Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Sincerest Form of Flattery, Vietnam edition

One of the big reasons I do not like the term "Korean Wave" (as I talk about in POP GOES KOREA) is that the term undervalues the size and scope of the cultural trends affecting pretty much everywhere. It is not a Korea thing, as much as it is a globalization thing. And just as Korean entertainment companies got a great boost by improving their business management, marketing, and artistry, now other creators and businesses are getting into the act.

In an interesting example of what I am talking about, here is an article about how Vietnam is following Korea's example in how to produce pop stars.

The article talks about how aspiring singers in Vietnam are coming to Korea to produce their albums or study with Korean music labels:
Another pop star, Ho Ngoc Ha, who recently took part in the Asian Song Festival 2009 in South Korea, said: “Going to South Korea to witness their technology, I understand their entertainment industry. They can make anybody to become a bright star with that professional and huge system”.

Actually, this has been a long time in coming. I remember representatives from KBS telling me way back in 2002 that they were seeing a lot of interest in their programs from Vietnam. One of Vietnam's first multiplex chains was run by a small Korean exhibition company (sadly now out business in both countries, I do believe). And I have been seeing media folks from Vietnam Media Corporation for years, at PIFF, Cannes, and elsewhere. The Vietnamese program 39 DEGREES OF LOVE was deliberately modeled on Korean TV dramas. No surprise, then, that producers and creatives in Vietnam's music scene would also try to emulate Korea's successes.

All very cool, but this is about more than just Korea. In my humble opinion, the point of these influences and changes is not Korea's Koreanness. These are trends that are deeper and more pervasive. After all, it is not a coincidence that Korea's cultural rise in Vietnam (and elsewhere) came at the same time as its corporate rise. In Vietnam, Korean cosmetic and appliance companies were aggressive in breaking into the market, which helped open things up to cultural content (and vice versa).

So I definitely credit Korea for being one of the first non-Western countries to modernize its entertainment industry and reap the benefits of doing so, I think it is important to realize that almost all countries are looking to do the same thing. India and China are of course the highest profile competitors in Asia, with Hollywood studios falling over each other to sign up deals in those countries. But you can see it pretty much everywhere. I can see it here in Spain, in their music and movies (Spain produces a lot of films each year, thanks in part to an aggressive Catalan film community).

While the Hollywoodization of the world's entertainment industries can be distressing at times, on the whole I think this is good for most local cultures. They are learning how to produce popular, engaging entertainment, which is the best way to ensure local entertainment industries continue to exist (or even thrive) in the face of the huge, global entertainment conglomerates. So if Vietnam can emulate Korea to strengthen its entertainment industry, I think that is a good thing.

And just hours after I post this story, there is an article out of the Philippines about the popularity of Korean pop stars. Okay, not really related to the Vietnam story, but still interesting to see how mobile today's pop culture can be, and how good Korean stars are at getting that popularity around Asia.

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