This obsession with K-pop is starting to get a little weird


There is a growing trend of K-pop in Houston and around the world. | Savannah Canales/The Cougar

As a second-generation South Korean-American, it was utterly stunning to watch the rise of K-pop, K-dramas and even Korean cuisine as Korean media swept across the world from Asia to the U.S.

It’s fascinating and a bit flattering how interested others seem to be in “my” culture.

For me, it’s a little weird.

Freshman year, I met a Cuban-American student who asked me if I watched K-dramas and K-pop. I replied that I watched K-dramas and was vaguely familiar with Korean music. Immediately, she leapt from her seat and began to mimic the cutesy dance moves as she exuberantly sang a Wonder Girls song – in near-perfect Korean.

Just this week, a Vietnamese friend of mine began to recite, with perfect pronunciation, several day-to-day phrases in Korean. He learned Korean by watching Korean dramas.

I was stunned. I just didn’t understand the infatuation with K-pop.

“I find it interesting how other ethnicities are more interested in K-pop than I am,” said Jenny Kim, a UH alumna and Korean-American. “But, I appreciate how much they are into our music.”

If you stumble upon a music video, you will likely see a group of nearly identical, young Asian men and women singing and dancing in sometimes overwhelmingly large groups.

The one thing that distinguishes each member is their hairstyle. A large part of this is the obsession with plastic surgery. Colorful exploding backgrounds are overtaken by black and white modern effects.

“South Koreans do not merely brood about their physiognomy,” according to the New Yorker. “They put their money where their mouths — and eyes and noses — used to be. By some estimates, the country has the highest rate of plastic surgery per capita in the world.”

With the growth of social media, Korean media and culture has experienced a tremendous growth in popularity. “It’s a rapidly spreading pop culture phenomenon, fueled by the Internet,” according to CNN.

Research from the University of Michigan also notes the correlation.

“These digital technologies, as new driving engines of the Korean Wave, have initiated and supported the popularity of local culture in many countries,” according to the university’s International Institute Journal. This is also probably the reason why Korean media has gained popularity among millennials.

Korean music is not limited to its own particular niche.

CNN also notes that earlier this year, the nine-member K-Pop dance group Girls’ Generation beat Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus and Lady Gaga for “Video of the Year” at the 2013 YouTube Music Awards in early November.

Casey Luong, a performer and nursing sophomore at the University of Texas at Austin, recently performed here in Houston at SASEfest, a collaboration of South Asian Scientists and Engineers. He said the increasing popularity of Korean music shows positive changes in our society, not just as a whole, but for individual artists as well.

“I think there are a lot of Asian artists today that get overlooked,” Luong said. At one point he considered using a fake last name because he thought the public would be more open to him as a performer. He thinks that K-pop took Asian attributes and western aspects and “melted” them together.

While K-pop is defined by marketability, it combines western and Asian cultural elements together, but apparently the world loves it.

Assistant opinion editor Sarah Kim is a political science major senior and may be reached at [email protected] 

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