This article is part of a series in which OECD experts and thought leaders — from around the world and all parts of society — address the COVID-19 crisis, discussing and developing solutions now and for the future. Aiming to foster the fruitful exchange of expertise and perspectives across fields to help us rise to this critical challenge, opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the OECD.
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As we witness the global success of the television show Squid Game, we are reminded of the strength and resonance of Korea’s Hallyu (“the Korean Wave”). This presents a perfect opportunity to delve into its challenges and future opportunities—a meaningful conversation as Korea celebrates in 2021 the 25th anniversary of its membership to the OECD.
Hyoung Kwon Ko, Ambassador of Korea to the OECD stressed that Hallyu’s success is an important testament to Korea’s achievements over the past quarter-century, being today a significant driver of economic growth. At the same time, Hallyu is facing new challenges: the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to have long-lasting effects on all aspects of our lives and livelihoods, making it inevitable for Hallyu to continue to transform itself to adapt to new global challenges.
Hae-Oung John, Executive Director of the Korean Cultural Center in Paris underlined that the increasing popularity of Hallyu content is attracting global attention to other cultural fields such as Korean literature, fine arts, cuisine and traditional music and dance.
This conversation outlined a fruitful path for Hallyu to continue to grow: Karen Maguire, Head of Division for the culture portfolio in the OECD’s Centre for Entrepreneurship, SMEs, Regions, and Cities highlighted the OECD’s interest and work on the culture and creative sectors. They represent a source of economic growth, employment, innovation, social inclusion and more, cutting across many policy portfolios.
The first part of the session focused on the success factors of K-pop, K-films, and K-dramas. Patrick Messerlin offered a comparative analysis of the Korean film industry vis-à-vis other major countries, including France. He mentioned less restrictive government regulations, limited governmental subsidies, investment of large Korean companies, and an effective film-distribution system as major contributing factors to its remarkable success.
Jimmyn Parc, a visiting lecturer at Sciences Po, emphasised the successful business model of K-dramas that have managed to target differing consumer demands over the past two decades, with business and economic factors having played a fundamental role. For example, easy access to Hallyu content, facilitated by deregulation and digitalisation, has served as an effective instrument to enhance global reach through digital platforms.
Daniel Koch, a German cultural journalist, presented his views on how K-pop has evolved and succeeded in attracting global interest. He focused on the consumer-oriented business function, rather than Korea-specific factors, asserting that the success of the K-pop truly demonstrates that “culture is created, not inherited”.
Read more on the Forum Network: A landmark occasion in the history of Korea’s relationship with the world by Han Seung-soo, President of the 56th Session of the UN General Assembly; Former Prime Minister, Republic of Korea
The second session identified the current and future challenges Hallyu has been confronting to present possible ways to transform them into opportunities.
Suweon Kim, Professor of Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, felt the Korean government should strengthen its efforts to offer Hallyu content to individuals in developing countries as a tool for both development co-operation and public diplomacy.
Madeleen Kamrath and Daniel Koch shared the view that, despite the remarkable success of K-pop, there is still a misunderstanding that it is only intended for young people. They suggested dispelling this myth to further broaden the reach of K-pop to other generations; organising joint performances with diverse Western musical groups could be an effective strategy to approach niche markets. They also emphasised that K-pop, with its dynamic dance moves and diverse colours, has great potential for further development in the digital-first world, a phenomenon further accelerated by the pandemic.
Bastian Meiresonne, Artistic Director at Vesoul International Film Festival of Asian Cinema in France, indicated that the strength of Korean films and dramas might lie in their treatment of shared global challenges, such as the issue of social class. Indeed, Hallyu has had great success in showcasing its identity as a unique Korean brand.
Peter Keller, Director General of the International Council of Museums (ICOM), gave a short presentation on the Korean Translation of the OECD-ICOM Guide for Local Governments, Communities, and Museums.
Reminding the audience of Winston Churchill’s quote, “Never let a good crisis go to waste”, Ambassador Ko suggested better harnessing the acceleration of globalisation and digitalisation brought by the pandemic to chart future paths for the growth of Korea’s global resonance, conveyed through its cultural and creative sectors.
Visit the new OECD Korea Digital Hub for data and insights celebrating its 25th anniversary as an OECD member country
Read the OECD policy paper 12 ways Korea is changing the world: Cultural and creative sectors
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