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  • Published on: 14th September 2019
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How and why is Korean being westernised and how they are keeping their cultural identity?


My studio practice is exploring the was of asian fashion. Photographing the fashion from other Asian cultures such as Chinese, Korean and Japanese into my work as it's something which I'd refer closely to my own cultural identity and interest. Thus also looking at how the eastern society uses their fashion in the western society to how even this can rub onto the western society and following the same trends.

What really is the difference of the two cultures and how they do work with each other. Showing my own personal thoughts on how it is to be an individual from a eastern culture to be living in this western society, almost being in my own alternative world. Being alienated from others, to how this is to the cultures in these asian societies and how you feel more at easy but still not finding yourself. The upbringing that I have had from being a Chinese individual in a westerners world is completely different to your average life.

Of all the Asian cultures that I'm most interest it's not even my own. I found the biggest interest into the whole Korean culture and how now it's becoming more popular to a western society. South Korea is a ever growing country and finding it's own voice away from their neighbouring and isolated counterpart North Korea. I will explore into how South Korea has been able to pull themselves away from the negative side of the word Korea. Also finding the difference to how it is from a Chinese culture to a Korean Culture.

The Korean culture is evolving nonstop as we speak, the growth of what the 21st century has been waiting for. We have see an massive incline and need/want for Korean products. Through the recent years I've noticed this growth towards Korea as the popularity of their culture is being globalised, things such as their music, beauty, fashion and dramas have been more popular throughout the recent years. Korea is a fully developed country and seems to be always one step ahead with trends, they have been a huge influenced for the world. The ‘hallyu wave' being a huge movement in the world which is making this small country on the map having the most powerful impact to their own global status and identity. Looking into how South Korea has been able to pull themselves away from North Korea and not being targeted to the same negativity that they receive.

Chapter One: Unidentified identity

“Welcome to a world where being yourself isn't good enough”

Growing up in a westerns society has been a weird upbringing. It's different. You're identified as the Chinese person or the words could get worse. Everyones knows you but not who you are. You are clearly identified because of the colour of your skin and the colour of you hair to the way you look. It's always been difficult, at a young age i've always wanted to do everything that I could to fit into this society and to this day I'm still trying to find myself. I wanted to be more western, it was a dream to fit in. I mean who wouldn't want that. The stereotyping that people put to you just because of the way you look will always be there. At times I don't even want to mention that I'm Chinese. I don't like to be thrown into a category without even having them finding out about me. To different etiquette such as I have been used to using utensils which most westerners would wind difficult to use. To being used to having different holidays than others.

I've always imagined how it was to be brought up in a western family. It seems like family life is different compared to my family. The different lifestyles we all have. The beliefs we have, it can all be different. I've found the benefits of being from the two cultures and seeing clear differences to how everything is. The eastern culture has been shown to be from birth, listening to Chinese music and watching Chinese dramas gave me the benefit of learning this new language, also a communication method that I have with my mother who's native tongue is Cantonese. Having the chance to also have experience a little bit of how life is like in Hong Kong, the place of my parents birth, the lifestyle is a lot more fast paced. Lateness is something which is rare as everyone seems more in a hurry to get to places. Almost again going into a different world, being alienated again as a fast paced lifestyle isn't what I was used to in the Scotland. I couldn't find the balance. The food has more of a variety than British and also that getting about in Hong Kong is simpler as well as you would be able to do more. I've found my lifestyle in Scotland to be boring compared to a life of a individual in Hong Kong. The convenience of being able to get things is completely different in Scotland. Every time I go back to Hong Kong, I would always have a full list to what I would want and at moments like these I'm glad to say that I'm Chinese, being apart of this huge community has made me more socially aware of the different cultural appreciations. But besides of having a more dull lifestyle in Scotland, it's something I wouldn't change.

Life in Scotland is more about trying to get to somewhere which would take hours until you find it. Being in Aberdeen, it's a drastic change to Hong Kong. I find that there isn't enough flare here in Aberdeen. It's the worst to get around as well as the weather stopping me from doing most things. I find it plain and boring but it's home. However we do both draw aspects of life from each other, how I feel more of myself is the dipping in and out of the two cultures. Especially with there I go. Finding this balance to making myself feel more cultural with eating things which I miss about the Chinese culture. Having these food which would satisfy the longing of a place where I would rather be to when I even go to Hong Kong I find myself going for the western foods and talking more English than cantonese. I've always been unable to balance this out with myself and not really knowing where I truly would define myself. Both cultures are what I am but who am I really?

Chapter Two: Hallyu Wave

The hallyu wave or other known as the Korean wave was first introduced by a Beijing reporter which was discussing the rise of the popularity and an interest into the Korean culture. The term hallyu refers to the popularity of Korean dramas (k-dramas), Korean movies and Korean Popular music (K-Pop). In 1997, South Korea had started to restrict on the amount of cultural imports from japan which left this absence of culture in South Korea. The South Korea's Ministry of Culture made that they wanted to build on the local culture more than enforcing the culture of others. Going with this route, Korea has been able to achieve a globalisation of making numerous Korean cultural products to be shown to rest of the world instead of it being the other way around. While the first starting was with K-dramas. This spread to k-pop which has gained a lot of attention from other cultures and is still getting a lot of attention.

Korean culture has more been embedded into the Western society more throughout the past 10 years. The extreme and growing development of social media has been the main pulling force for the emergence of Korea's culture. Social media coming under all things from video sharing site to smart phones is what draw this hallyu wave to it's peak. In 2010, Korean music had a growth from their exports which was at 168%. Thus from then it has grown a huge following to the westerners and creating this global identity and fanbase. What really was a driving force for the westernisation of Korean music was the viral song ‘Gangnam style' by PSY, this piece of music grew that attention as being such a power anthem. PSY himself seems content to move on, telling Reuters earlier this year, “It was probably the biggest trophy the world could have given me. It's now something on the shelf I can admire from time to time.” Yet five years on, it's also one of the most influential songs of this decade, altering the pop landscapes of both the United States and Asia.

As social media has been more popular for younger generations and how easy it is to access these platforms, this enhancing the Korean wave to a westernised culture has been evident. K-Pop has really followed this way with globalising themselves with this platform as for in 2017, one Korean boy band was able to claim the prize of top social artist at the Billboard Music Awards. For the past 6 years before the 2017 Billboard Music awards show, Justin Bieber had been the reigning champion in this category and no one was able to take this award away from him, until now. Having big names in this category to be put against a Korean band which a majority of the US nation wouldn't of heard about seemed a bit daunting. Who would of thought that a Korean group could of won this? The seven member boy group BTS has been in the limelight in a western market since that, their fans, called ‘ARMY', was what made these dreams happened for them. The fandoms of K-Pop idols show this huge appreciation towards them. BTS' ARMY have even created many poster and billboards around the world which had promoted them and globalising the Korean culture. Not only how this has affected BTS but after winning, many more appreciation of k-pop came to light. More K-Pop idols joining this wave and being allowed and accepted in the western society.

Their social media presence is what draws them towards a bigger global market. All Korean entertainment companies are aware of how this media can impact the globalisation for a certain group or idol. Although they are targeting toward the Korean fans as they use hangul instead of English, the fanbases have taken the time to help international fans understand the messages they are saying and showing to their fans which shows how the western and eastern cultures come together in one harmony, almost like one big family. Even now taken to the full blown westernisation of the K-pop is that many Korean idols have collaborated with the western artist in 2018. From BTS featuring Nikki Minaj to Dua Lipa featuring Blackpink. They are all trying to grow with their music and also their own musical knowledge of each culture. Even with Korean idols, having to fit into the western market more would be daunting for a non English speaker. However, it's very common to find many K-pop groups with individuals who don't just come from a Korean background, some may come from a Thai background, Chinese background and Japanese background. And having this reversal of who is learning who's culture. Thus allowing them to appeal to their own culture and I've found that many K-Pop artists don't just make their songs in Korean but they also do them in other languages to show more of the presence to their international fans.

However, taking those into consideration, the boy band BTS had taken it into their own hands and showing their fans that this ‘westernisation' was something that they aren't trying to achieve their most recent song ‘Idol' has the videography to show that it was something which culturally they weren't taken away from Korea and they were proud of who they were. The use of Korean clothing and style of dancing was shown to their fans throughout this music video which was very empowering that they were socially aware that they had been targeted off in this way. They showed this culture appropriation not just for Korea but also incorporating different cultures such as Africa and Brazilian. Finding a new self confidence in themselves which was what the whole song was about. One line in the song was “ You can't stop me loving myself”, words which show that they aren't going to change and that their identity isn't going to change. This song has been able to show the full appreciation that they have for other cultures as well as their own and aren't afraid of the risk, but in a small way marketing them out to the global market.

The mass appeal that there is for K-Pop around the world has shown the huge interest to why do people actually like it. When though the songs are fulling in Korean it has drawn attention to those who don't even speak it or understand it. Young bros has been creating k-pop events around Europe which they show the recognition of k-pop to people in Europe. To the people who don't understand it they still find the fun elements of the music they are listening to. I find this being something which is truly inspirational to how a piece of music which isn't in our own native tongue can draw so much enjoyment out of the western society. This is also similar to the song ‘despacito' which has grown a hug viral craze for the song and that it had the inclusion of a western artist the song was mostly in spanish. It's more about the appreciation of the music than the understanding of what they are saying.

This globalisation of Korea has also been taken to the beauty side of it all. The Korean beauty industry is every growing and that beauty in Korea is more important than you think. The beauty market in Korea is influenced by all included the Korean dramas and music. This is because many are wanting those picture perfect faces and bodies. Having been to South Korea, beauty was promoted everywhere I went. Every location would have millions of beauty houses. Western markets have the ideal beauty now to be all about having all the curves. Whereas this is something you wouldn't usually see in an Asian commercial sense. The idealisation of the beauty in Korea is shown by how idols are perceived to their fans and how this is selected.

A case study of Cha Ji Won, a Korean individual who has started to take herself away from the idealised Korean Beauty Standard. Many have joined this movement, and by joining they have created videos onto different social media platforms showing that they are done with the beauty standards and destroying their make-up products (something which is important in Korea) calling this  “escape the corset” which has a clear link to how thee beauty standard were back in the olden days to have an unrealistic body type and feeling constrained. This movement really does show a completely different contrast to the Korean Culture as plastic surgery is something which is practically normal in a high beauty standard country. Cha Ji Won who used to use around £70 on beauty products has been able to cut back onto £2 just on moisturiser now. But why is Korea finding beauty to be more than anything? This would be to the fact of how they promote beauty wherever you go. Many things which lead to the factor of women wanting to have pale skin, larger eyes, high nose bridge and the list goes on. “The movement doesn't only aim to challenge the sexual objectification of women, but also change the status of women as subordinate to men,” said Lee Na-Young, a women's studies professor at Chung-Ang University in Seoul. Korean Beauty is very important to the culture. Having the best skin care routine as well the best beauty treatments is famous for them.

The fashion in South Korea has changed massively. Seoul fashion week has gained so much recognition from around the world and here is really why that is. Been to Seoul in 2017, I knew that fashion in Seoul was something which shouldn't of been taken lightly. The clothing style of Koreans was a point which I had taken into consideration before I went to Korea. Having a fashion sense was what I was most cautious about, needing to be dressed appropriately and wanting to fit in. The fashion style of Koreans was either more elegant or more trendy/chic and what I've found is that before going to Korea, I wasn't too aware about my fashion sense and it wasn't something which was on my mind all the time. As coming from Britain, I felt that my fashion was more laid back, more into comfy clothing and whatever was available. This hallyu wave had bust and I found that Korean fashion was everywhere. Korea is really killing it with their fashion right now, they aren't afraid to try out new styles and trends.  The styling they have is more to an aesthetically appeal.

But now how fashion is changing the cultural and traditional fashion is being acceptable to an everyday fashion style. Even to the Japanese traditional clothing, the kimono has been more modernised to be acceptable in streetwear. Korea's traditional clothing, hanbok, has been able to maintain a basics all throughout the 5,000 year history of Korea. While its styles and forms have evolved in various ways based on the lifestyle, social conditions, and aesthetic taste of the times. Although this stye of clothing is important to the Korean society, the fashion styling has far changed from that as Koreans have adapted more of an western style of fashion in the most recent years.

Fashion inspiration has adapted into K-pop as well as k-drama. The viewing of many K-dramas has now made it's way to the western market. In the recent couple of years, I has been easier to watch these as they are on platforms such as Netflix. Thus opening themselves to the western culture as a demand of Netflix has been on the rise in the most recent years. The identity that K-dramas have for themselves is that they are all

Chapter three : Korea's truth

How does K-pop stand out from their asian competitors?

Japanese popular music also known as J-pop has been around for many years and was what was more known than K-Pop. As the increase of anime in the global market, this is what was a driving force for J-Pop to have this recognition. But throughout the more recent years, K-pop has found it's way to the top. Although this is something which is hard for the Korean music industry, it's really what make the top groups relevant. K-pop has even stepped up their game with many artist even taking up song writing any producing which this is another level compared to J-pop. “In Japan, idols are seen as different from artists, and skills are only expected from artists. Japanese fans only expect cuteness from idols. But, in Korea, viewers don't give leniency to idol groups and they are challenged to compete against global idols, which has made talent agencies put wannabe idols through rigorous training to meet such high standards,” said Ha.

There is a dark truth to the way that you can make it out in Korea. It's not like any western industries that if you have the voice then you've got the part. It's far from that. Korean entertainment companies will put an individuals through years of intensive training to some not even making it out at the end to become an idol. Things that these companies do look out for is your talent but as well you would need fit into the idealisation of what the company wants. Being skinny is something which is important to the company managers and this will be something which they use as a selection tool. Having this is something which affects the beauty of the idol. Skinny women or men to be shown to the world and shown the the Korean culture as what they class as beauty. Having the most strict diets to starving themselves for days or to eat the bare minimum. Getting into the entertainment business has these flaws of needing to be perfect to the head of the business. When upon viewing the content of Korean Music or Dramas, you can inevitably see that they have a mould to the images they want to portray. Being to a certain look, having the right features is the only way that you would be able to become a Korean star. What is most popular would be your weight. The extensive weight loss and diets that many have taken upon themselves shows how much they would do to become a idol.

Being in that Korean entertainment industry it can cause a lot of damage to the idols physically and mentally as well. Having to spend hours at a time practicing and practicing to make the company happy and also to make themselves happy is what struggles they go through. The isolation that they can go through can lead to lasting results. The need for perfection from these idols is severe criticism on themselves and finding that they have let others down even if they get one thing wrong. Even when idols are going on tour, they would most likely be staying in their hotel rooms 24/7 if they aren't doing a show. They have the full restriction of what they can and cant do.

Unlike a western industry, you see that they don't have these strict rules on how you can get into the market. What does matter your voice and making sure that you can sing. In Korea, you don't or hardly get any joke acts as well. They take these selection processes very seriously as they want to keep to a certain standard and each company wanting to make their profits to be high instead of causing backlash and having a failing company.  The western market is far from this, yes to the fact that they do get criticism from new outlets or social media the process of it is slightly different.

The Korean film ‘200 pound beauty' was what firstly introduced me to the music industry of how picky it was with how the idol looked. The film was about an young woman who has the voice but not the look, she was the voice for another idol who couldn't sing but had what was viewed as beautiful. The woman needed to go through plastic surgery to find her own beauty and to achieve her dream to be a famous superstar. Being on stage was her dream and turning to be the most beautiful girl that is loved by millions when she showed her new self to the world. Wanting to avoid any backlash she had told the company that she was full natural which was false. This then cause her the worry about letting people know who she really was and that she went through this change just so she could fit in and not be laughed at for what she looked like. To the end of the film her new was told to the world and that she learned to accept her past and her future with this new change and was accepted by her fans as well. This film really showed the side that the music industry in Korea finds beauty to be more important and that once you chance to fit into the society many more will love you.

Many tourist don't just go to South Korea to sightseeing and shopping but it more likely they would go to South Korea some body change. The main promoters of these procedures would be from Korean dramas or the Korean Music industry which a Korean plastic surgeon Hong Sung-bum. Getting a procedure done in Korea is very popular for the Chinese culture as Korea would find most of their market there with a source that at BK Hospital, they have employed many Chinese speaking staff as the more commonness of Chinese people wanting to get plastic surgery is rising. We can see how Korea has affected neighbouring countries with even marketing it out to China, which is ranked the highest around the world with the biggest population. Having such a huge market for the Korean beauty industry to targeting such a huge power house is what is really making changes for the Korean market. As Korea does make more closer economical relations with China, they still have this beauty industry being able to promote itself. These beauty trends are always being regularly promoted in china with the Korean Tourism Organisation having plastic surgery events in Chinas capital and most developed city Beijing and Shanghai. KTO has figures showing that there was the rise in Chinese visitors going to Korea for medical treatment, not all for plastic surgery but the growth was clear and visible with 26.5%. The craze for having surgery done in China has grown that much that even travel agencies would do package deals for a couple days of sightseeing the having the rest for surgery. Thus, creating a market not just for South Korea but also showing the business growth in other countries as well to offer an insane package like these. The plastic surgery industry has become so dominant in Gangnam that some intersections feature clinics on all four corners. The underpasses to the subway station are wallpapered with ads for cosmetic enhancements.

How I view the beauty industry in the UK would be completely different. The beauty standard for the makeup routines that a Western and eastern individual goes through have both different stylings. Heavy makeup looks is something which is popular in the Western Society whereas light makeup is what you would usually see in Asian societies. Also, the idea of skin tone is what you see is something which is different. Many Korean would find it to be more beautiful to have a lighter skin tone and the tones you would usually see would be these lighter tones for the Korean market. Whereas the tanned look is something which I see which is more popular in the Western market as being tanned shows this sun kissed look and is more wanting to be achieved by westerners. Many videos show the two differences of how each make up style is. There is the clear difference that Koreans have the more natural and everyday look to a western style of going all out with the makeup and doing full blown out smoky eyes.

The other side.

From this dark truth about the South Korean industry, it's even darker on the other side of Korea. Korea being divided by a north and south side had shown two different characters. South Korea has been doing many things which has made them stand out from North Korea. North Korea being such a neighbouring country to South shows two different worlds in both countries. South Korea, developing with things such as the first finger operated touch screen phone to the first mp3 player. Seoul being one of the future city of the world, and that they city always feels of alive. This contrasting from somewhere which is so close to them. A country stuck into their own world. Outside of the ever-changing society. Not knowing anything outside of their own country. Being trapped in a bubble. The way that North Korea is shows that its a place where you worship one. You obey to one and stepping out of the lines will cause serious consequences. In 2018, North Korea have been more into the news about how their dictator had went out of the country to show his gratitude towards the other leaders of the world. Showing up more for the strictness of his country and having dealt to not test his nuclear weapons. From a TED Talks, Suki Kim had went to North Korea ‘undercover' she found it difficult to be in this constant lie to her students. Losing her freedom that she would of got in South Korea and America. This is an eastern society which is one we wouldn't follow.

North Korea has kept the open platform of the outside world hidden from their country which is hugely different from the neighbouring country which has been making it's name and globalising itself day by day.


From all this, I've found how the Korean market has been able to westernise itself but still able to keep their own cultural identity. It has amazed me of how much of the world of Korea was far different from the western market. I don't think that Korea going to be westernised as I think that it's on it's own level in this world. It's powering through the whole industry and making it's own name.  Even from a Chinese viewpoint I think that the Chinese culture doesn't have the same driving focus that Korea has right now. From my own cultural point of view, I find that western and eastern societies will still have that gap of how accepted each are in each others place but it's slowly gapping the bridge and how it is being more integrated into both of the worlds. Seeing how the two difference of North and South Korea, really show how South Korea had worked hard to pull themselves away from what North has to do. I find that I'm feeling in my own bubble for my identity of who I am. Feeling like the social outcast, but with the use of the Korean globalisation I've been able to find a new identity. As I've grown more and more into this new culture, I see that there is a loving element which is shown throughout the fanbases, they truly do accept you for who you are and coming together as one to support these Korean idols.

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