Today, South Korea is the 4th largest economy in Asia and the 10th largest in the world. However, many are left baffled to how one of the poorest countries in 1960, with a GDP matching the likes of Ghana’s, was able to beat all odds and experience the largest economic growth in the shortest period in all of history. Part of their success is owed to ‘Hallyu.’

Following the introduction of the ‘Hallyu! The Korean Wave’ exhibition in the V&A museum, more and more people are becoming aware of what this global phenomenon is. ‘Hallyu,’ or better known as the ‘Korean wave,’ refers to the global expansion and popularity of South Korean pop culture, including: food, music, dramas, k-beauty and even e-sports. In fact, the K-pop industry alone is estimated to bring in $10 billion dollars each year to South Korea’s $1.6 trillion economy.

In the mid-1950s, South Korea was completely debilitated by the Korean war, which divided the country into the two parts recognised today. This devastating violence left an impoverished country, that relied largely on foreign aid. However, in the 1960s, South Korea underwent rapid industrialisation; the new government heavily focused on building an industry-based, export-dependent economy. This is when many of their staple brands, such as Samsung (estimated net worth of $275illion- 5th in the world) and Hyundai (considered the pride of the east-Asian country), rose into prominence.

“All of us have raced forward without rest to create a free, egalitarian and unrepressed country, a peaceful and cultured nation,” South Korean Moon Jae-In said in his ‘March First Independence Movement’ anniversary speech, “Hallyu is sweeping the world.”

In the music sector, South Korean boyband BTS’s single ‘Dynamite’ peaked at number one in Billboard’s global chart, staying on the chart for 18 weeks. This alone is estimated to have contributed $1.4 billion to the country’s economy and created 8,000 new jobs. In the film sector, Bong Joon-Ho’s blockbuster film, 'Parasite,' took home four Oscar awards in 2020, including the most sought-after ‘Best Picture Award,’ being the first non-English film to do so. Only 11 other non-English language films have ever been nominated in this category. Tourism has also increased exponentially with more and more foreigners visiting to experience Korean cuisine, learn about Korean history or attend their favourite artist’s (also known as ‘idols’) concerts.

The rise of hallyu has pushed South Korea to become a renowned ‘culture-hub’ in the world. Though the country remains mostly homogenous, it garners more and more international interest, with no sign of slowing down. It would not be an over-exaggeration to say that this once war-stricken country has experienced an almost Disney princess-like transformation.