K-pop stars took their first tentative steps in the heart of European culture this weekend, giving hope to the music industry here that the Korean Wave can wash across Europe as it washed across Asia. Hundreds of young fans from France, the U.K., Germany, Italy, Sweden and Poland wept and cheered at the "SM Town Live in Paris" concert organized as part of a world tour by talent agency SM Entertainment at Le Zénith de Paris on Friday and Saturday.
Korea has come a long way since it exported little but rice and tungsten in the 1960s and 70s, slowly graduating to cheap electronics in the following decades. Since then it has become an economic powerhouse, but in Europe it is perhaps better known for TVs and cars than for music. The Paris concert marks a milestone on the road to a higher profile for K-pop.
French daily Le Monde said Korea, "a country sandwiched between Japan and China and known only for its automobile and electronics products exports, is showing the world its culture." "European consumers prefer high value-added products, and this has made it difficult to penetrate the market," said Jang Ho-keun of the Korea International Trade Association. He expressed confidence that the concert will "increase the value of the Korean brand."
There still appears to be more room for growth of Korean pop culture in Europe and elsewhere. A key factor is the strength of Korean information technology, which enables K-pop fans around the world to access it quickly. SM Entertainment chief Lee Soo-man told the Chosun Ilbo in a recent interview that K-pop is being accessed by fans around the world not through radio and TV but through YouTube and social networking sites.
Another factor behind the strength of K-pop is Korea's unique system of spotting and nurturing young talent from an early age and customizing their song-and-dance routines to the tastes of fans in different countries.