You’d have to have been hiding under a rock to have missed the explosion of Korean culture in the west over the last twenty years. From K-pop artists dominating the global charts to Parasite’s Best Picture and Best Director win at The Oscars, South Korean exports are a big business, as a new exhibition at London’s Victoria & Albert museum reminds us.
Hallyu! The Korean Wave is a celebration of the boom of Korean culture across the globe since the 1990s. Exacerbated by the rise in smartphones in the early 00s, the surge in hallyu (meaning Korean Wave) was driven by a young, tech-savvy generation with an avid passion for art, culture and its dissemination worldwide.
First exploring South Korea’s troubled past, the exhibition explains the climate that allowed the country’s cultural boom.
Taking you on a journey through different sectors of Hallyu – music, fashion, TV, cinema, beauty and webtoons – the exhibition is a vibrant and engaging explanation of how a poverty-stricken country became a major player on the global stage. K-Pop fans will revel in seeing early videos from OG boyband, H.O.T., costumes from K-Pop designer extraordinaire, Kim Balko, who has designed for the likes of BTS’ Jungkook and BLACKPINK and a wall of fan-favourite lightsticks, each reflecting the identity of a different act or group. K-pop fandoms get due recognition for their charitable and activist work, a welcome reminder that online communities can be a force for good.
There are interactive elements, too: show off your best K-pop dance moves in a recording booth and see your efforts projected on a big screen, dancing in unison with other attendees.
Parasite fans will delight in seeing a replica of the family bathroom from the movie and fans of Netflix mega-smash, Squid Game, will spot the red and green costumes from the series.
As fun and vibrant as the exhibition is, our main takeaway is this: when governments invest in new technologies and culture, it can lead not only to an economic boom but change a country’s entire perception on the global stage. From the rubble of the Korean war to the skyscrapers of Ganyam, Hallyu! is the story of a country using culture and technology to transform its trajectory. Someone buy Liz Truss a ticket.
Hallyu! The Korean Wave exhibition is at The V&A in London until June 2023. Tickets are £20 or free to V&A members.