I Read A Book: Yasue Kuwahara’s The Korean Wave: Korean Popular Culture in Global Context

by Raizel Liebler

the_korean_wave_KuwaharaYasue Kuwahara’s The Korean Wave: Korean Popular Culture in Global Context (2014) is an excellent entry in the ever increasing corpus of books in English delving into Korean culture, academically.  Even the cover, PSY in shadow doing his horsey dance, is a nod to how ubiquitous Korean pop culture the the hallyu wave is becoming.

All of the essays in this collection are interesting additions and the scope of coverage varies greatly — from individual shows to globalization of a local industry.

For those seeking cultural studies style essays that consider gender, race/ethnicity, femininity and masculinity, there is The Politics of the Dancing Body: Racialized and Gendered Femininity in Korean Pop by Chuyun Oh, specifically about Girls’ Generation (SNSD); That’s My Man!: Overlapping Masculinities in Korean Popular Music by Crystal S. Anderson about TVXQ; and The S(e)oul of Hip-Hop: Locating Space and Identity in Korean Rap by Myoung-Sun Song about male hip hop and rap artists in today Korea.

But perhaps cultural studies isn’t exactly your thing. How about the political economy of Korean culture? And glocalization — an apt term about the simultaneous production of works to be both global and local? Then Hallyu as a Government Construct: The Korean Wave in the Context of Economic and Social Development by John Walsh; Transformations of Korean Media Industries by the Korean Wave: The Perspective of Glocalization by Hyejung Ju; and A Cultural Imperialistic Homecoming: The Korean Wave Reaches the United States by Sherri L. Ter Molen will pique your interest. I haven’t seen this much writing about the deliberate economic creation of Korean culture for a non-Korean audience in other collections. And these essays lay out how Hollywood pushing to have treaties opening up Korean audiences to their cultural products has led to much more entertainment dollars/won moving in the other direction.

But if you insist on enveloping yourself in Gangnam studies, which you will not find on TLF (see also: Areum Jeong, Horsing Around: Locality and Transnationality in PSY’s “Gangnam Style” (EMP 2013) & Pil Ho Kim, Boomtown Songs on the South of the River: The History and Geography of the ‘Gangnam Style’ Popular Music in South Korea (EMP 2014)), you should read the chapter, ‘Gangnam Style’ as Format: When a Localized Korean Song Meets a Global Audience by Claire Seungeun Lee and Yasue Kuwahara. Honestly, anyone interested in fandom and parody/satire should check out the long list of videos included in a chart in this chapter detailing the wide variety of remakes, takeoffs, and more based on the original video.

Summary: Recommended for those seeking an academic take on the Korean culture industry.

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