What the heck is Hallyu?


          Hallyu (한류) literally means "Korean" (한) "flow" or "wave" (류) in the Korean language, Hangul. The Korean Wave phenomenon spread popular culture from South Korea to the rest of the world and actually stuck! The wave has washed over the world in phases: the first in South Korea, the second in East Asia, and the third finally reached the West.


          Hallyu began in the late 1980s. Korean television dramas, films, and pop music originated in this era and washed over the country quite rapidly. Although artists began to forge careers in this new-found pop culture, Soo Man Lee – the original K-pop entertainment mogul and producer – was the catalyst for the Hallyu as it is known today. Similarly, Winter Sonata is credited with kick starting the Korean film industry’s global expansion, starting with the Japanese market. Adult Japanese women caught on quickly as K-dramas produced relatable content with strong leading women and emotional love stories.

          The second wave doused Japan with all things Hallyu as idol groups took over. A massive Japanese female fandom formed around boy groups including Super Junior, SHINee, and Big Bang. And although the Korean market favored solo female artists like BoA, in Japan, middle-aged and older men fell in love with girl groups such as Girls Generation and f(x). This fandom flooded China and eventually brought Hallyu cross-culturally into practically all Eastern markets from India to Egypt.

          The third wave surfed along with Internet 2.0. As sharing became easier so did targeting new markets. China’s government resisted the Hallyu takeover as the country attempted to promote their own cultural products. As Korea pushed out more and more content through streaming sites and social media, the Chinese government – originally investors in K-pop –banned access to Korean content online, on television, in theaters, and in stores. However, the fan base in China continues to grow. Meanwhile, around the world, web series, cosmetics, food, and fashion have become part of the wave.

          In the United States, Hallyu in all of its cross-industrial pieces has grown increasingly popular every year. Psy’s Gangnam Style music video, the first YouTube video to reach one billion views, helped propel the wave across the country through the main-stream circuit with a careful balance of humor, a catchy beat, and a viral dance to go with it. Since this explosion, the U.S. has kept K-culture on its radar. Korean beauty products now appear regularly in cosmetics aisles, Korean foods and restaurants fill bellies, and Korean fashion graces magazine spreads and clothing racks across America. Similarly, the rest of the West has begun to catch on as well.

          The two data sets included above are based on Google searches and do not include the data from other search engines including the popular Korean search engine, Naver, or other search engines used commonly elsewhere. Although the information provided does not offer a full image of the spread of Hallyu, it does provide an interesting snapshot of K-pop's increase in popularity over time with the highest peak to date during the lead-up to the PyeongChang winter olympics.

          Numbers are percentages based on the amount of times that term was searched in relation to the other listed terms during the same time frame.


          For more information straight from the source, here is a 2018 update from the Korean news broadcast, Arirang, on the spread of Hallyu focusing on some of the newest celebrities to break international barriers: