Down the ‘K’ rabbit hole
These days, most people would probably know someone who recently got baptized into the world of K-pop, K-drama, K-beauty, and just about anything Korean. Thanks to the 3S — social media, streaming, and subtitles — access to non-English content has become much easier to obtain now more than ever, slowly pulling people into the “K” (Korean) rabbit hole.
The usual first step is to get hooked on a South Korean drama. Someone out of the K-loop would probably chance upon highlights of a show shared on social media, see recommended Korean titles on streaming sites, or hear about a specific series from their circle. Soon, most of these “I-was-only-forced-to-watch-this-show” viewers would casually scout the internet for behind-the-scenes videos and interviews. The fixation on the show and its cast would just keep growing as the show nears its finale. As part of the withdrawal process from finishing a drama, these viewers would probably play songs from the show’s soundtrack on repeat. Once content from the show starts to run dry, new K-drama converts would go on to watch other titles featuring the same cast or start on other K-dramas in the same genre. For many Filipinos before and during the lockdown, “Crash Landing on You” became their breakthrough K-drama. The show became intensely famous in the country, with its leads Hyun Bin and Son Ye-jin even landing local endorsement deals.
One K-drama definitely leads to another, with a new convert’s list of favorite celebrities getting longer and longer. In due time, a new K-fan is bound to end up watching at least one, if not all, variety show appearances of their favorite stars. Enter iconic variety shows like “Running Man” and “Knowing Bros.” These variety shows offer viewers, especially foreign ones, a unique chance to learn about Korean culture not only through the food they eat or the attractions they visit, but also through games, humor, and songs. Take for example how Yoo Jae-suk kept making references to BIGBANG’s “Bang Bang Bang” in the earlier seasons of “Running Man” that I eventually ended up searching for the song on YouTube.
With all the content a K-drama fan consumes at this point, social media algorithms are sure to have already recommended a couple of K-pop songs. Even though some fans won’t actively choose to play mainstream K-pop music, they would probably have heard songs sung by famous K-pop idols and groups for K-drama soundtracks like “Future” by Red Velvet (“Start-Up”) and “Stay With Me” by Punch and EXO’s Chanyeol (“Goblin”). With the addictive nature of videos on social media where it’s so easy to just keep on scrolling for more, the likelihood of converting a casual viewer into a K-pop fan is high.
Now equipped with knowledge about Korean entertainment, new K-fans are then more inclined to try products and follow routines celebrities endorse. This puts the spotlight on K-beauty, K-fashion, and even Korean food and grocery items.
Hallyu (Korean Wave) already made its footing in the Philippines as early as the 2000s. Those were the days where Filipino-dubbed dramas like “Lovers in Paris” played on local TV with the lead actress’ signature catchphrase, “Aja!” making its way into the vernacular. The country then took it a step further and adapted hit K-dramas for the Filipino public, a practice that continues today with ABS-CBN’s “The Broken Marriage Vow.” Although South Korean entertainment has made its presence known in the country for years now, what’s different this time is how mainstream their content has become globally. With the success of Korean shows on Netflix, the global influence of Korean idol groups, and the Academy Award wins of Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite” and Youn Yuh-jung for “Minari,” South Korea is giving the dominant American entertainment a run for its money.
As an Asian, it’s extremely exciting to witness members of the South Korean entertainment industry redefine what is popular and increase exposure for Asian content in this Western-centric world. As a relatively new K-fan, it’s definitely interesting to see how so many people today follow the same pattern in terms of falling into the K rabbit hole. People back then who could not understand the hype abound Korean songs, for example, are now the ones spamming timelines with Korean lyrics and merchandise. These new inductees to the K-world often act as ambassadors in their social circles, slowly drawing more and more people into the same rabbit hole they fell into.
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Alyssa Y. Go, 24, graduated from the University of the Philippines.
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