The Korean Wave of cultural exports, which began with popular Korean drama series like “Winter Sonata” (2002) and “Jewel in the Palace” (2003), is now being led by the music industry. Korean pop music is now beginning to catch on in countries beyond Asia.
Thanks to exposure via YouTube and fan pages on Internet communities such as Facebook, there are now K-pop fans in Latin America, Africa, Europe and the United States.
This renewed infatuation with Korean pop culture largely centers on girl groups like Girls’ Generation and Kara.
But amidst the increasing international recognition, three of the five members of Kara announced that they are leaving their management agency and filing a lawsuit to nullify their contract.
The group may be the next TVXQ, which broke up at the height of their popularity when three of the group’s five members filed a lawsuit against their agency over a 13-year contract they said was too long.
Kara recently earned great fame in Japan, selling 260,000 copies of its “Premium Box for Japan” album and winning an award for Best New Artist of 2010. The group’s members are also appearing on the Japanese drama series “URAKARA,” which started last week.
Their activities in Japan will likely have to stop because of the contract dispute.
The Korean Wave is spreading fast beyond Asia to previously unimaginable audiences in many corners of the world largely because of the Internet. However, the entertainment industry that feeds and supports these artists has remained a second-rate mom-and-pop operation. The frequent clashes between artists and their agencies over exploitative contracts suggest that agencies are still oblivious to the rising popularity and global status of Korean artists and performers.
The most important thing for artists and their agencies is mutual trust.
The Fair Trade Commission has set guidelines for entertainment contracts to prevent exploitative and unjust demands by the agencies. But most performers still complain that they are forced to make entertainment appearances against their will. One agency head was recently arrested for sexually assaulting young artists in training to keep them with the company.
The entertainment industry must outgrow its antiquated practices and rebuild itself in order to help sustain and nurture the newfound status of Korean entertainers.