K-pop: The Engine of South Korean Soft Power

By Nora Almaazmi

Introduction 

Nation states are increasingly pursuing soft power as a strategy to achieve their foreign policy goals. Soft power is a concept developed by Joseph Nye that describes the means through which states achieve their goals without having to use force or coercion, as is the case of hard power. For example, states seek to shape people’s and other states’ preferences by making a particular policy appear attractive. By using soft power, states refrain from the use of threats that pertain to deploying military operations or imposing sanctions. The concept of soft power was originally developed to describe U.S. foreign policy in the post-Cold War era. For goals where attraction is the desired outcome, strategies of soft power can be applied. This paper argues that South Korea fits well into the literature’s characteristics of soft power. After being a closed economy during the 1980s, the country opened its economy and welcomed foreign cultural products as imports. This also helped the country’s cultural products take the international stage in the form of exports. This paper reveals how the South Korean government has played a role in spreading Korean popular culture by pooling in investments and building up the department responsible for overseeing popular culture developments. Considering that many countries are pursuing soft power, this paper will focus on how South Korea benefited from the K-pop industry in generating soft power by posing the question: in what ways has K-pop been used as a form of soft power to enhance South Korea’s image? This research will analyze South Korea’s position today and determine if, indeed, it has been a successful strategy. K-pop has proven to be politically useful through its participation in diplomacy, advocacy for climate change, and economically beneficial through generating tourism. 

Literature Review

After first being coined by Joseph Nye in the 1980s, the term soft power has been interpreted in many ways and integrated into various expressions. It can be identified as an alternative power used by countries to attract other countries or make policy changes more attractive. Unlike the past, military coercion has now become exceptionally costly because states have become much more interdependent, and states do not take threats lightly. In the past, wars were heavily based on weapons and manpower and if that weren’t costly enough, today’s conflict costs are also high. Furthermore, states today are very interdependent. A conflict between two states can lead to a state choosing sides and threatening world order. In contrast, soft power is the ability to attract without coercion, and is the ability to influence institutions to make states amend policies in their favor. Military power and soft power are not mutually exclusive, it is necessary to establish soft power along with hard power. Joseph Nye explains how this strategy can help states pursue their security goals without scaring other states away. When attraction and ideas become successful in paving the way towards national interests, the carrot and stick method becomes unnecessary. Soft power is an investment that states make to satisfy their interests and meet their goals nationally and internationally. Achieving goals becomes possible when attraction towards a state is strong, which prompts states to pursue policies that are similar to what other states want to achieve. Simply, soft power is the power that “makes others want what you want.” The definition of soft power has remained constant over time while being incorporated into different realms of politics. Though it has been subject to change within the different aspects in which it is applied, soft power remains a term used to define the ability to attract others without coercion.

Soft power is a strategy either pursued explicitly or implicitly by states. Nonetheless, there are certain qualities of soft power that can be identified. Labeling soft power involves recognizing actions that are motivated by interests and these actions are the opposite of coercion. However, not every non-coercive action is considered soft power. In 2007, Chinese President Hu Jintao made it clear that China needed to invest in soft power. Numerous articles have been published addressing this mission. During John F. Kennedy’s administration, some realists believed that soft power was ineffective, and that true power was that of the military. However, during his term, President Kennedy believed that changing opinions and attracting others is also a form of power. Further, the administration under Roosevelt believed that security could not be achieved without a positive image portrayed to the foreign public. The US is said to have been investing in soft power during the Cold War. Two organizations were created to erode the faith in communism at the time, the Office of Wartime Information and the Office of Strategic Information. Both dealt with the spread of information and worked closely with Hollywood executives to filter out content in films and reconsider license issuing. Additionally, the international broadcaster Voice of America became very popular during the Second World War and the Cold War and was broadcasting in over 20 languages, including Russian. Its target at the time was to counter the ideological threats of communism. However, after the Cold War ended, investments in soft power declined. 

Seymour (2020) provides an analysis of soft power, its problems, and its application in the U.S. context. She states that because soft power is aimed at individuals, it becomes complex as each individual possesses different values and norms and therefore, reactions of different groups to a certain message would not be uniform. She brings forward a common critique of soft power and the idea that it is associated with propaganda. She adds how this critique is what ultimately led to the cancellation of the Shared Values Initiative launched by the U.S. in 2002 to attract Muslims and Muslim countries. 

Another problem that persists in the literature on soft power is that it is difficult to quantify in comparison to hard power. Feedback from the outcomes of hard power exercises is quantifiable and are received in almost real time, compared to the influence of soft power. Whereas Seymour (2020) identifies these characteristics as problems, other scholars elaborate on how soft power was never an easy form of influence. Gallarotti (2011) identifies the conditions under which soft power can be used effectively. First, he highlights the lack of attention placed on world politics and the effects of its changes on the theory of soft power. He argues that changes in world affairs have raised the need for soft power even more. Second, he asserts that there is a lack of attention on the decision-making conditions which leaders need to be familiar with to carry out soft power. Lastly, assessing the effectiveness of soft power should be based on the outcomes rather than the sources. This is due to what Gallarotti terms as “resource moral hazard,” where leaders might be accustomed to tangible sources of power or hard power. Ultimately, Gallarotti iterates that there should be a balance between the use of soft power and hard power. Nonetheless, the literature shows the effectiveness of soft power, except for U.S. hard power in Asia. 

Joseph Nye has described American soft power as having influenced countries in Asia. People in Japan, who have never set foot in the U.S., are seen wearing hoodies with the names of American colleges. The power of globalization is evident in Japan’s case and the continuous attempts to spread American culture elsewhere. However, it does not imply that the U.S. is a model nation. Instead, it signifies the effectiveness of the use of soft power around the world. This kind of power can quickly lose effectiveness. Due to its interference in Iraq, US soft power is said to be in decline, which implies a limitation to soft power capabilities in generating likeness among global community members. 

In the past, public diplomacy took place via radio broadcasting, while today, it is widespread on social media. Therefore, this overabundance of information can counter the original aim of generating soft power. Additionally, soft power can decline if there is a reason to believe that information being circulated is false. False information undermines credibility; therefore, even the most considerable amount invested in soft power will be insufficient so long as those are directed towards misinformation and the spread of fake news that may seem appealing only at first. For example, during his term, Donald Trump has been tweeting disinformation to spread propaganda. This had backfired when Twitter permanently suspended Trump’s account. How does this relate to soft power? Because soft power is the use of non-material tools to influence behavior; when the president of a country is said to have spread fake news, it undermines the country’s credibility and therefore hinders the quality of its soft power. 

Joseph Nye states that although soft power is a factor in political success, it is insufficient on its own. Soft power alone is not the solution to the number of problems that countries face. Soft power is not limited to being used only when countries face problems, however, it tends to be used when that is the case. For example, the United States was less interested in investing in soft power after the Cold War, but the interest resurfaced after the September 2001 terrorist attacks with the U.S. increasing its efforts to win support through public diplomacy. 

Nye also discusses public diplomacy regarding soft power. Because soft power arises from the values one country holds and expresses through its culture, these values can be mobilized through public diplomacy. This becomes effective when a country’s values attract another country’s people along with its government. Public diplomacy can take place by broadcasting and promoting cultural exchanges through government subsidies of cultural exports and other efforts sponsored by the government. However, as Nye explains, these exports must be very appealing in order to attract. Exporting products that go against another country’s values will result in repulsion. A distinction is made between two forms of culture as a resource for soft power: the first is a high culture which includes literature and art and attracts elites, and the second is a popular culture which attracts the masses. As long as it does not appear to be propaganda, the country can be prosperous in its soft power generation.

Joseph Nye further explains that soft power is not equivalent to propaganda. Soft power can stem from both culture and policies, promoting cultural products and the implementation of friendly policies. People have the upper hand in the process of gaining soft power. When governments intervene, it may look like propaganda. However, when people present their country’s cultural products, it often looks genuine. Regardless of who or what takes the lead in generating soft power, some scholars have critically assessed the use of soft power and identified its limitations. 

David Kearn criticizes the concept of soft power by describing it as a very vague term that can be transformed into a buzzword, like the term democracy. Kearn compares it to other terms which may carry a particular meaning to political theorists but a different meaning to the general public. David Kearn places conditions under which soft power can be effective in achieving political goals; this is because there are limitations regarding the implicit assumptions of the concept that are seldom addressed. For instance, an implicit assumption in the soft power theory is that when institutions have a positive role in generating soft power and the effect is recognized by other institutions, they share an interest that stems from previous interactions. Kearn also states that soft power will not be successful with common policy developments between states if there are preexisting conflicts and tension. Thus, a limit to soft power is that it cannot fully operate in a setting without a preexisting harmony of interests, making cooperation uncertain. China has also concentrated on generating soft power within its limited reach and scope.

China has adopted soft power as a strategy to gain regional influence in Asia. The country has been so successful in advertising its cultural values that it has been viewed as a potential competitor to the U.S. The country has set up a 24-hour radio station in Chinese that broadcasts in Asia to attract foreign students, promote the Chinese language, and declare its participation in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). However, China’s soft power is limited within Asia due to regional conflicts regarding Taiwan and political corruption. Nonetheless, a survey done by the Pew Research Center in Turkey, Pakistan, Indonesia, Lebanon, Jordan, and India shows that positive reactions are emerging from China’s rise to power. The factors behind China’s rise in influence include its regional policy and its economic growth. China’s interest in generating soft power is said to surpass all other states. After Joseph Nye’s article Bound to Lead in 1992, the president’s chief advisor Wang Huning stressed the importance of strengthening soft power in China and its importance within U.S. Foreign Policy. Additionally, there were criticisms that the literature on soft power focused mainly on American use of soft power and demands rose for a theory more adjusted to China. When it comes to South Korea, the literature on soft power is more theoretical, although it sets the space for further research.

In addition, Watson (2012) describes both soft power in relation to South Korea and the cultural wave termed as “Hallyu.” He argues that the strategies taken by South Korea to use soft power may be counterproductive in that they might impair the way the nation is viewed by outsiders. Traditionally, state-led soft power by South Korea was mainly to counter competition against China and Japan. For example, the distribution of food aid to North Korea and contributions to the Official Development Assistance (ODA) can be described as a form of soft power pursued by the South for a possible reunification with the North. Watson adds to how these engagements with the North can result in a “spill-over of soft power” and friendly relations with North Korea. Nonetheless, there is a specific need for soft power in the country.

As part of his contribution to the development of the term soft power, Joseph Nye addresses the need for soft power in South Korea. Out of all the G-20 countries, South Korea ranked 9th in having solid hard power. However, for this form of power to be effective, it must be accompanied by soft power, of which the country ranked 12th at the time the book was established in 2019. It is said that South Korea’s capital has potential for soft power. Moreover, this has proven to be true, as will be seen further in the analysis. There has been a consensus among scholars in the existing literature that South Korea’s pop industry generates large amounts of wealth and has proven very successful in the recent decade. South Korean products, from cultural to technological, have been widely accepted with positive reactions.

Since the 1990s, South Korea has made efforts to pool its resources into developing cultural products both domestically and internationally. The use of soft power by South Korea has been a conscious effort made by the government and the associated departments established to manage and control the country’s cultural products, including music, film, technology, and video games. South Korean soft power does not only stem from K-pop but also from sources including technology, which as the world has seen with Samsung, has also proven to be very successful.

Methodology 

This research will analyze existing literature to understand the rise of K-pop and industry’s history and evolution. A range of secondary literature has been published on the concept of soft power and differentiates it from other forms of power, such as hard power. The paper will review and analyze the existing literature to identify soft power’s prominent features and connect them to K-pop. This paper aims to provide a comparative analysis to evaluate the success of K-pop as a source of soft power for South Korea. The original theory of soft power will be set as grounds for comparison with South Korean soft power. By having this frame of reference, a precise analysis can be made on the developments of K-pop strategies of soft power. Further, secondary literature on this topic regarding South Korea identifies the possible steps that it can take to generate soft power, which the study will compare to South Korean achievements up to today. A study done on North Korean defectors reveals the perceptions and influence of Korean media and K-pop on defection. This paper will also briefly analyze how the public, mainly the fanbases of K-pop, respond to the rise and popularity of K-pop groups such as BTS and Girls Generation with the short use of news articles and social media accounts. Further, through the speeches given by K-pop artists about climate change, this paper will determine how fanbases have been influenced to become more aware and take actions towards saving the environment. Through the use of secondary articles on diplomatic events, this paper will also evaluate how K-pop has been used as a friendly gesture during diplomatic meetings in embassies abroad. The paper will also incorporate the primary sources of the concept of soft power published by Joseph Nye, which assesses the connection of K-pop movements to soft power.

History of K-pop

K-pop has flourished with the help of the significant improvements made in the internet infrastructure. This has been taken as an opportunity for music industries to first set foot locally and then internationally. During the early 1980s, South Korean music was deeply conservative. By adhering to Confucian norms, the music produced was very traditional and slow, which made rock music and rapping seem very controversial and thus, became subject to bans. Music in South Korea was controlled by broadcasting networks where a few channels showed music talent shows during the weekends. The band Seo Taiji and Boys during the 1980s sought to break the existing norm and challenge the musical styles that existed at the time. The band performed at MBC TV’s talent show in 1992 and received the lowest score due to it being heavily based on hip-hop and rock. The band’s songs focused on addressing the pressures placed on teenagers in the education system and its high expectations. Because the band’s songs were highly relatable, it was accepted by the wider community, and future bands followed their lead. After 1987, when democratic reforms began to take place, changes were made in the music industry. However, a significant shift began to take place after the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997.

The Asian Financial Crisis that began in Thailand spread across most of Asia and drove South Korea to take a $57 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund. President Kim Young-Sam called the day the country took out the loan the Day of National Humiliation due to the shame it brought to the country. Although the country repaid its debt, South Korea needed to rebrand itself. Before the crisis, South Korea was a closed economy and international investors were seen as enemies. The nation, however, had no other choice but to open up to the rest of Asia and the world. The crisis sent South Korea on a path to seek ways out of poverty. All industries were encouraged to innovate to compensate for the lost revenues, including entertainment. President Kim Dae-Jung, who became President a year after the crisis hit in 1997, had a plan to focus on pop culture. At first, it seemed like a senseless plan, but for a country with a lack of natural resources, it was a chance taken that later proved to be the start of something big.

In 1988, former President Roh Tae-woo’s government sought to end the authoritarian rule that existed previously. During the 1970s, South Korean former president Park Chung-hee’s regime banned all types of music that deviated away from the traditional norms the country held on to at the time. Furthermore, from being very reluctant to accepting foreign cultures in the 1990s, South Korea began to invest in creating artists that the rest of the world would appreciate by incorporating different non-local elements, such as naming group bands in English and songs containing English lyrics. However, well-known bands today pay great attention to Korean culture and incorporate it into their songs and music videos to show how influential their culture is to them and to further expand Korean culture to their fans.

Attraction Towards South Korea

The Korean cultural impact on the world cannot be ignored. The term “Hallyu” has been coined by the Chinese press to describe Korean cultural products’ sudden popularity in Asia and elsewhere across the world. The South Korean cultural impact picked up in Asia starting from the late 1980s and early 1990s and disseminated globally with the help of technology and the unquestionable talent of K-pop artists that dominate the international stage today. Indeed, technology is attributed to have helped spread the South Korean wave in North Korea. Chung (2018) describes how the Hallyu is a perfect example of South Korean soft power. Although Chung suggests that calling the spread of Korean culture soft power can still be controversial, she addresses the potential soft power Hallyu can have on cultural diplomacy. There has been a great deal of South Korean cultural influence, although reasonably similar, on North Korean consumers.

Additionally, Chung had conducted a study that incorporated surveys of North Korean defectors in South Korea. The survey involved questions about South Korean media consumption, including TV shows, music, and Korean dramas in North Korea. Seventy out of 127 defectors have confirmed that South Korean media has influenced their defection, claiming that it portrayed a free lifestyle that they mainly found appealing, while others were impressed with South Koreans’ freedom and the unrestrained exchange of foreign culture. Thus, the power of Hallyu in attracting foreigners to South Korea has proved to be strong. The attractiveness of culture is one of the three sources of soft power put forward by Joseph Nye alongside a country’s political values and its foreign policies. K-pop has been shown to project all three sources of soft power throughout the years of its success. People have become more and more invested in K-pop, fandoms have been established everywhere, merchandise is being sold globally, concert tickets run out in hours, and demand for tours has been rising.

Diplomacy

Foreign policy and public diplomacy go hand in hand, but the definitions of public diplomacy vary. However, a standard explanation is that it is diplomacy aimed at public opinion, not just with foreign governments but also with NGOs and the public; it is about building long-term relationships that enable an environment for pursuing government policies. Further, it can be described as an instrument that state and non-state actors can use to influence and understand different cultures. When authoritarian governments are replaced, as with the case of South Korea, shaping public opinion becomes essential. One of the most prominent K-pop groups, BTS, has worked closely with the United Nations, particularly with UNICEF, to help raise money and contribute to ending violence and promote children’s well-being. The group has partnered with UNICEF since 2017. Working with a highly credible organization reflects a positive image onto the K-pop group and, in turn, on South Korea as a country, which further generates soft power. Nye states that credibility results in attraction. Indeed, there is competition among countries regarding credibility. Without credibility, public diplomacy will fail to work as an instrument to transform cultural resources into soft power. The successes of public diplomacy can be measured by changes in the mindsets of governments and the public. Moreover, when Nye discussed soft power concerning the Korean wave, he acknowledged the need for the country to focus on hosting international events and conferences that will reflect South Korea’s values and draw attention to their efforts to upholding these values. Moreover, promoting a country’s culture is indeed a source of soft power. 

One of the roles of South Korean ambassadors in foreign countries is to spread their culture and to promote bilateral agreements and relationships. During a meeting with the president of the Philippines in 2019, South Korean ambassador Han Dong-man handed the president a BTS album as a welcoming gesture. However, the relationship between South Korea and the Philippines stems back prior to the 1950s, a time when the Philippines supported South Korea in the Korean War; reemphasizing the argument put forward by David Kearn that soft power works better when countries have a long history of positive relations. Nonetheless, we see relations between South Korea and Japan growing at a languid pace, considering the nations’ deep-rooted tensions. From being invaded by Japan during the early 20th century and the ongoing disputes today over the Dokdo/Takeshima islands, South Korean and Japanese relations have been constituted by conflict. Although the South Korea-Japan normalization treaty has resolved the former conflict in 1965, lawsuits are still being submitted against Japan to compensate for the damage that ensued during the Japanese occupation of Korea. Also, the ongoing island conflicts revolve around claims over the island that date back years. Despite these political conflicts, Korean culture and K-pop have seeped through them and managed to attract Japanese consumers.

Tourism and Foreign Students 

When the Hallyu began to receive attraction in 2001, the number of foreign tourists in South Korea rose from 5 million to 17 million in 2019. K-pop bands such as BTS and Girls Generation have portrayed South Korea in a positive image in their music videos, social media, and advertisements. In 2017, Visit Seoul TV released a video on YouTube showing what life was like for BTS in its capital. The video follows BTS around Seoul, where they visit their favorite locations, including Namsan Park, one of the top 10 destinations in Seoul. Around 13 million tourists visited Korea in 2017; 800,000 were motivated to visit the country by their interest in BTS. South Korea’s tourism brings in tens of billions of dollars in revenue and these numbers increase each year. Also, a government-owned website in Korea provides a list of locations BTS has been to in order to encourage tourists to visit and explore South Korea. Further, in 2019 another video advertising South Korea also showcased BTS. The use of social media is becoming more and more of a tool for public diplomacy. BTS has over 34 million followers on Twitter and over 39 million followers as of today in comparison to another K-pop group, Girls Generation, which has less than 4 million. In addition to attracting many tourists, K-pop has managed to attract international students to pursue study abroad programs in South Korea’s top universities.

K-pop fans are changing universities’ demographics in South Korea by inviting more international students to study in Korea. The influx of international students in South Korea is nothing new, the country has been welcoming students since the early 2000s. Students from neighboring countries began to study in South Korea as K-dramas became popular, and today, large numbers of students from outside the region are rushing in. Similarly, university students in the U.S. have taken courses to learn the Korean language. A textbook titled “Learn! Korean With BTS” was published by the Hanguk University of Foreign Studies in collaboration with BTS. The professor teaching the course, Dr. Sahie Kang, reveals how the popularity of K-pop has driven students to learn the language either by interest in the K-pop group or the Korean language in general. 

The music composition of many K-pop groups is characterized by their multicultural method of production. Many of the bands combine both Korean and English language in their music, making it more appealing in the global market. K-pop performers are not always South Korean, they come from different countries, making the hybridization of K-pop more appealing. Foreign members of groups also speak different languages. The appeal, however, is not only from the hybridity of K-pop artists, but also from what is addressed in their music. The songs touch upon topics that are mostly relatable to the global youth in regard to some of the struggles they face. For example, Psy is an artist whose song Gangnam Style became an international hit. 

The song “Gangnam Style” by Psy refers to the district in Seoul named Gangnam. Upon its release in 2012, the song became a major hit across the globe and had over 49 million views on YouTube in 2012 alone (4 billion today). Beyond its addictive beats, the song carries a deeper meaning regarding the lifestyle in Gangnam. A deeper interpretation reveals that it is a song about class and wealth in South Korea, making it something very satirical and subversive. Since the mid 1990s, South Koreans have been living on credit and the high credit card rate was an issue underlined in the song. Gangnam is home to many luxury brands and the town accounts for 7% of the country’s GDP. The Gangnam lifestyle appears to be luxurious and pushes others to be one of Gangnam’s residents, when in reality everyone is in credit card debt. Addressing some of the issues many South Koreans face, especially by the youth, is taken up by other K-pop bands as well. Such factors make K-pop a special instrument of attraction.

Many of the BTS songs speak about the struggles of youth in South Korea. Issues of mental illness are rarely addressed in the country due to taboos. In their song Agust D: The Last, the band talks about the struggles of mental illness, something that is uncommon among the older generation. Another song talks about the burdens placed on students by their family’s high expectations that later takes a toll on their mental health. Similarly, K-pop artists have also shed light on issues of climate change to encourage fans to take action. 

Climate Change Advocacy 

K-pop groups have used their large fanbases to call for actions towards the environment. Bands have encouraged their fans to take the initiative in their regions to help reduce climate change. They further re-emphasized that climate change knows no boundaries, meaning a change in one area’s climate affects another area. Also, K-pop bands such as Blackpink and BTS have shed light on the importance of keeping up with the UN Climate Change conferences and the actions set to tackle the climate crisis. Additionally, Blackpink has also raised awareness about the 2021 UN climate summit, COP26, and it was named as a cultural ambassador of the summit. From then on, fanbases started to create online platforms and started campaigns to shed light on their hometowns’ environmental issues. How does this help South Korea? The country ratified the Paris agreement in 2015 as part of its climate change regime, where it has launched multiple acts directed towards lowering emissions and tackling climate change. Therefore, both the government and the bands’ contributions reflect positively on the overall county’s efforts. In addition, fans have also initiated funds for climate disaster reliefs. 

Fans have started campaigns such as Kpop4Planet and Save Papuan Forest, with the former aiming to raise awareness about climate change and its consequences, and the latter being a movement against the deforestations in Papua. K-pop bands have undoubtedly influenced a lot of positive responses from the local and international community. However, there are certain underlying issues within many K-pop music videos that could hinder their progress and potentially impede it from being a source of South Korea’s positive image. 

K-pop and Gender Inequalities

There have been many criticisms about how gender is portrayed within the music industry. K-pop can be seen as perpetuating gender inequality through its portrayal of women in the industry. Both men and women performers undergo the same long hours of training and practice. However, women become further impelled to behave in certain ways that are traditionally expected from women. Women are expected to act and behave in an ‘elegant’ and ‘innocent’ way. One way in which this stereotype of women is maintained is by using young performers; as a result, many women artists do not last long in the business. During their careers, these women are also advertised and promoted based on their looks and physical appearances. Additionally, this is also evident in music videos where the camera focuses on women’s body parts, almost stripping them away of who they are. 

Female artists are also more subject to criticism compared to male artists in the industry. The clothing is often criticized to be too revealing and inappropriate. However, these artists are often told how to dress and behave by their agents in order to be more attractive. Furthermore, the lives of female artists are carefully observed, with the possibility that any minor or major inconveniences can become a scandal sold to the news media. How they dress, how they behave, and their private lives tend to be scrutinized more compared to male artists. The objectification of women in musical performances and videos can reflect badly on the industry. Should the K-pop industry continue on this path, criticisms will grow and undermine their credibility, popularity, and all that they had accomplished throughout the years, eventually ending K-pop’s contribution as a major factor and source of South Korea’s soft power.

Conclusion

We have seen how governmental institutions played a role in assisting the spread of K-pop, which helped in the generation of soft power. K-pop as a music industry then became the hub by which South Korea planned to pursue its foreign policy goals and maintain a positive image within the national and international realm. Exports of the Korean music industry have seen an incredible rise in revenue from $8 million in 2000 to $196 million in 2011. This growth signaled to the government that K-pop could be a source of economic growth. The industry has driven the country into global consumer satisfaction with positive opinions about the country, a rise in economic growth, and increase in tourism. Beyond the attractions and calls for actions towards environmentalism and tackling climate change, K-pop has been criticized for the sexual objectification of women and perpetuation of gender inequalities, a criticism which could limit their popularity and influence. However, many females and artists have appeared to challenge the industry and normalize many of the practices that have once been judged to be non-traditional. Thus, with minor adjustment, K-pop has the potential to grow even larger.

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