When we talk about KPOP or Korean Pop Music, who doesn’t know Gangnam Style of PSY that broke YouTube’s one billion views record in the year of 2012? Or the Wondergirls who made us dance to their song Nobody.
KPOP has been trending and is still believed to be the global phenomenon. However, it is just one of the means the helps Korean culture become well known to the world. Korean dramas, cosmetic products, foods and fashion also spread like wild fire across the globe. Such an invasion of Korean Culture is known as Korean Hallyu or Korean Wave. Cambodia isn’t different from others. We have been dramatically affected by Korean culture, specifically Korean drama and KPOP.
Cambodian culture has been greatly inspired and influenced by India and China since the 1st Century AD in terms of art, religion, language, architecture and tradition via trading in the port of Cambodia. And once we were colonized by France for almost a century from 1863-1953, inevitably, we were culturally affected. During the 60s before the period of Khmer Rouge, Cambodia experienced its golden age of films and music, when cinemas emerged everywhere across the country, a big number of movie series and films were produced, and a lot of original music was written to be sung by highly-skilled singers. When Pol Pot took control of Cambodia from 1975-1979, artists, monks, academics, scholars and the likes were forced not to practice their art in order to work in the farms or get executed. Cambodian culture during that genocidal regime was revolutionized to fit in the communist ideology, which meant that almost every form of the art was restricted. The only music allowed to be played on the amplifiers in the rice fields was all about how prosperous, peaceful and beautiful the regime was, which was completely opposite from the reality. During Khmer Rouge Regime, everything was destroyed, and very few human and hard resources were left. After its collapse, Cambodia claimed back the freedom to uphold our culture and has gradually started to be open to the outside world. That’s when the existence of Korean culture and others can be seen in Cambodia nowadays.
Korean culture first came to Cambodia in the form of dramas in the 2000s after Thai dramas were banned from all Cambodia’s broadcast TVs due to a political conflict. TV5, one of the biggest TV channels that aired Thai dramas at that time switched to airing Korean dramas. It was the mega-hit “Full House” which starred Rain and Son Hye Kyo in 2004 that helped pave the way for other Korean dramas in Cambodia to become popular. The lead actor and actresses set the trend among Cambodian teenagers. Small-eyed guys were viewed handsome because they looked like Lee Young Jae, male lead played by Rain. Girls became so obsessed with the hairdo and fashion of Han Ji Eun played by Son Hye Kyo. Another big success of Korean drama around that year was “Stairway to Heaven” aired on CTN, which captured the hearts of drama viewers with its great storyline. The influx of Korean dramas keeps on striking Cambodian broadcasting markets until today with the serial hits of “Princess Hours”, “Boys over Flowers”, “You are My Destiny”, “City Hunter”, “Dream High”, “Heirs”, “My Love from Another Star”, and the list goes on. As there’s no system to count viewer rating of TV programs in Cambodia, it’s tricky to measure which drama is more popular than the others. The popularity is based on the number of media coverage or shares on social networks, the soundtracks that have Cambodian music production companies translate into Khmer songs, or the trends coming from the drama itself. Taking “Heirs” starred by Lee Min Ho and Park Shin Hye as an example, after its final episode, “Dream Catcher” used as the symbol in the drama became a hot item for gifts. The major TV stations like CTN, TV5, Hang Meas HD TV, MyTV and the likes do enjoy the commercial benefits by airing Korean dramas, which are much loved by the viewers.
Aside from dramas, Korean pop music also plays a very important role in making Korean wave a cultural Tsunami in Cambodia. MyTV, another sister station of CTN that was established in 2008, was known to be a big Kpop importer in Cambodia. During its broadcast in the early days, MyTV dedicated the majority of the broadcast hours in music which was mostly KPOP. The moment KPOP music videos were played, they quickly caught the attention of teenagers because of the top-notch MV quality, pretty idols, cool chirography and fashion. KPOP groups that have made a breakthrough success among Cambodian fans are non-other than power house groups like Wonder Girls, Girls’ Generation, Super Junior, 2ne1, Big Bang and Shinee with their hit songs like Nobody, Gee, Sorry Sorry, Fire, Fantastic Baby and Ring Ding Dong respectively. Groups like EXO, MissA, Sistar, BTS and others have always been popular since their debuts. Moreover, there have been a number of KPOP concerts sponsored by private companies in Cambodia such as those of Baby Vox, Paran, Shinee, MissA, T-Ara, Sistar, U-Kiss and so on. Despite its popularity, KPOP isn’t much commercially successful in a developing country like Cambodia since very few KPOP fans can afford buying physical albums or concert tickets. Most people would go to free online music sites to download their favorite artists’songs.
Through the effects of Korean culture in Cambodia, Koreanism has become another popular word like Americanism. Cambodians, especially teenagers, have been very obsessed with Korean celebrities, started to use Korean cosmetic products and Korean-celebrity-related merchandise, and been fond of Korean foods like Kimchi, Kimbap or Korean barbeque. A number of Korean cosmetic stores such as Nature Republic, the Face Shop, the SAEM and so on have opened and receive overwhelming support. Salons, barbershop or fashion stores have freely placed Korean celebrities’ photos in front of their stores to attract customers. To me, there are a number of factors that make Korean culture or Korea as a whole very much appreciated in Cambodian society. Firstly, it’s because of the power of media that smartly depicts visually attractive Korean stars and beautiful Korean landscapes, both in dramas or in music videos, and of course, the quality of those cultural products. Plus, those good-looking celebrities satisfy the beauty standard of Cambodians. Secondly, Cambodian and Korean cultures are similar in some areas. In both societies, women are stereotypically viewed as shy and submissive toward men, children are expected to be obedient toward their parents all the times, and juniors are supposed to be always respectful toward seniors. Last but not least, Cambodians and Koreans do hold a very strong value of materialism. Luxurious cars, latest smartphones, expensive bags and clothes used in Korean dramas or music videos have many Cambodian audience idolized modern Korean culture even more. With the influence of Korean culture in Cambodia, the relation between these two countries grows even stronger day by day.
By CHEAB Puthika, ASEAN Correspondent from Cambodia