Nepali Times
Life Times
Move aside Bieber and Bollywood


PSY-TED:PSY inspired quirky t-shirts and fashion are making their way to Kathmandu as seen here in Darbar Marg.
From flash mobs across continents (Indonesia, US, Australia) to UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon breaking into the quirky horse gallop dance with his fellow South Korean rapper Park Jae-sang, popularly known as PSY, Gangnam Style has spread like wildfire.

With its addictive beats and hilariously creative dance moves, PSY's song has racked up more than 900 million hits on YouTube since its release in July and is now the most watched video around the world after dethroning teenage heartthrob Justin Bieber's Baby. However, long before the rapper shifted global eyeballs to the Korean peninsula, Korean pop-culture also known as K-pop, Korean wave, or Hallyu was already sweeping across Asia's shores.

Cable television specially the popular Arirang channel first bought Korean dramas and pop stars into our living rooms in the early 2000s. As Internet access grew, video sharing sites like YouTube pushed K-pop from relative obscurity to the astronomical fame of Gangnam Style in 2012.

Urban Nepalis' fascination with K-pop started as South Korea opened its doors to Nepali migrant labourers in 2008. As hordes of people lined outside the Korean embassy for work visas, language schools mushroomed across the country and Nepalis took an interest not just in Hangul, the script, but also its music, fashion, and culture.

A stroll around the streets of Basantapur, Darbar Marg, and malls around the Valley will tell you how obsessed teenagers are with K-pop. Everything from the dress, shoes, and accessories to the hairstyles and make-up of popular singers, bands, and actors are eagerly emulated. Hard-core fans even memorise entire dance routines and lyrics of popular bands like 2NE1 and Big Bang.

"My sister used to watch a lot of Korean dramas and that's how I got hooked. I like the way the male pop singers dress up. They are not exactly 'manly', but very chic, flamboyant, and have a wild sense of fashion," admits 18-year-old Bivit Gurung, a student at Modern Indian School.

Nepal's retail and fashion businesses are riding high on the K-wave. Established almost a decade ago, The Korean Shop in Kantipath was among the first stores to introduce Korean–style clothes in Nepal along with foods like kimchi and Ramen noodles.

"When people come in, they know exactly what they want, sometimes they bring photos of their favourite actress or bands to show us," says shop attendant Pooja Shrestha. Unable to keep up with a surge in demand, The Korean Shop recently opened a new outlet in Kumaripati, Lalitpur.

Similarly, cosmetic shops like Koreana which rely solely on Korean products are not only sustaining themselves but also making profit, indicating how robust the market is. "People think it's only teenagers driving the market, but even middle-aged women and men visit our shop. Korean culture has huge mass appeal," admits owner Kumar Shah.
The entertainment industry is not far behind either. DVD vendors do good business selling pirated copies of Korean serials and movies and sales compete neck to neck with Bollywood heavyweights.

"Ever since they started showing Arirang on cable tv, I have been hooked to Korean serials and music videos. The songs are very flashy and you just can't take your eyes off," adds 22-year-old Tseten Deky, a college student.

A girl browses through a collection of Korean DVDs at a store in Patan.
Even Kollywood is cashing on K-pop. Instead of feeding audiences with watered down Bollywood mush, directors and producers today are increasingly turning to Korean movies for 'inspiration'. Nepali film Sano Sansar lifted scenes from the blockbuster My Sassy Girl while Mero Euta Saathi Cha was a remake of the popular Korean movie Millionaire's First Love.

Since 2007, the Korean Embassy in Nepal has been hosting a bi-annual film festival and the queue of enthusiasts gets longer each year. "We have been receiving amazing response at the festival here and with the immense popularity of PSY's Gangnam Style, I am sure this year it's going to be even better," says Shiva Pokharel, research officer with South Korean embassy's culture department.

While fashion tastes are undergoing a K-revolution, Nepali palates are also gradually changing. There are now over half a dozen Korean restaurants in the Valley from Haankook Sarang, Picnic in Thamel to Pyongyang Okryu-Gwan in Darbar Marg and Sa Rang Chae in Jawalakhel promising to serve authentic delights of South (and North) Korea.

"Nepalis don't like experimenting a lot with their food, but thanks to movies and soap operas, they are warming up to Korean staples like kimbap and bibimbap," says Suraj Gurung of Haankook Sarang which now has an outlet in the eastern town of Dharan as well.

While PSY's 'dress classy and dance cheesy' inspired horse dance, may probably fizzle out in a few months, the mass appeal of the Korean culture is here to stay.

Read also:
Korean films are so popular DVD sales rival that of Hindi movies

Watch also
Gangnam-up! A flash mob against sexual violence in Patan Darbar Square on 25 November in support of

Psyching tourism

Fourteen-year-old Alexis Martinez from Texas is on a holiday in Seoul, learning the dance made famous by South Korean musician PSY in his music video Gangnam Style. Like Alexis, thousands of tourists around the world are making their way to South Korea to experience the Gangmania first hand.

The song, which describes the district south of Seoul's Han River that is known for its trendy clubs, high fashion, and lavish lifestyle, is one of the most viewed videos on the Internet, and the South Korean government is looking market K-pop's most famous export to attract even more foreign travellers.

"I think Gangnam Style is bringing up Korea's brand value," says Je-Sang-won, who heads the Korea Tourism Organisation's (KTO) Hallyu, or Korean Wave, division, "we did a survey in Los Angeles and found that 70 per cent of respondents said they wanted to visit Korea after they saw the video."

But very few people predicted PSY would become a global phenomenon. "PSY isn't the typical idol type or even really handsome, but I think this makes him more interesting and exciting," he explains, "it's great to see that he's promoting Gangnam to rest of the world."

Out on the streets of Gangnam, PSY's image can be found on video billboards and on cardboard cut outs in front of shops. Some merchants in Seoul say that ever since Gangnam Style went viral, they have seen an increase in foreign shoppers.

"I think it has created a positive image for the neighbourhood. People are excited to be here, they sing and laugh. It's a good atmosphere," admits Om Jong-ryul who sells roasted nuts at a stall right outside Gangnam metro station.

Kwon Da-na manages a boutique clothing shop in Gangnam's fashionable Apgujeong neighbourhood. "Sometimes there are more foreign customers than Korean shoppers coming to my store. When I turn on Gangnam Style and open the door, some people come in off the street," he says, adding that some customers even start dancing.

South Korea is breaking the 10-million tourist mark for the first time this year and according to KTO, K-pop's growing international attraction has something to do with it. But like any pop song, what's trendy today could be out of style tomorrow and some tourists here say Gangnam Style might be reaching its peak already.

Inside KTO's Korean Wave gallery, Singaporean teenager Connie says she's a big K-pop fan, but she's heard enough of Gangnam Style. "I think it's nice but it got too over popular after a while. It's annoying because it's everywhere," says the 17-year-old.

But for Alexis, Gangnam Style and its wacky horse dance aren't getting old. She says it's easy to learn and maybe that's why it's so popular around the globe, "It's bringing the world together, I guess, it's cool."

Jason Strother

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)