the sasaeng phenomenon. In their early days, they mostly watched television and listened to K-pop, instead of hobbies such as playing instruments and sports. These fans chase stars all day, while others wait for them in front of their homes. Even among fans, they have competitions to stand out and to get more attention from the stars.” Sasaeng means ‘private life’ in Korean, but in this case, it refers to obsessive fans. Another example would be of singer HyunA, whose contract was terminated by her record label after her relationship with bandmate E’Dawn became public knowledge. Pressure from the fans led to this decision, showing toxicity in the fandoms.

On the brighter side, the topic of Korean culture in India would be incomplete without mentioning Korean skincare, and the K-beauty wave. It’s been a few years since Korean skincare hit the Indian market, and with every new brand, the interest and intrigue in achieving good skin have peaked. Yadav explains, “In my early 20s, I wouldn’t even take care of my skin, but now, I indulge in Korean products and have a proper routine. I am no expert, but whatever products I have used have worked for me.” Iyer points out, “BTS Members frequently film their night-time skincare videos, and so do other celebrities and vloggers, which gave me a picture of how they maintain their skin. I hadn’t realised how easily several products are available in India. Today, I can proudly say that I own a line of Korean skincare products, and incorporate them into my routine.” Hardcore Korean fans in India have inculcated the culture into their lives in such a way that they’re almost willing to settle in South Korea to experience the pop culture, along with food and traditions of the country. In the end, Korean culture and K-pop have complemented each other’s popularity. And by the looks of it, this blend of culture will keep rising.

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