On June 22, 2020, a Korean name trended on the Nigeria Twittersphere. The name ‘Lee Min Ho’ was spread across Twitter because it was his birthday. A subset of Nigerian women were wishing him a happy birthday and thanking him for his existence. What, why and how did a Korean actor gain enough popularity to trend amongst Nigerians?
The ‘Korean Wave’ or ‘Hallyu’ in Chinese refers to the global popularity of South Korea’s cultural economy exporting pop culture, entertainment, music, TV dramas and movies. It has witnessed a phenomenal growth over the years from the global hit “Oppa Gangnam Style” by singer and producer, Psy, to the success of the boy group ‘Bangtan Soyeondan’, which translates to ‘Bulletproof Boy Scouts’, popularly known as BTS.
Korean Dramas, popularly known as ‘KDramas’ or ‘KD’, and K-pop have found great international success. Nigeria has not been left out of this Korean Wave. There are Nigerian women who watch and love these dramas and songs.
The first time I encountered a K-Drama was in my first year of University. All the girls on my dormitory floor would rush back from classes just to watch a drama called “Boys Over Flowers”. I googled Boys Over Flowers and saw posters of good looking Korean men and wondered how an Asian drama found its way to my Nigerian University. This is a question that I have continued to ask as Korean entertainment becomes more popular amongst Nigerian women and some men.
The World of Korean Dramas and K-Pop
K-pop has become a truly global phenomenon thanks to its distinctive blend of addictive melodies, slick choreography and production values, and an endless parade of attractive South Korean performers who train very hard for years before their careers start. These training sessions are rigorous. The goal is perfection. Talents are recruited into training programs that may lay for several years before their eventual debuts.
Korean Dramas have been made popular worldwide, partially because of the spread of the ‘Korean Wave’, since the world wide success of the drama “Boys Over Flowers”. They have since been made very accessible through streaming services that provide subtitles in multiple languages. The shows are stylishly crafted and aesthetically pleasing to watch. Many of the dramas have a hyped-up (murder-mystery plot, cliffhanger) element in their story line, which keeps the viewers glued to the screen.
In both the music and movie industry, the international attention and success started from Asian countries before South Korea began to broadcast their shows across continents. According to a researcher at University of Vienna, Korean dramas have their foundation in values which Asian viewers can easily identify with. Values such as respect for elders and family orientedness are important parts of many Asian cultures and these are messages that Korean dramas are known for passing across.
South Korea began broadcasting their shows strategically in Africa, the Middle East and Europe, in the mid-2000s. According to Youna Kim (2007), “The broadcast was part of the government’s efforts to improve the image of South Korea in the Middle East, where there is little understanding and exposure towards Korean culture”. This was also done to aid international relations between South Korea and those regions.
The Driving Force
The Korean Wave might have taken longer to spread if not for social media and the fans. The enthusiasm of fans and existence of social media are the driving forces behind the spread. Fans tweet, blog, vlog and comment in chat rooms, for instance, in Soompi’s discussion forum, about the movies, series, music and celebrities. The impact of the social media activities of fans spreads the word across international media. Social media has also made it easy for budding fans to get information about Korean entertainment and share/repost what catches their fancy.
South Korean Entertainment in Nigeria
The popularity of the Korean wave in Nigeria started with the Korean dramas and kpop. For most kpop fans, it started with OSTs (Original Soundtrack) from Kdramas, for others, they discovered their Favorite kpop groups out of curiosity.
I spoke with eight Nigerian women who watch Kdrama and listen to Kpop to understand their attraction to Korean Entertainment. Through my discussions, I discovered that most of them belong to some Nigerian kpop/kdrama club or group chat. Some also run social media accounts dedicated to either K-Dramas and K-pop in general, or accounts dedicated to particular shows or celebrities. When I asked about the reasons for their interest in these subtitled shows and songs that aren’t in English and very foreign celebrities, these were what some had to say:
The first thing that struck me was the beautiful men. The men are attractive without being hyper masculine, which is what we are used to here in Nigeria. I found that very interesting. The men are still regarded as ‘men’ even when they wear makeup, colour their hair and dress in pretty outfits.
It’s the romance for me. The Korean shows can be very very romantic. There’s no ‘hard guy’ when you watch them. The romance shows are so well written that I wonder if they consult psychologists to advise on the best ways to touch the viewers’ hearts. The men in these movies perform the grandest gestures and they actively protect the women. It can be very exaggerated and very unrealistic, but that’s what films are about.
The dating game in Nigeria is very gamey and guarded. It makes the innocence and simplicity of the romance in kdramas very attractive in contrast. Some dramas are unrealistic but a lot of them are also simple and sweet. The simplest romantic scenes can make your stomach flutter.
For me, I love how completely different their way of life is from what I grew up knowing about the world. It is interesting. They have all these ‘techy’ advanced machines and appliances that just make their lives so much easier than ours. It’s like watching the Miniso store’s products being used in real life. Things you never knew you needed but you don’t have access to.
The men tend to be more emotional, expressive and romantic. It makes me dream and wish, but obviously with a limit, because I live on planet Earth and in Nigeria. Sometimes the men are portrayed as tough guys who are also soft and emotional for the love of their life. It is so addicting to watch. Also, the men are very fine. Very fine.
I enjoy the choreographies of the music boy bands. Some of my favorites are BTS, EXO, Stray Kids and SEVENTEEN.
I noticed a lot of cultural similarities from my very first drama. They value respect A LOT. There is also a lot of civility and politeness in their interactions with one another. They don’t seem to be as aloof to strangers like we see in Western movies. I find these very interesting to watch. It makes watching and understanding the shows a lot easier. And I love the OSTs (Original Soundtrack) of the dramas. It’s what got me into Kpop. They can sing and dance so well.
The shows are well written. It’s top class performance. You can actually see that they go to great lengths to make their movies, series and musical performances perfect. The makeup, the lines and don’t get me started on the wardrobe! Just watch ‘It’s okay to not be okay’ and you would understand what I mean.
The musical performances of the music groups and artists are so well done! Kpop is influenced by a lot of western culture especially their Hip-Hop so catching on and enjoying their music is not difficult for me. Also, if I don’t know the meaning of the Korean words, I can just search for the English translation.
I found my love for Kpop through the OSTs of the dramas. I follow certain artists like Chen from the group EXO, Punch, Kim Tae Woo and Taeyeon because of the songs they sang for my favorite Korean dramas. I don’t understand most of the words but I love how they make me feel. These people can sing. God save you if you’re single but listening to the singer ‘Ailee’ use English and Korean to profess love in a song. Your heart would feel uplifted without a man to pass it on to.