How Homegrown Creators Are Shaping India's K-Pop Revolution

Inside India's K-Pop revolution.
Inside India's K-Pop revolution.L: R:

It was the second summer of the pandemic when my roommate became obsessed with K-dramas. And I do not say this lightly.

She would spend night after night, dewy-eyed and spellbound at the sentimental fare Netflix was releasing by the dozens in 2021 — Vincenzo, Tale of the Nine Tailed, and Love Alarm among other shows — that Indian Gen Z’s and millennials could not get enough of. If binge watching was invented by the Americans, then the Koreans have managed to perfect it.

With a jaw-dropping budget of 6.05 billion American dollars in 2022, the South Korean Culture Ministry aims a laser focus at churning out Korean pop music, fashion, mass entertainment, and other soft cultural exports that comprise the infamous hallyu wave.

Somewhere in New Zealand, lived Radhika Bangia, another young Indian girl got hooked on shows like The King and Boys Over Flowers during the lockdown. Unlike my roommate who simply moved on to anime, Radhika began making short reels and sketches on Instagram, inspired from the K-dramas she had soaked in.

Radhika’s videos managed to grab the attention of the South Indian film industry. The casting team of a big-budget Kannada production contacted her for an audition and before she knew it, she was dancing to the ‘Monster’ song in KGF: Chapter 2. Her prowess at self branding and capitalising on her social media skills has catapulted her to a realm where she can be acknowledged and hired by household names in Korean media like Wong Fu Productions and Viki Rakuten. 

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Meanwhile, the hallyu wave which was looming in the distance since the 90s, had finally baptised the creative consciousness of our country and surfing on it were a bevy of young Indian artists who were identifying strongly with Korean culture as a conduit for self-expression.

K-dramas, aside from being comfort food for the soul and wildly entertaining like Bollywood movies, are also propagating the notion of positive racialisation especially for Indian youth who no longer seem to relate to American web series that are mostly about ruthless double agents and cold hearted diplomats.

In March 2023, according to a report released by Duolingo, Korean ranked number 3 among the languages most preferred by recreational learners in states like Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and West Bengal.

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This year, another Indian singer followed the likes of Z-Girls member Priyanka Mazumdar and BLACKSWAN member Sriya Lenka, our first K-pop stars. In her early twenties, like her predecessors and inspiringly dedicated to her craft, Aria is a Kerala born singer who is the youngest member of Seoul based girl group X:IN

This comes as no surprise if you have been paying attention to the constellation of Indian teenagers who started out like Radhika, releasing amateurish K-pop dance covers recorded in a low-lit corner of their rooms, and have now come into their own within the hallyu ethos.

By training hard on their grasp of the Korean language, vocals, choreography and rap skills picked up from music videos and by auditioning online like crazy, these relentless performers are putting in their ‘blood, sweat and tears’ indeed. And yes, that’s a BTS reference. 

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Another favourable measure by the Korean Ministry of Tourism was the opening up of unrestricted travel for Indians in 2022, aiming to attract more than 150,000 travellers by 2023. They even came up with a Let’s Go Korea Savings Plan, in association with Shinhan bank, encouraging travellers to set up a recurring deposit account that would fund their trips. Needless to say, it worked and many fashion influencers from India made their way to the new age mecca for shopping and cosmetics.

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Y2K fashion featuring trends from the late 90s and early-to-mid 2000s have now made a comeback in the spring-summer 2022 collections in South Korea and across the world. This style is distinguished by trademark elements like low-rise skirts, baggy pants, and varsity jackets. The baseball caps, leather high heeled boots and micro handbags that you’re seeing everywhere? Yeah, they are all part of the Y2K fad.

Krutika aka The Mermaid Scales is an Instagram starlet with a dizzying 7.3 million followers who embodies this Y2K hysteria like no one else in our country. Known for her charismatic and personable content, an astute understanding of the sartorial zeitgeist of today and her vibrant accessorising, a quick scroll through her feed will instantly prove why she is so popular among the twenty-somethings of today. 

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K-beauty, body painting and Korean food are also garnering a similar kind of popularity among the Indian youth in metro cities of Pune, Bengaluru, Mumbai and Chennai. We are watching more Korean films than ever and appreciating their production value (not just Oscar darlings like Train to Busan and Parasite). Words like unni, saranghae and oppa have unanimously trickled into our anime-fuelled lexicon. But more importantly, we are offering some of our best stylists, singers, and dancers to the Korean industry and are being rewarded with love and recognition.

All of this is quite a poetic testament to how assuming a more fluid, cross cultural identity can help us evolve, not only as artists but also as human beings.