Gangtok, 31 May:
Just like American pop culture was exported all over the world in the latter half of the last century, South Korea is now taking over with its K-pop, drama, beauty, fashion and cuisine gaining increasing popularity.
K-pop or Korean pop music is on its way to global domination mainly with the likes of South Korean super groups-BTS, Blackpink, iKON and many more. K-pop includes all music from pop, rock, hip hop, blues to ballads. The first generation of K-pop artists like Wonder girls, Shinee, Big Bang, SNSD and 2ne1, kickstarted the phenomenon that K-pop has now become. Leaders of the time, these groups introduced the genre to fans across the globe. Then the second generation of K-pop artists like BTS, EXO, GOT7, iKON, Winner, EXID, took it a step further breaking all barriers of language, culture and geography.
While K-pop’s major fan base is the young, even the older lot seem to enjoy it.
"I first encountered K-pop through BTS songs. I found their songs so fascinating and catchy and it gradually led me to check out songs by other K-pop artists as well,” says 20-year-old, BTS fan, Shreya Pradhan. “My parents are not huge fans of K-pop but they like their songs and find it interesting and inspiring," she adds
BTS is currently the world’s biggest boy group and a huge K-pop sensation. They took K-pop onto a new platform and brought home 5 Billboard Music Awards in total. They are still the most talked about group in the world.
"I was so happy when BTS received the award last month. I think I cried when their name was announced for best song. I felt so nervous when they went on stage to get the award. The funny thing is I don't understand Korean but when they gave their thank you speech in Korean I was nodding my head as if I understood each and every word they said," says 16-year-old, Rinzing Ongmu Bhutia student of Tashiding Government Senior Secondary School.
The third generation groups such as Red Velvet, NCT, Blackpink, Wanna one, Momo land are now taking K-pop forward. Currently, Blackpink is also breaking many charts, records and achieving much success not only in Korea but also internationally.
"When I was in middle school we had this trend going on about Korean culture, drama and stuff. I started watching Korean dramas and then ended up searching for everything about them. Those days Bigbang was in vogue, so I got to know about them and started digging up everything about them. They are so influential, the way they work day and night, they don't even get to sleep sometimes. They are people who can sing, rap, act, dance, all at the same time," says 21-year-old, Sangay Choekye, a fan of iKON.
"What is interesting to me is that they don't pretend to be good, they actually work to be really good. And here I am not just talking about Bigbang but whole K-pop as a whole," shares Sangay. She further adds that they also have super realistic variety shows where they show fans their true selves.
She mentions that she has not attended any concert but she wishes to one day.
"I am actually a multi-fan but I really like iKON and their fans are called iKONIC. I would be glad if people all around the world could know about their struggles and not make fun of K-pop. I'd really like people to appreciate it," she adds.
For 19-year-old, Pema Zangmu Bhutia, a student of Paljor Namgyal Girls’ Senior Secondary School (PNGS), going to Korea has become a dream.
"I and my sister got into K-pop last year and it has become our dream to go to Korea," she shares.
Not just music, Korean fashion and beauty have also taken the world by storm. Alien cultures are, however, prone to criticism.
"I really don't understand why people say "wannabe Korean”. It's not wannabe, it's just about trying a new style and learning a new culture. Everyone has the right to look nice and no one has the right to judge," says 19-year-old, Keshang Choden, a student of Nar Bahadur Bhandari Degree College.
This interest in everything Korean has also led to many youngsters learning the Korean language. Jigmee Choden, a student who is an EXO fan explains that learning a new language can be tough but when you get to understand what your BIAS (a term fans use for their favourite idol) says without the help of subtitles, one feels proud of oneself.
“I’m learning Korean language through online websites like LingoDeer, Learn Korean and through Youtube tutorials,” shared Jigmee.
If you hear the young speaking in a tongue that is completely unfamiliar, well, they very well could be speaking in Korean.
"It's not like I don't understand Korean, I do but only some words like 'Gamsahamnida' (thank you) 'saranghae' (i love you) 'joahamnida ' (i like you). These are the most common and often used Korean words by people like us. I'm learning Korean right now so that I don't have to watch dramas with English subtitles. I want to be an expert in Korean," says Pema Zangmu.
Another major export from Korea has been their beauty products. Trends like ‘glass skin’ have spread across the globe and Gangtok, of course, is no exception.
“It has been three years since I have been using Korean beauty products and believe me when I say this but it has made great changes to my face and skin,” explains Kavya Pradhan. “Innisfree, Cosrx, IOPE, and Blossom Jeju are some of the brands that I use and the face mask are made of pure herbal and also the products” she adds.
The 7-step skin care, popularized by Korean beauty experts, is one of the most famous methods to get glass skin. It requires 7 different beauty products starting from oil based cleanser, water based cleanser, exfoliating scrub, toner, essence, lotion and eye cream, moisturizing and hydrating mist. Every product has its own benefit and care for the skin.
“It’s just been three months that I have been using Korean beauty products. I will not say that it has made a huge difference but it has made my skin clear and soft,” 15-year-old Yangzum Bhutia mentions.
Korean food has also found its way onto tables in restaurants and even homes across the world. Gangtok too has a restaurant serving exclusively Korean food. Mu Kimchi at Namnang road is a popular haunt for youngsters.
“We go to Mu Kimchi to eat Korean food and it feels like we are eating in Korea! The Bulgogi set and Kimchi are some of my favorites. Whenever we visit the restaurant we always order this set first. We now know the menu by heart,” shares Pema Zangmu.
With the growing popularity of Korean cuisine, Mu Kimchi has become a place not only for Korean lovers but also for family get-togethers.
"It was in July 2016 that this shop was opened. We wanted to introduce a different taste for the people of Sikkim," shares manager of Mu-Kimchi, Kumar Rai. The restaurant has nine staff in total and the head chefs from Nepal and Darjeeling.
"We come twice a month to this restaurant with our family as well as our friends. Samgyup set, kimchi and Bulgogi set are our favorites. The décor is also very Korean and the table, with the barbeque grill in the centre, is unique,” says a Sikkim University student who was at Mu Kimchi with her friend.
Ramyeon or Ramen, the Korean version of instant noodles has been a hit with the youth and are now available almost everywhere in Gangtok.
“With the change in teenagers’ tastes, I decided to change the products of my shop from Sikkim noodles to Korean Ramen. Now students come asking for Korean noodles which are spicy. It has different flavors with different levels of spiciness and they are more in demand inside and outside Sikkim, so I decided to go along with the market’s demands,” informs Tshering, a shop keeper at Lal bazaar who owns shop number 143.
He sells Ramen at wholesale rates with a big packet selling for Rs 600 and small packets for R 130-150.
The K-pop groups of South Korea have faced many ups and downs in recent years. One of the legends of South Korea, Big Bang has faced massive criticism from people around the world after one of its youngest members was caught up in a sex trafficking controversy. In February 2019, he along with many members from different groups were also found involved in sex trafficking. Many idols have also succumbed to the pressure of being in the limelight and committed suicide. The pressure to adhere to unrealistic beauty standards has also made South Korea the world’s capital of cosmetic surgery. Despite these drawbacks, one cannot deny the success of South Korea’s soft power and how it has managed to gain worldwide popularity.