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KO in India

Written by Sneha Nair
Designed by Yash Saxena

The Korean Wave, better known as the Hallyu Wave has taken India by storm, and it looks like it’s here to stay. 

The mid-1900 - the mid-2000s saw the popularity of South Korean TV dramas and pop music dramatically increase in Asian countries such as China and Japan. In 1997, when the TV drama called “What Is Love” was aired in China, it ranked second in China’s all-time imported video content. It was then that the term Hallyu or the “Korean Wave” first appeared, referring to the global craze for Korean culture. 

A recent Netflix study done in India tracks a 370% increase in the number of Indians watching K-dramas!

But unlike popular belief, Indian fans for Korean content existed long before the Pandemic hit us. In the mid-2000s, the separatist group Revolutionary People’s Front (RPF) banned the consumption of all forms of Indian entertainment, in the North-Eastern State of Manipur. What followed was an influx of Korean cinema, shows, and music, chiefly through pirated means. Furthermore, local cable stations began broadcasting shows from Korean channels like Arirang and KBS World. The K-pop subculture then gradually spread its roots to other Northeastern states. (Source: First Post)


What followed was the combination of the Pandemic, a dearth of good Western content on OTT platforms, and Netflix’s diversification of its library giving rise to the incredible popularity that K-Pop now enjoys in the country.

How popular IS Korean content in India?

The K-pop contest in India, organized by the Korean Cultural Center six years ago, hardly had 35 participants and 300 spectators. But in 2019, a total of 1952 teams and 3475 participants entered the contest. 

Korean is currently the fastest-growing foreign language in India. The language-learning platform Duolingo saw an 11% increase in Korean learners in India between October 2019 and February 2020.

Korean is currently the fastest-growing foreign language in India. The language-learning platform Duolingo saw an 11% increase in Korean learners in India between October 2019 and February 2020.

Netflix, Reliance TV, Zee TV, and now MX player have dubbed versions in vernacular languages and even aired them on tv.

Six Korean Titles featured in Netflix India’s Top 10 trending list since March 2020. Kingdom Season 2, It's Okay to Not Be Okay, and Crash Landing On You are among the series to have regularly featured in this list.

With an increasing familiarity with Korean food through K-dramas, the import of Korean noodles in India also witnessed a volume growth of 162% in 2020. (Source: Moneycontrol)

Indian audience for Korean Content

As of January 2022, India made the second largest share of viewers for the K-Pop  band BTS with around 110 views on Youtube


Korean dramas offer its audience drama ( love triangles, kidnappings, sudden bouts of amnesia), songs shot in foreign locations, romance, and humor making them very familiar to Indian television. This and other cultural similarities make the content relatable to an Indian audience.  Korean music is also language - barrier agnostic, in a way that Tier 2 and Tier 3 vernacular audiences can be found speaking fluent Korean and learning to sing phonetically.


Unlike the western music scene, K-pop bands and their fans forge a symbiotic bond where both parties constantly acknowledge each other’s presence.


For most fans, the affair with South Korean culture began with Korean popular music (K-pop) and its biggest bands such as Bangtan Sonyeondan (BTS), Blackpink, MonsterX, iKon, Big Bang, Twice, and Red Velvet. K-Pop music stars are known to push gender barriers by not conforming to “masculine” looks. This also means that while young women in India are drawn to these idols, men who show any interest in them are

shamed for being too  “effeminate”. 


A Developing Market 

While streamers like Netflix are including more Asian content, the Indian film industry is yet to catch up. One of the leading causes is India's persistent history of systemic racism and the othering of people, specifically those who belong to Northeastern states. 


The music industry on the other hand has started to open up to K-Pop. For years, Indian fans have noticed similarities between K-pop and Bollywood songs. In 2020, a clip that mashed superstar band BTS's choreography for Boy With Luv and the Bollywood hit Chunari Chunari went viral. 


In 2019, Rolling Stone India started a series where K-pop stars reacted to songs by independent music artists in India through which Indian singer-songwriter Armaan Malik and Korean-American artist Eric Nam collaborated to make Malik’s first English single - Echo.


In 2020, K-pop star Wengie worked with Indian artists Shalmali and Ikka for her single Thing You Want, incorporating Punjabi bhangra into a track that also had elements of EDM and trap. (BBC). 


K- Pop and K-Drama fans across South Asia have never been shy about purchasing Korean merchandise. This is why K-pop NFTs are now looking to enter the market and capitalize on this fandom. 

India is also among the Top 10 Countries Tweeting Most on K-Pop.

Young K-pop Indian fans stay connected and have a strong social media presence through various fan groups dedicated to Korean content. They celebrate every idol’s birthday, and group anniversaries and some even follow the fan calendar of Selcadays, the short form for “self-camera” and selfies for Koreans. 


Tamil Nadu is a perfect example of how social media is being used to bring fans together. K- Dramas have managed to fill the gap of a lack of Tamil content aimed at young Tamil girls. Chennai has the largest South Korean community in India, which has been growing ever since auto giant Hyundai opened its first factory near the city in 1997. Now, with multiple Facebook and Instagram pages dedicated to Korean Romance dramas, Tamil Nadu may be the biggest market for Korean content in India. Tamil memes dedicated to Korean dramas are liked and shared by thousands of women across the State, and the fandom only seems to be getting stronger.

Korea has long used its pop culture influence as a form of soft power, especially over Developing countries. One-third of venture capital in Korea is spent on the entertainment industry—more than on any other sector in the Nation. India and Korea have had a relationship for decades, with South Korea currently being the fifth largest source of investment in India. Korean companies such as LG and Samsung have established manufacturing and service facilities in the country, and several other economic collaborations are underway.


While the Korean Wave has brought with it huge economic opportunities in India, it has also managed to challenge racial and gender stereotypes, gain a huge Global audience, and integrate cultures making its content the future of the Media industry. 

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