Korea’s population of European origin has more than tripled from around 30,000 in 2011 to almost 100,000 in 2019, census data shows, with the Russian population in particular quintupling from 6,000 to 30,000.
“We’re not the ‘Wow!’ thing like in the beginning.”
Guillaume Desbos, 30, witnessed this firsthand working with Korean companies as a modeling agent. “‘International’ means we need a pretty, blonde white girl, a pretty white boy and a Black guy, and that’s it, then you got your international ‘feel’ and you can sell better,” said Desbos, a Frenchman who settled in Korea seven years ago.The diminishing commercial appeal of whiteness in Korea was a stark departure from just a few years ago, when shows that were focused on white participants were a trend and “the funny foreigner who somehow spoke Korean” had a wide audience. Shows like JTBC’s Abnormal Summit, a panel format program about “Korean culture through the eyes of a foreigner,” catapulted Caucasian men like Tyler Rasch and Julian Quintart into sustained mainstream fame. The popularity of Abnormal Summit started a trend of “good-looking foreigner shows” such as MBC’s Welcome, First Time in Korea and Love of 7.7 Billion. While the public interest in the concept faded eventually, first marked by the cancellation of Abnormal Summit in 2017, the supply of Westerners eyeing an entertainment career in Korea was only further encouraged.
“‘International’ means we need a pretty, blonde white girl, a pretty white boy and a Black guy, and that’s it.”