Western Celebrities: Less Famous in South Korea

Korea the Hermit Kingdom: “Who is Bruno Mars?”

If someone has never heard of Bruno Mars, then they must have been living under a rock. . . or living in South Korea. For many centuries, Korea was known as the Hermit Kingdom, and it seems that it still lives up to its name. Compared to Korea’s cultural export, the import is insignificant partly because of a government policy to limit import and support national products[1]. This also applies to the entertainment industry. For example, the Korean definition of fame is very different than the typical American definition of fame. Many Western celebrities are not well known in Korea.

I interviewed some Korean students at SUNY Korea about which celebrities they identify better with, and many of them said they preferred Korean celebrities over Western celebrities. The reasons ranged from language preference to musical style. Furthermore, when asked about Bruno Mars, Ha Yeong Kim, one of the students answered, “Who is Bruno Mars?”. However, it is no surprise that the Korean youth are not well informed.

Bruno Mars performs during the iHeartRadio Music Festival in Las Vegas
Bruno Mars performs during the iHeartRadio Music Festival in Las Vegas

The Korean youth identify themselves more with celebrities in Korea than with celebrities in the United States. Koreans have a limited knowledge of American celebrities partly because there are enough Korean artists to satisfy the population. The Korean government invested heavily in the entertainment sector to the point that the Korean youth is more aware of the homegrown talent than the Western idols[2] and the fruits can be seen with the Korean youth.

South Korea has done a great job in creating national talent and keeping the national interest within Korea. The entertainment sector has been incredibly success and perhaps, this could have been a major factor to Korea’s growing presence in the international stage. With this, Korea defined what it meant to be famous, and maybe that is why Western celebrities are not that famous in Korea.

Should other countries follow Korea’s path to promote homegrown idols?

More on the success of the Korean Entertainment Industry: http://www.asianentrepreneur.org/spread-k-pop-industry/

[1] Jeongsuk Joo, Transnationalization of Korean Popular Culture and the Rise of ‘‘Pop Nationalism’’ in Korea (The Journal of Popular Culture, Vol. 44, No. 3, 2011) p.489.

[2] Sook-Jong Lee, South Korea’s Soft Power Diplomacy (East Asia Institute, 2009) p.1.

[3] Jeongsuk Joo, Transnationalization of Korean Popular Culture and the Rise of ‘‘Pop Nationalism’’ in Korea (The Journal of Popular Culture, Vol. 44, No. 3, 2011) p.489.

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