Mad For Hallyu! – Does Ancestry Lead to Innovation?

2ne1 republic of korea hallyu korean pop wave flickr

Hallyu translates to Korean wave. The term is used to portray pop culture hits from Korea that turn viral in the western world. Read on as we dive into Hallyu and how Korea uses its ancestry for innovation.

@Cait Ellis on

A New Born Country

Korea rebuilt itself between the 1950s and 2000s after surviving Japanese colonial rule (1910-45) and the Cold War that led to the Korean War (1950-53), which has no official peace treaty to this day.

Propaganda ruled Korean culture during their time as a colony. Where the US had a bigger influence in the military, and the Japanese banned American movies and other entertainment on the brink of the Second World War.

Afterward, during their military dictatorship regimes, South Koreans continued to be fed propaganda broadcasted through the media. This closed political landscape contrasted with the free economy behind the country’s production superpower, coming from big brands such as Samsung, Hyundai, and LG.

kk by koket collection

The Culture

Before the war, Korea’s values were built on Neo-Confucianist ideals. They revolved around a very structured and hierarchical society. Where a close relationship was promoted within families, with high respect for their ancestors. And men and women were differentiated in status.

This took effect in clothing, where women would headwear (sseugaechima), and have knives (paedo) attached to their traditional dress (hanbok). This facilitated committing suicide in response to common gossip against women that would dishonor their families. Drastic measures such as this seem dystopian at best, but show us the weight Korean society put on the idea of honor. A concept built upon conservative values.

After the war, the Korean people needed to let go and unwind after so much control and destruction. This idea of escapism was the light behind Hallyu, where entertainment played a big role. From the latest technology to the most impressive story-driven movies and television series.


From the 90s onwards, Korean entertainment crossed borders. K-Pop went international, as did their idols, from Wonder Girls to Gangnam Style’s Psy and the most recent hit BTS.

Idols, in turn, have to obey a strict routine, performing at their best both musically, as well as personally. Being a role model is a full-time job for K-Pop entertainers, whose job is to honor South Korean values and heritage.

BTS by @Uyên Nochu on Flickr

As screens go, they went big with Parasite and small with Squid Games.

Both recently awarded K-Drama examples turned to the dichotomy of Korean culture in their storylines. A hierarchical society seems unrealistic, but that has true value in actual day-to-day events in the country. The play between old power dynamics and the current influential landscape. The same goes for their comic strips, manhwa.

Logomania and bold colors are the uniform of K-Fashion. As well as a risky take on traditional gowns, with Adidas, through the hand of Ji Won Choi, having their own say on the hanbok. Plus, the countless K-Beauty brands that have gone viral, the facials, the techy LED masks, and the supposed 10-step skincare routine. All for the purity of the clearest perfect unwrinkled skin defined by ancestral beauty standards.

It seems like a cautionary tale gone viral.

Is Hallyu successful because it uses its conservative ideals as a basis for innovation? Or is Hallyu a coping mechanism people use to leave an actual dystopia based on old beliefs?

Maybe ancestry does not lead to innovation. Maybe innovation masks what once was, in a shinier, more fun way, which helps us to fight our demons with more color.

What wave do you ride for your escapism?

Words by @madforyou_lhm
Feature Image: Korean band 2ne1, Photo by Republic of Korea via Flickr

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