Korean pop culture goes on display at London museum

Korean culture has well and truly established itself around the globe – from fashion, cinema, music and TV series.

Hallyu is the word to describe this phenomenon, literally meaning the 'wave of Korea'. Hallyu began growing popularity in the 1990s, before reaching more Western audiences from 2010 onwards.

In London, the Victoria & Albert Museum is devoting an exhibition to Korean pop culture for the first time.

"The idea came about four years ago when I realised, for example, that some of my students were actually looking at Korean collections or Korean culture from the lens of Hallyu," says Rosalie Kim, a curator at the V&A.

Captivating audiences on the big and small screen

After the success of Parasite, Oscar winner for best film in 2020, it's the series Squid Game that is taking over the world, with the best audience of the year on Netflix.

For Kim, it's inspiring to imagine the impact Korean culture has had on the world, given that Korea emerged destroyed and cut in two after the Second World War.

"Telling the story of how a country like Korea evolved from a country devastated by war to a leading cultural powerhouse in the 21st century was really the aim of the exhibition."

K-pop fandom knows no limits

With the success of early K-pop boy bands like Super Junior and BIG BANG and TV shows like "Winter Sonata" (2002), the interest in the country's cultural exports continued to grow.

Now South Korean K-Pop Boy and Girl Bands are selling out stadiums, including in Europe, and are dominating the top of the charts.

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Accessibility of music clips and TV programmes on websites and streaming platforms also greatly improved their exposure.

The exhibition contains numerous iconic K-pop and K-drama items - from PSY's pink bubblegum jacket worn in the hit 2012 video for "Gangnam Style," to the main character's wig from director Park Chan-wook's violent cult film "Oldboy."

As a sign of the times, it was the singer of BTS, Jung Kook, who sang at the opening of the World Cup in Qatar.