Why is the UK surfing a so-called ‘Korean culture wave’?

The popularity of Korean culture is booming internationally after the success of acts like BTS and Netflix show Squid Game. Source: Dispatch (via Wikimedia Commons)

By Darcy Arnold | Contributor

Korean pop, food, sport and media has been capturing the attention of the UK recently. Known in Korea as ‘hallyu’ (translated as ‘Korean Wave’), Korean creatives are being celebrated by this international cultural wave.


Major sporting names like Tottenham Hotspur’s Son Heung-min, whose own national flag was waved most recently in Manchester’s Etihad Stadium by Spurs fans, are making an impact on British sport too. An extremely talented player, Son has not only proved himself as one of the Premier League’s most valuable strikers but also as a South Korean ambassador, who is pushing the boundaries of his nation’s culture as it blossoms, in both Britain and on a global scale.


When it comes to music, boyband BTS are paving the way in the UK charts. Formed in 2013, the band boasts over 12 million subscribers on YouTube. They also currently hold the record for the most viewed music video within 24 hours. Their messages of global unity and self-love throughout their discography have captured the hearts of millions of fans worldwide, selling out arenas from London, England to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. BTS’ Korean language programme ‘Learn! KOREAN’ has also helped to bolster the use of their native language amongst fans, it’s a recent addition to the language’s explosive growth internationally in recent years.


The Korean wave has also reached super-markets, with almost all major supermarkets in the UK stocking staple Korean ingredients such as Kimchi in their world food aisle. Korean food has become increasingly popular nationally, with restaurants popping up across the country in Birmingham, Sheffield, Manchester and Edinburgh.

Film and TV

Most recently, the Korean Netflix series ‘Squid Game’ has been capturing the hearts of viewers. The programme centres on Seong Gi-Hun- a man struggling to make ends meet and a debt squad on his back- who is invited to participate in a mysterious game that ends up being more deadly than he could have ever realised. A fascinating concept, gripping dialogue and characters with depth has meant the show has become the most popular on Netflix worldwide, despite being filmed entirely in Korean.

A similar phenomenon occurred in 2019 with Bong Joon-Ho’s ‘Parasite’. The film gripped western audiences and went on to win the Oscar for Best Picture. Bong famously stated in his acceptance speech that ‘once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.’ Thanks to the Korean cultural wave, the country has enjoyed significant economic and social benefits. It continues to be championed across the world by its citizens.


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