July 2, 2020 in Analysis
Korean Variety Shows

The exponential growth in popularity of the Korean variety show began in the late 1990s. The Korean productions tremendously increased in popularity to floor the existing forms such as the Japanese television dramas. The Korean popular culture includes films, television drama, pop music and other Korean forms of entertainment that emerged in East Asia and came to be known as the Korean wave. The Korean television drama and shows are said to be the leading force of the Korean Wave. The number of TV dramas increased significantly from the late 1990s and the trend extended to the year 2000. In 2001, an estimated $13 million worth of television broadcast programs were exported from South Korea to other Asian countries. The greatest proportion of these programs was exported to Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Vietnam. Five years later, Korean television dramas had risen in popularity to be one of the favourite daily programs in many satellites and terrestrial television stations Asia. The programs featured daily on television stations in Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, and the Philippines. While other cultural exports such as Japanese were analysed as extensions of cultural imperialism, Korea could not be analysed in these parameters because it was a colony of Japan. Moreover, Korea was modernised much later than other countries like Japan, but the Korean variety shows got more acceptance among the young audience. An example of a widely accepted Koran television series was Winter Sonata. It was produced and broadcast in Korea in 2002. It was then broadcast in Japan in 2003 on a satellite channel. Within one year, the NHK channel had broadcast Winter Sonata four times. The first time the drama series was aired in a Japan television, it earned a 24% average viewer rating. The viewer rating significantly increased in the second showing of the series on the same television channel.  The television channel received numerous re-run requests and necessitated its appearance in 2004. The same situation occurred in the United Arab Emirates and the US. The drama series strongly appealed to the middle-aged females comprise about 90% of Korean drama viewership. This paper explores the proliferation of the Korean variety shows in the global audience and asserts that the pop culture has rapidly penetrated into most parts of the world than other shows. 

The Korean variety shows spread globally because they invoked a feeling of nostalgia from the past among the global audience. The female audience aged between the ages of 30 and 60 claimed that the movies invoked a feeling of connection with the past. This aspect was significantly missing in other shows which have been adulterated by the western culture and postmodernism. The Korean variety shows are not an extension of western culture. They rather strike an intricate balance between the western modernity and the original Korean values that fill the cultural void created by colonialism and modernization (Broda and Weinstein). 

Type of your assignment
Academic level

The popularity of the Korean variety shows is attributed to their characteristic cultural hybridity. The hybridity is considered as a new form of Asian modernity and has emerged as a successful competitor to the proliferation of the western culture. An example is the Winter Sonata, a Korean television drama. The work of art was successfully received in Japan because of its cultural dimension, particularly the traditional Asian values. The traditional values that the Korean variety shows harbour account for its enthusiastic reception as an emerging form of Asian modernity.

Korea has a cultural proximity to may nations of the world. The success of Korean shows in Arab audiences is attributed to the similarity of some aspects of culture in the show to that of the audience. A specific example that the audience in UAE audience identified with is the bickering between in-laws in the Korean shows. The characters in the Korean shows portray great respect for parents and elders synonymous to the Emirati relations. 

The Success of Korean television Dramas across Asian countries has rapidly increased over the past two decades. The Korean television industry has localised Western television with sophisticated skills and has advanced to export a significant volume of programs to various regions of the world. In the 1990s, Korean dramas such became widely viewed across Asia and Europe. The transnational popularity of Korean dramas was attributed to cultural proximity based on language and race within regions such as Emirates.  For example, the wide acceptance of the dramas in Japan stemmed from the shared socio-economic conditions between the Koreans and the Japanese. These conditions include capitalist urban spaces, a developed media market and industry, the increasing proportion of the young middle-class population with higher spending power, and improved sexual and gender relationships.  

In Asia, Europe, and America, many young viewers could relate the lives of the characters in the Korean television dramas to the happenings in the lives. Thus, they could identify these shows with their aspirations and dreams. The Taiwan and Hong Kong audiences embraced the Korean media culture as proximate but with a comfortable variation from their own cultures. For example, the Japanese viewers stated that they empathised with Korean characters because they share many similarities with little differences.  The acceptance of the Korean pop culture in most countries of Asia and Europe can, therefore, be said to be caused by a sense of closeness and distance, sameness and difference and congruence of dreams and realities intricately mix to elicit sympathy from viewers. This kind of sympathy could not be elicited from American media cultures.

The Korean shows attracted audience across the world because of its ability to capture dynamism in social classes and relate it to romance. This wave of lifestyle was already spreading in most parts of Asia, Europe and America. The shows captured the contemporary escapades of romance where young professionals live in upscale apartments and dine in high-end locations in the cities of Korea. This consumerism culture captivated the audiences of the 1980s in Asia and in the developing countries that aspired to emulate the life in modern cities.

The Korean television dramas did not singularly depict a modern culture but mixed Asian cultural values with western modernity. For this reason, the Korean programs greatly appealed to the audience to the Asian countries. The realism in these shows appealed to the audiences because they could easily relate the characters and the stories portrayed in the shows. Most of the dramas of the time such as the Japanese TV series could not appeal to the audience outside its country’s borders as the Korean shows. They overly portrayed the love life of young professionals with little incorporation of the traditional cultural context. The Korean dramas also focused on young corporate characters as a central theme. Though, the love life of these characters unfolded in the context of families with strong ties and powerful parent to children bonds.  The unfolding of the teenage romantic life under the patronage of parents is significantly lacking in the American and Japanese television shows. The inclusion of the family life theme could resonate well with the viewers’ real life experiences, especially if they were Asian origin or other conservative cultures. For example, the Korean television dramas appealed to audiences in other countries including those that had local alternatives such as Japan. Therefore, Korean shows achieved a wider reception globally because of their higher level of realism and resonance with both traditional and modern cultures. 


The Korean variety shows have increased in popularity not only in Asia but in the world over since the late 1990s. The tremendous growth in popularity has created a paradigm shift from the view that cultural globalisation is unilateral and is only influenced by western modernity. The Korean pop culture has spread globally because of its characteristic cultural hybridity.  It has an exceptional ability to blend the global and local culture. The local culture creates nostalgia among the audience of ages 30 to 70. The global culture attracts the young audience. The Korean variety shows are, therefore, able to attract people of all ages and races. This paper reveals that the main factors that make the Korean drama appeal to the middle-aged people are its ability to depict traditional Asian values, create a visualisation of an ideal past and elicit an emotional connection with the past lives of the audience. The audience cannot find these aspects in post-modernity culture based television drama from US, Japan and Europe.  The Korean shows are better depicted as a new and unmatched form of Asian modernity which strikes a balance between the traditional Asian values and the Western modernity in a way that fills the cultural void that has existed for a long time among Asian audiences. The continuing process of modernization and globalisation has further shifted the content of other shows, leaving the Korean shows as an unmatched authentic form of entertainment.


Related essays