Just like the cool new fifth-grader who’s caught the most Pokémon in the playground, the internet is undoubtedly the most popular and powerful new force in mass media. Today, the internet is not only a new social and technological development, but also a culture-making machine, especially in the Asia Pacific.
Throughout the years, mass media has evolved from newspapers, radio and television into what is certainly an era of the internet. Here, you can learn almost anything: from how to tie a shoelace to how to build an igloo. But is the internet capable of forming new cultures entirely? K-pop would certainly indicate so.
Just like the broad definition of culture itself, ‘internet culture’ is now being used to describe the new ways the internet is connecting people with common beliefs, hobbies and interests all around the world. Today it is far more common for younger generations to spend more time watching content online than on a television screen. With over 4 billion views per day being racked up on YouTube, the internet is certainly the go-to place to spread information to mass audiences.
Take the popular YouTube channel ‘Eat Your Kimchi’ run by a Canadian couple who have lived in South Korea for over 8 years. The pair often post K-pop (Korean pop music) discussion videos online where their tremendous fan base – over a million subscribers – of both Korean and Western origin can come together and connect. In its beginnings, K-pop appeared as if it would only amount to a national trend. But by 2009, K-pop was quickly forming a new sub-culture in both the United States and many European countries.
An indication of the power of internet culture for countries in the Asia Pacific region was shown by the unexpected phenomenon that was ‘Gangnam Style’. Arguably the most famous K-pop song and most viewed video on YouTube to date, there is hardly a Seoul – pardon the pun – in both Asia and the West who hasn’t been exposed to the wacky dance moves and aesthetics of the music video. Other K-pop music videos regularly obtain between 10-30 million views, and often you can hear one or two English words sown between the Korean lyrics in order to appeal to their newfound Western audiences.
K-pop is unquestionably a new craze that has been made possible through the power of the internet and its ‘culture-making machine’. While K-pop may have been an essential part of modern South Korean culture, the widespread audience online has created a new sub-culture in both Asian and Western countries. Even the Australian National University has a K-pop society and a dance club, with regular meetings and Korean movie nights. These two clubs get together weekly to appreciate and imitate South Korean cinema, dance-styles and cultural attributes that they have learnt through K-pop.
The internet is unpredictable, especially in Asia, and while the current definition of ‘internet-culture’ is sure to change over time, what is known is that the internet has provided communities of people in both Western and Asian countries with the ability to come together and celebrate their shared love of both old and new cultures from all across the world. K-pop is one of many examples of modern sub-cultures made possible by the internet, with its head-bobbing beat and colourful music videos that many in our own nation have come to identify with.
While the majority of Asian culture has been spread via trade and globalisation, the internet now allows an instantaneous mode of communication that has the ability to inform us of the past and create new, modern sub-cultures that can be viewed and appreciated world-wide.
Without the internet and its culture-making machine, K-pop would never have generated such interest. And no K-pop fan outside South Korea would exist.
‘Internet culture’ is for everyone, and if you can’t find a place within it? Make one.
K-pop certainly did.
Keeley Adams is a first year undergraduate student studying a Bachelor of Arts at the Australian National University.