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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Oct. 3)

All Headlines 09:14 October 03, 2016

Dead end of 'hallyu'
K-events shows lack of originality, direction

October is the big month of "hallyu," the Korean Wave encompassing K-pop, K-drama, K-movie, K-cuisine and anything K. Busan One Asia Festival, dubbed as the world's biggest hallyu festival, kicked off its 23-day run in the port city on Saturday. Despite bad weather, about 35,000 fans including about 10,000 foreigners attended the opening gala.

The Sixth K-Pop World Festival in Changwon was held Friday, pitting 15 finalists from all over the world against each other to find out the best "imitators" of K-pop stars. According to the organizers, about 4,500 teams from 65 countries, twice as many as last year, competed this year. Soon, this show will be broadcast domestically and internationally.

The Korea Sale Festa, the nationwide sale, continues through Sunday.

No less than 10 years ago, the Korean Wave was taken as a flash in the pan or a short-lived phenomenon. It has now grown to be an industry of its own, something that is supposed to be Korea's best export product.

But if a couple of layers are peeled away, these events and by extension K-culture itself appear to stand on a shaky patch of ground -- the same cast, the same repertoire and the same audience, being topped off by cheap sale pitches.

These events recast some of the same names -- bands and singers. They include Shinee, INFINITE, CNBLUE, Wonder Girls, Girl's Day, VIXX, AOA, GOT7 and the like. This shows how shallow the depth of talent is.

The One Asia festival is expected to attract about 30,000 foreign spectators over its three-week run, a small turnout, even if the Internet serves as its main platform and can attract many times the crowd. It would be safe to say that most of the foreign audience on the scene is Chinese, considering the overwhelming portion of foreign visitors.

Now, how can we address this "poverty amid the plenty"? This question is pivotal to giving a new lease on the life of K-culture and helping the world embrace it not as a temporary fad but part of their lives?

First and foremost on the list is the lack of originality. More bluntly, K-pop stars share factory-produced similarities. That means it is a matter of time before consumers become tired of these cookie-cutter products. Control by a few of the related industries is to blame. SM, JYP and YG serve as oligarchs in the securing and provision of talent. Who's who in the K-stars' list include those in the trio's stables. CJ Entertainment, a chaebol subsidiary, uses its enormous capital and network to provide them with marketing power.

The prevalence of the CJ monopoly in play is well illustrated by one seemingly unrelated aspect that it controls a proportional number of screens so the success of a movie often depends on CJ's whim.

The oligarchy also makes the industry overly dependent on one market -- China. The whole industry got scared when the Chinese government turned on Korea as whole over its decision on the deployment of a missile interceptor. Before that, Park Jin-young, singer and founder of JYP, one of the big three, had to apologize to China together with his teenage Taiwanese protege. Now is never too soon to think of ways of bringing diversity, unwinding China's hold and making hallyu a truly global cultural currency.
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