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Question Of The Day

The Korean Wave Has Hit the Philippines Hard, So We Asked Fans Why They Love the Culture So Much

From K-pop stans to K-drama lovers, Filipinos spill about their favourite obsessions.

by Lia Savillo
13 December 2019, 10:40am

Denise with her ultimate bias, D.O. of the band Exo. Photo courtesy of Denise.

Hallyu has hit the Philippines hard.

For the uninitiated, that means “Korean Wave,” which refers to the growing influence of South Korean pop culture worldwide. In the Philippines, this means daily hour-long queues outside restaurants offering unlimited Korean barbecue, K-pop concerts selling out in minutes, dramas translated to Filipino aired primetime on national TV, and K-beauty stores popping up in malls nationwide.

The phenomenon is so huge that in 2018, the Philippines reportedly had the highest growth rate in the number of Hallyu clubs and members in Southeast Asia. But why?

VICE talked to some of the biggest super fans to hear their stories and find out what exactly they love so much about K-everything.

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GOT7's Keep Spinning tour in Manila. Photo courtesy of Denise.

Denise, 25

What got you into Korean culture?

Korean pop culture started really hitting the Philippines around 2008 or 2009. I was in high school at the time and boy group Super Junior had just released their single “Sorry, Sorry.” My cousin got obsessed and pulled me down the rabbit hole with her. I haven’t been able to climb out of this K-pop hell since then.

What are the most extreme things you've done in the name of K-love?

I loved the culture, dramas, and music so much that I took a semester in Seoul for my university’s student exchange program. My mom, thankfully, allowed me to go, so I managed to truly get to know the city in the four months that I was there. That semester abroad changed my life and gave me more insight about the Korean culture outside of K-pop and K-dramas.

One time, I left my dorm in Seoul with a friend at 3 in the morning to try to watch a group we really liked on a music variety show. We waited in the cold outside the TV station with other fans, only to be told after a few hours that the group wasn’t performing that day. This isn’t too extreme by K-pop fan standards, but it was something I initially thought I would never do just to see a bunch of artists.

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Denise with her first K-pop bias Donghae of Super Junior. Photo courtesy of Denise.

Why is Korean culture so important in your life?

Korean culture has remained a pretty huge part of my life for over a decade. I never thought that I would be so into it even in my late twenties, but here we are. I make sure to go to Seoul at least once a year to check out the cafes, art galleries, or shops, or just fangirl in general.

There’s always something new whenever I go back, and I really appreciate it whenever I learn a different side of the culture. I recently found out about the illegal tattoo industry in Korea and found its niche subculture really fascinating. Korean artists are incredibly popular on social media platforms like Instagram, but because the government doesn’t give them license to practice tattooing legally, they’re forced to take their businesses underground. My most recent trip to Seoul was in September and I opted to get a tattoo for the quality and overall experience. It’s different things like this that keep me interested in the local culture.

Of course, I’m also just your usual K-pop fan with a stan Twitter account. The groups, the music, the concepts, the fan service — they’re all just really nice to come home to after a long and hard day at work. I’m in so deep that I actually cried in the middle of work when they announced that my K-pop bias (favourite member) was planning to enlist in the Korean military.

Even if I do end up outgrowing it in the future — although at this point, I really doubt it — Korean culture will always remain significant to me because of how much joy it gave me growing up.

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Assortment of meat being barbecued. Photo by Kristian Ryan Alimon on Unsplash.

Trinee, 24

What do you love about Korean culture?

The food! I have Korean barbecue at least twice a week. I really queue for hours, so what I'll do is do errands in between while waiting for my turn. But I’ve also found some smaller more authentic Korean barbecue spots that don't have long lines. They have more expensive meat but I think those are worth it too. I try to balance it out by exercising but when I watch Korean dramas, the cravings really start kicking in. I love their pork and beef servings paired with lots of garlic and kimchi.

Aside from loving the taste, what else makes it your go-to meal?

I think it really brings my friends and I together. Just the act of taking turns to cook while other eat is great. Plus, it’s a long meal where we really get to catch up. I love the energy too, because everyone is so excited as well to have it. Through this, I get to appreciate the music they play in restaurants too, which has gotten me into other parts of the culture. There’s even one restaurant that lets you dress up in traditional wear, so it’s cute to take photos in it.

Degs, 26

What got you into K-pop?

I was in a dark phase of my life when my friends showed me K-pop content after watching a concert DVD of a J-rock band. It made me a bit excited about learning new things in that industry and the genre as a whole.

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A collection of cards and photos of K-pop idols. Photo courtesy of Degs.

What are the most extreme things you've done in the name of K-love?

Probably getting a tattoo inspired by my bias!

Why is Korean culture so important in your life?

I had Korean classmates in elementary school, so it helped me widen my worldview. I get to appreciate a lot of the culture through different lenses, from my actual interaction with people who were born and raised in South Korea, to K-pop culture. My favourite artist, Japanese Breakfast, is also Korean-American.

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Monsta X's mini concert at Klook Travel fest. Photo courtesy of Denise.

James, 26

What do you love about Korean culture?

I recently got into K-pop but what really drew me into their culture was Korean dramas. Some of my favourites are Luna, Reply 1988, and Secret Garden. It's my favourite bonding activity with my mom.

Would you say you prefer it over Filipino dramas?

Yes! Just because we don’t put as much effort into our local dramas. The acting and writing in their telenovelas hit just right and are so beautiful to look at. It feels like I’m actually in their beautiful country.

Mich, 24

What got you into Korean culture?

I’m not so familiar with Korean culture, just K-pop, really, but the music was what drew me in. There are a lot of unconventional and interesting-sounding pop that's structurally distinct from pop from the West. It’s been 2 years since I got into it, and yes, I collect albums and merch occasionally. My favourite groups are Red Velvet, NCT, and Twice.

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A Twice concert ticket and light stick. Photo courtesy of Mich.

Why do you think K-pop is so appealing?

I think it has always had global appeal; it was really made to be eaten up by people of all cultures. I think K-pop, by nature, was always thematically optimistic or detached from reality.

But this is not always a good thing. A Vox documentary explained a lot about its roots. Because they market idols as if they lived in a perfect and optimistic world, so many of their fans forget that they're real people with feelings and agency.

What are the most extreme things you've done in the name of K-love?

I guess the biggest thing I did was paying for concert tickets because they're expensive and I wouldn't usually pay that much (Around PHP10,000/$198) to see anyone.

Aki, 30

You’ve been a huge K-pop fan for so long, what got you into it?

I’ve been a fan since 2009, so that’s 10 years. Honestly, for me, K-pop is an escape. When I’m stressed and I listen to it, I feel OK. Sometimes, if I want to focus on working too, I just listen to K-pop. I’ve even shot dance covers of their songs.

Would you say that shooting dance covers for their songs was the most extreme thing you’ve done as a fan?

No, I think it was to wait in line for a concert ticket for 17 hours, without the assurance of getting a ticket since it was like a lottery.

Mara, 28

What got you into Korean culture?

Definitely the skincare! When I heard about the 10-step routine, I thought it was crazy, but then I watched a lot of beauty vloggers share how it transformed their skin. There wasn’t anything wrong with my skin, aside from it being super dry, but eventually, I was sold.

What is your skincare routine like?

It’s gone from 10 steps to now just 5 or 6, but skincare has become my favourite part of a long day. I’ve tried so many products and I love it when people come to me for advice because they see my skin glowing and plump.

Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

Find Lia on Instagram and Twitter.

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Culture
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