Indexing Korean Popular Culture
At a K- pop concert in the United States, thousands of young Americans
scream as American pop performer of the Black Eyed Peas joins the
Korean act 2NE1 onstage to sing and dance to their Korean- language tune.
Moments of cultural intersection such as this shed light on a new and often
contradictory Korea. On the one hand, it is still a country—both North and
South—that decries its lack of political legitimacy in the international com-
munity and dwells on the continuing aftereffects of its colonial occupation
by Japan (1910–45), the Korean War (1950–53), and the ensuing partition.
Because many Koreans on both sides of the border feel that Korea’s postcolo-
nial identity was neither completely nor coherently achieved, nationalism is
still extolled in most social sectors. On the other hand, the South’s remark-
able economic development and democratization have enabled the country
to produce and disseminate a cast of cultural output. Its music, dance cho-
reography, television dramas, and films have appealed well beyond its bor-
ders and even to the U.S. market, a country from which it received “billions
of dollars in aid” merely a few decades earlier.1
Korean popular culture has come a long way over the last decade and
a half, especially considering that its most profitable export item even as
late as the 1990s was the popular American sitcom The Simpsons, a show
that relied on subcontracted Korean animators. However, the tide started
to turn rapidly, and the Korean Wave (hallyu) began. The film Shiri was a
smash success at the box office in Japan in 2000. Yon- sama (the nickname
for melodrama male actor Bae Yong- jun) generated sky- high ratings for the
television series Winter Sonata in Japan and other parts of Northeast Asia
during the early part of the first decade of the twenty- first century. And idol
groups such as tvxq, Super Junior, Wonder Girls, and Girls’ Generation
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