“South Korea, by targeting youth, has been shaking up global pop culture for twenty years”

meEmmanuel Macron, to emphasize that youth is a goal, celebrated his victory by marching with the children. How to seduce this fragmented and contradictory youth, many of whom have deserted the polls, due to lack of interest or hostility? Let us recommend to the re-elected president a wonderful book: K-pop. Soft power and global culture (PUF, 324 pages, 22 euros), sociologists Vincenzo Cicchelli and Sylvie October. Or how South Korea was knocked out by the economic crisis of 1997, reverberated through entertainment: the country knew how to capture the imagination of young people to unite a nation, before embarking on the conquest of Japan, then Asia and finally the world, with weapons armed, television series and pop music.

It is a feat for a democracy of 51 million inhabitants with uninhibited capitalism and penalizing language. It is even the main agitation in world pop culture for twenty years, to the point of seeing Korea excite the Big Three: the United States, Japan and Europe.

Some emblems hide a host of other names. BTS is number one in record sales in the world. The Serie squid game captured 111 million viewers on Netflix, a record. The cinema has Bong Joon-ho and his film as flagships Parasite, Palme d’Or at Cannes. The latter embodies a creation as alive in Korea as heritage. The strength of the country is to have developed together with a popular culture called hallyu (“Korean wave”), uniting the youth.

miraculous alchemy

The triumph owes nothing to luck, everything to hard work, say Cicchelli and October. It also has several engines: a very proactive state, powerful industrial conglomerates with creative branches, communication giants like Samsung with its XXL-screen phones, solid companies specializing in music or series. That they have all been advancing hand in hand for years, each one in his role, is a miraculous alchemy.

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Turning youthful emotions into merchandise is more like a martial system. Companies, some publicly traded, create internal stars this way: 100,000 auditions, 0.1% chosen, monstrous lineup, private life under control. They are 20 years old, both are actors, singers, dancers, performers, models, entertainers…

The crossing of disciplines is convenient for a young public nourished by the Internet -even more so in a Korea where broadband is very widespread- that has made cultural outings in favor of music and online image, and also of video games. In this logic, Korean pop culture is mainly intended for home screens, through YouTube or platforms, without going through a difficult place. The webtoon are the best example, a kind of Korean manga distributed only on the Web.

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