How Hallyu Spread In South Africa

Google is a great tool to track patterns of fascination over the years. We used it to track interest in the Hallyu. The Hallyu (or the Korean Wave, which refers to the growing popularity of South Korean culture) has spread all over the world. It’s in the K-pop category in the VMAs, Netflix adding a host of Korean dramas, the popularity of the glass skin makeup technique, or the kimchi that every hipster bistro is adding to their burgers. But what can Google tell us about the interest in Hallyu in South Africa?  FATIMA MOOSA and SHAAZIA EBRAHIM crunched the numbers over the past five years to find out.  

The rising popularity of K-pop: from PSY to BTS

We started off with the most obvious search term: K-pop. 

The Korean pop music (K-pop) industry is a huge one. And recently it has become even more popular, especially globally. It is a billion-dollar industry which experienced a 17.9% revenue growth in 2018. It has been said the K-pop industry exploded with the popularity of BTS.

But long before BTS ever came onto the scene, there was PSY and Gangnam Style. For South African audiences this was the first time many encountered the industry. Tracking the numbers from the past five years, there was a huge interest in K-pop music in 2012. The popular singer PSY released Gangnam Style in 2012. It has been viewed 3.4 billion times on YouTube. It was the most viewed video on YouTube from around five years. 

President Barack Obama in 2013 even spoke of the huge impact of the song. “And of course, around the world, people are being swept up by Korean culture — the Korean Wave.  And as I mentioned to President Park, my daughters have taught me a pretty good Gangnam Style,” he said during a joint press conference held with the Korean president. 

In December 2014, YouTube announced the video has exceeded the number of views it could store on its system. As a result the video platform had to expand their system to allow for a greater number of views. It was likely this views that caused a huge spike in the amount of South Africans searching for the song in 2014.  

Gangnam Style had nothing on the rise of BTS though. In 2017 the group appeared at the 2017 Billboard Music Awards. Not only that but the group took home the Top Social Artist Award. Not only were the group the first ever Korean artists to win, they did it by a huge margin. From that point all attention was on the group including in South Africa. At this point, there is a huge interest in the group that just keeps growing. The Western Cape takes top honours as the province with the highest interest in the Hallyu. 

K-dramas are dominating streaming sites

Korean dramas are an institution. They’re basically Korean language series in a variety of genres and make for some excellent television. They’re becoming wildly popular all over the world, but were always popular in East Asia. Another related query to the search for K-drama is “kissasian” which is a popular streaming site for Korean dramas. But as Korean dramas have grown in popularity, there have been more added to popular streaming sites like Netflix. “Marriage contract” — which is currently on Netflix — is another K-drama related query that South Africans have been Googling. We haven’t seen it yet but if it’s any good, tweet us and let us know.   

Over the past five years, the interest in K-dramas has steadily increased in South Africa. In 2019, the web searches for Korean dramas in South Africa are at the highest they’ve ever been. Western Cape has searched the term “Korean dramas” the most, followed by KwaZulu Natal and Gauteng. It’s interesting that the fourth and fifth most searched terms are “Healer” and “Pinocchio” which are both names of popular Korean dramas. (We added Healer to our beginner’s guide to K-dramas which you can read here). 

Korean beauty and the quest for glass skin

Korean beauty, or K-beauty, is one of the latest fads in beauty and is directly linked to the rise of Hallyu. K-beauty presents youthful-looking skin and generally focuses on health, hydration and a preferred lack of pigment. Everyone wants the flawless glass skin of the favourite K idols or K actors. For example, South Korean cosmetics company Amorepacific sponsored 2014 drama My Love from the Star (also on our beginner K-drama list!), and the sight of Jun Ji-hyun using the products was enough to result in an increase in skincare and lipstick products of 75 and 400%. 

In the past three years especially, there has been a rising interest in Korean beauty in South Africa. Nearly all the searches of Korean beauty have come from Gauteng. The related topics to Korean beauty are skin care, cosmetics, and skin. Korean skincare has some of the coolest products like the wildly popular sheet masks, beauty water (which is a kind of skin toner) and even snail slime. The makeup boasts everything from bb, cc and dd cream to cushion blusher and lip stains. It’s all about the aesthetic. 

Korean Cuisine is slowly entering SA kitchens

What is a cultural takeover without a food influence? While Korean cuisine is not as popular as the other Korean cultural forms, it is growing in popularity in South Africa. More and more supermarkets and restaurants are selling Korean dishes such as ramyeon (Korean noodle dish), kimchi (Korean pickles) and soju (Korean alcohol). The Western Cape, Gauteng and KwaZulu Natal make up the provinces with the greatest amount of interest. 

The Crazy Korean Restaurant based in Durban is a popular search option. Starting at markets and fairs, the Korean owners opened a permanent restaurant situated on the beachfront. The restaurant is very popular with people often having to book in advance for a table. They serve everything from traditional Korean rice dishes to glass-cut noodles and more. Besides authentic Korean restaurants, more and more restaurants in South Africa are adding kimchi to their menus which is interesting to see. 

There’s no doubt that Hallyu is cultural force around the world. It isn’t as huge in South Africa, but according to the search engines there is a growing interest. From what we can tell, the interest doesn’t stop at K-pop or K-dramas but extends to food and beauty and a general interest in Korean culture. Careful South Africa, it starts with K-pop. Then before you know it, find yourself watching a K-drama with a sheet mask on your face as you struggle eating ramyeon with your chopsticks. 

Featured image via Vimeo