Is K-pop here to stay?

- DLS Pineda - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - If there’s one thing we can learn from Psy’s Oppa Gangnam Style, it’s that there’s more to K-Pop than meets the eye. Psy (rather ironically) serves as a reminder to all of K-Pop’s doubters that there is meaning — even subversion — behind the flashy music videos, short, repetitive English lines and the language we can barely understand. Now holding a Guinness World Record for the most number of YouTube “likes,” the stout, galloping K-Pop star has become an invaluable element of Hallyu, or the “Korean Wave.”

The Korean Cultural Center in Manila hosted “Hallyu sa Pinas: A Forum on the Impact of Korean Wave in the Philippines” at the Intercontinental Hotel in Makati last Sept. 14. Intellectuals, industry experts from film, music and TV, came together to do what they do best: examine the Korean Wave through critical lenses and ask pertinent questions regarding this phenomenon.

Indeed, one has to wonder — just what has Hallyu brought to our country? Why are Filipinos so fascinated with Korean culture? Is Hallyu a good thing? What can we learn/are we learning from all this? 

Before we jump to conclusions, it’s important to qualify the Korean Wave as a massive, almost hegemonic force, which has managed to seep into many aspects of Philippine pop culture.

In the early 2000s, Home Along Da Riles’ last episodes had to be moved to a later timeslot to give way to the beginnings of Koreanovelas on primetime TV. Katherine Choy, a marketing consultant from Astroplus Philippines, notes that in 2011, their branch in SM North EDSA was able to earn P8 million in gross sales for K-Pop merchandise alone. Who here hasn’t watched My Sassy Girl? Korean films have become a staple in our own cinemas, too.

Sheer pervasiveness

In retrospect, it would be easy to tune out on anything Korean, owing to the sheer pervasiveness (and sometimes campiness) of their cultural products. But we’d also be shortchanging ourselves from enjoying a huge chunk of contemporary pop culture. By doing so, we fail to understand what makes the world move (whether we like it or not).

So why do we fawn over this Asian neighbor so much, even if kayumanggi is nowhere near their snow-white Korean complexion?

The explanation offered by Prof. Ma. Crisanta Flores, Ph. D from the University of the Philippines, is that Filipinos see beyond the costumes and the put-on characters. Instead, what we see is a reflection of ourselves in terms of our aspirations, hopes and fears.

When Marimar took the country by storm, it was a period when we romanticized our Spanish colonial roots. It was a time characterized by extended, melodramatic dialogue and feudal relationships (master falling in love with the servant; family inheritance, etc.), which our Mexican counterparts seemed to have inherited and adopted as their own. True enough, the Thalia craze came in the same decade as Pope John Paul’s II’s second visit and the Philippine Centennial.

Hit Korean-novela Moon Embracing the Sun

However, Prof. Flores argued that as the 2000s approached, our attention shifted from the past to the future, from colonial Spain to our Asian neighbors. What we see in Koreanovelas is a huge shift from the countryside drama that we were used to in Marimar. We see a reflection of our dreams and the huge paradigm shift Filipinos have taken: to the city, to the faraway countries where there’s snow and skyscrapers.

Cosmopolitan desires

Koreanovelas reflect our own desires to be cosmopolitan, corporate and savvy. Not to mention they also move at a faster pace: one month is more than enough time to finish an entire season, unlike the Western sitcoms we’ve been used to. And in the time of social media, the importance of speed and digestibility cannot be stressed enough.

According to Jose Ma. F. Bartolome and Rachel Simon, program analysts from GMA 7 and ABS-CBN respectively, the family values present in Koreanovelas are what make them so easily acceptable to the Philippine audience. According to them, it’s the primary reason why a lot of us have grown to love them. Of course, the “kilig factor” and high production values come next.

Sure, the conference made apparent the many similarities Filipinos have with Koreans. But what it also highlighted were the glaring differences.

Siwon of Super Junior

The Koreans followed the same model of development as Japan — isolating themselves first from the world market, before setting out and competing with their own brand. Korea now fronts not just the cultural industry, but also the world market with their cars, electronics, and labor export, displaying great competence in computer programming. They’re also kept on their toes, having a strong grasp of their identity, as a quiet war wages on right in their backyard.

Perhaps, this is where we can learn a thing or two from them. While we sit around and barely have any idea of the “imagined community” of Filipinos (as Benedict Anderson puts it), we tend to relegate culture and identity to a lonely corner.

Government support

There is barely any funding for our cultural products — film, OPM, and service-oriented, non-privatized TV. Meanwhile, in Korea, they have laws making sure their local movies get a majority of the airtime in cinemas. Add to that a set percentage of their ticket sales automatically go to a common fund for their movies. In fact, they don’t just call it “culture” like we do. They call it a “culture industry,” independent from politics.

Korean superpop group 2NE1

The study of popular culture is one that is considered inferior by a huge portion of the academe, pseudo-intellectuals and “hipsters.” What they fail to recognize is that pop culture is where people, and therefore power, concentrates. Marxists, poststructuralists and the like may argue that it is merely a tool in maintaining the status quo. But when correctly studied and used, pop culture becomes a tool for change. Hallyu might just be the next big game changer.

Or, who knows, with our own, we may even take flight.

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Tweet the author @sarhentosilly.









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