How Pop Music Crosses Borders

The Beatles held their first U.S. concert in February 1964. American media provided minute-by-minute coverage of the group's flight from London to New York. They unfurled the Union Jack in front of them as they stepped out of the plane.

Apparently no crimes were reported in any major U.S. city during a TV program featuring the Beatles. That same year, the band dominated the American music charts, and when they toured the U.S. a few months later, people lined up to buy blankets, pillow cases and even the used bathwater of the Fab Four.

The tour was a major turning point signaling the global integration of pop culture. Five years later, British singer Cliff Richard held a concert in Seoul. When he sang "The Young Ones," fans showered him with flower petals, handkerchiefs and gifts. Then there was Leif Garrett fever in the 1980s, and the New Kids on the Block drew legions of fans here. One New Kids on the Block concert in Seoul in 1992 ended abruptly when a fan was trampled to death as people tried to rush the stage.

Last weekend a K-pop concert in Paris featuring TVXQ, Girls' Generation, Super Junior and SHINee drew around 14,000 fans from all over Europe. Teens wore headbands featuring the Korean flag, wore T-shirts with Hangeul slogans and sang rap songs that even Koreans have a hard time memorizing. The French daily Le Monde, in an article headed "Korean Wave Conquers Europe," said, "Korea, a country once thought to be sandwiched between Japan and China, and known only for exporting cars and electronics products, has now made itself known through its culture." The success of K-pop in Europe is being attributed to the catchy songs, energetic dancing and dazzling looks of the singers.

In the 1930s, the Japanese colonial government forced dance halls to close down citing Japan's wartime crisis. The Korean entertainment industry complained that such measures were unheard of anywhere in the world and demanded they be reopened. In Korea, the Western style is reflected in the word "yang" meaning "Western" -- examples include yangsik (Western food), yangbok (Western formal suits), and yangok (Western-style modern houses). Western culture has for a long time been equated with all new and sophisticated things. But now young people in Paris, the heart of European culture, are singing pop songs from the East.

By Chosun Ilbo columnist Kim Tae-ick

englishnews@chosun.com / Jun. 13, 2011 13:34 KST