Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Thai kids love K-Pop

In the mascaraed eyes of Thai teenyboppers, South Korea is ground zero of hip. More than Lady Gaga, more than any local act, Bangkok kids aspire to the saccharine perfection of Korean pop.

Thai authorities, however, have proven less welcoming of the “K-Pop” phenomenon. With each new Korean fashion craze comes official warnings that the new fad may blind, disfigure or even kill.

The Seoul-born craze for “Big Eye” contacts can cause blindness and, if swapped among friends, AIDS, according to Thailand’s health ministry. Officials warn that prickly glue-on eyelashes, popular among Korean divas, can put your eye out. Yet another public service announcement warns against imitating Korean looks through surgery or toxic whitening creams.

The latest advisory blames trendy black hosiery — another fashion import from Seoul — for a summer rash of dengue fever in women aged 10 to 24. The mosquitoes are drawn to the leggings’ dark hues, said Deputy Health Minister Pansiri Kulanartsiri. ...

All of these trends are lumped under what sociologists call the “Korean Wave.” (The press has called it “Kim Chic.”) Roughly 10 years ago, the South Korean government began subsidizing the export of slick soap operas and pop groups for pan-Asian consumption.

The investment paid off. Teens across Asia are now addicted to Korean pop culture: soaps, boy bands and films. The wave has steadily grown in China, Japan and all of Southeast Asia, where drab state-controlled media often struggle to compete. ...

K-Pop has even sparked a Korean language craze, compelling high school and college kids to study with professional tutors in their spare time.

“It’s serious,” said Nora Chaikum, 24, a recent graduate of Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University. “They can hardly speak a word of Korean to you. But they can recite entire albums.” ...

“Conservatives maybe worry the Korean virus is too strong,” Nora said. “The problem is, teenagers believe there’s no real Thai style to imitate. I couldn’t even explain to you what Thai style would be.”

“Before the Korean wave,” she said, “we just dressed like kids from the states.”
--Patrick Winn, GlobalPost, on the dire perils of Korean pop culture. HT: Marginal Revolution

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