Breaking Boundaries: The Growth of the Economic and Cultural Influence of South Korea

By: Kamryn Mansell

Just as the British Invasion molded the rock music culture through radio during the 1960s, social media is having the same impact on the world by allowing a focus on heretofore overlooked cultural phenomena. One such genre is K-pop. 


K-pop, or Korean Pop, has been the beneficiary of the resurrection of the Korean economy after the Asian Swoon of the late 1990s.  As the Pacific Rim countries experienced growing economies, through rapid industrialization, the disposable income of the general public helped to fuel the budding pop music genre.  K-pop began its growth in the early 1990s from influences of many genres throughout the world while building its foundation on traditional Korean music. 

Flag of South Korea

The growing international popularity of Korean artists has contributed to Korean economic growth. The estimated worth of South Korea’s music industry boomed over the past two decades to an estimated worth of $5 billion. 


The international popularity of K-pop has been cultivated by file sharing through the Internet.  This easy method of sharing news and information has amplified awareness of Korea’s pop culture and has allowed the artists from that country to build international followings that might not have otherwise been possible. 

Prior to the Asian Rim industrial boom and the prevalence of the World Wide Web, American artists dominated pop culture.  Consequently, American styles and the English language became global.  The emerging popularity of K-pop is giving Korea an influential role in the fashion and music industries. The vocal and dance performances in K-pop are augmented with modern Korean clothing fashions and make-up. 


Psy’s “Gangnam Style” marked the beginning of K-pop’s international growth in 2012, with nearly 100 million views on YouTube in approximately 51 days. Not only were people viewing it, but they were also learning the dance and singing the song, despite most of the international viewers not being able to understand the lyrics. 

Group photo of K - pop band BTS

Psy’s international notoriety has allowed other Korean groups to earn international recognition.  One of the more recent beneficiaries is a group known as BTS.  This group introduced itself to the world in 2013 with its debut hit “No more dream”. This song reflects the adolescent angst of young people not only being prevented from chasing their dreams but also being forced into molds that society creates. Throughout their careers, they have chosen to spread messages of individuality and self-love.


BTS’ following has earned them guest appearances on such notable American television programs as SNL, The Late, Late Show with James Corden, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, and The Ellen DeGeneres Show. 

On the 24th of October 2018, BTS was awarded South Korea’s Hwagwan Orders of Cultural Merit as gratitude for their role in the spreading of the Korean language and culture outside of South Korea. Overall, the boundaries that K-pop continuously breaks around the world are directly related to the expansion of South Korea’s economy and globalization of their culture.