Why Minnesotans Love ‘Squid Game’, BTS and Everything Else


If you’ve been swooning over BTS, shopping for beauty products at Soko Glam, binge-watching “Squid Game,” or starving for kimbap, you’ve contributed to one of today’s hottest trends.

Hallyu, which translates to “Korean Wave” and refers to South Korea’s cultural industry, has swept across America. No age group is immune to its strength.

“Baby Shark”, Pinkfong’s children’s music video, has over 10 billion views, making it the most viewed YouTube video of all time. Nine K-pop albums were among the top 100 sellers last year, thanks to teenage subscribers.

Young adults are addicted to Korean dramas like “The King’s Affection” and “Snowdrop,” even if they have to rely on subtitles or English dubs. After the success of “Squid Game” last fall, Netflix is ​​releasing 25 original films and series this year.

No wonder hallyu was one of 26 words of Korean origin added to the Oxford English Dictionary last year.

“Korea is having an unusual time,” said Patricia Liu, who started the Minneapolis-based Best of Korea newsletter in March 2021. “In terms of popularity, we’re at the peak. We were at a steakhouse the other night and all our waitress wanted to talk about was ‘Squid Game.'”

Minnesotans like Liu are more than just fans.

MKDC, an award-winning dance troupe based in Minneapolis, dedicates several hours a week to imitating the steps of South Korean choreographers through videos for performances across the country. At a recent rehearsal at the Cowles Center, a dozen youngsters stretched and sweated to Aespa’s ‘Savage,’ which sounds like a Britney Spears and Abba collab, squealing with delight every time another dancer arrived. at the studio.

Dip it in

“K-pop led me to aspects of Korean culture that I might not otherwise have found.” said Lauren Frommelt, 23, who is in her fourth year of dancing with MKDC. “I now teach Korean and wouldn’t change it for the world. I love guiding young scholars in their interests, helping them find beauty in Korean language and culture the same way I do.”

May Lee-Yang became so obsessed with Seoul soap operas that she wrote “The Korean Drama Addict’s Guide to Losing Your Virginity,” which was staged by Theater Mu in 2018.

“I like that they have a quick resolution,” said the Hmong American playwright, who once got up at 5 a.m. to watch a BTS concert online. “You watch ‘The Office’, hoping Jim and Pam get together, but you have to go through years of sexual tension. In a K-drama, you know by episode 26 if someone is going to die or get married.”

Chang Yoo, owner and chef of St. Paul’s Mirror of Korea, plans to launch CrunCheese Korean Hot Dogs, a Korean-style hot dog restaurant that’s all the rage in Las Vegas. The franchise, slated to open in Dinkytown and Eden Prairie this year, will feature gourmet corn dogs that could have been designed by art students for the State Fair.

Don’t be surprised if Erin Hassanzadeh is on the front line.

The WCCO reporter moved to South Korea in 2014 on a Fulbright scholarship, teaching conversational English in the country’s public schools. During her two-year stay, she sang karaoke in private lounges and sampled street food. These days, she stays connected to her overseas experiences by gorging on shows like “Coffee Prince” and checking out Korean restaurants in the Twin Cities.

“When I got home, half my suitcase was full of Korean skincare products,” she said over lunch at Kbop Korean Bistro in Dinkytown, cracking an egg on her jjagae , a spicy stew.

Hassanzadeh might want to add Aland to his list. The new Mall of America store, with locations in New York and New Jersey, specializes in Korean products like Baby Shark books and green tea eye patches.

Stretching far and wide

Aland is riding the wave that began to swell around the turn of the century when South Korea began marketing its entertainment and culture to Asian countries like China, Japan and Vietnam in hopes of attracting more vacationers. It worked. According to the Korea Tourism Board, more than 17 million visitors came in 2019, nearly four times the number in 2003.

Over the past decade, South Korea has expanded its target audience to America, and it’s not just because it benefits local businesses.

“Commercial success gives them a lot of soft power and influence,” said Bryce Johnson, a professor in the Department of Asian Languages ​​and Literatures at the University of Minnesota.

One of the defining moments was the success of Psy’s “Gangnam Style,” a single that incorporated rap and hip-hop. It reached number two on the Billboard chart in 2012.

“The lyrics were very catchy with just enough English lyrics for you to sing along to part of it. The visuals in the video were bright and eye-catching,” Johnson said. “It’s a formula they continue to use.”

Some of the entertainment appeals to young fans who are looking for something less explicit than Miley Cyrus writhing on stage. K-pop videos almost always feature freshly washed teenagers who are more interested in being cute than controversial, dancing to striking sets that could have been designed by Willy Wonka.

The protagonists of Korean TV shows rarely swear or show a lot of skin.

K. dramas were meant to be watched by the whole family and traditionally lacked violence and sex,” Liu said. Koreans have learned to make incredibly addictive highs. -quality dramas without relying on sex or violence as a crutch. There’s a certain innocence to the characters and the relationships that has universal appeal.”

Minnesota is a particularly rich market for South Korean trends. Indeed, not only has the state’s Lutheran social services been a leader over the past 50 years in adopting children from South Korea, but other Asian groups can also connect with the culture.

“The products may be Korean, but they’re made as a generic Asian culture,” Johnson said. “Many Asian Americans can relate to social hierarchies and family dynamics. They embrace it.”

relatability factor

The popularity has also spread to those without Asian heritage.

Yoo, who took over Mirror of Korea in 2017, said new customers are often asked what drew them to the restaurant, whose dishes include kimbap, a seaweed rice roll. Many cite K-dramas and YouTube clips of mukbang, a popular video genre that features people gobbling down huge portions of food.

“I don’t think people come to eat here right after watching K-pop,” Yoo said, after showing an example mukbanger on his cellphone. “But they’re starting to consider looking at other Korea-related things.”

This is because they find that Koreans, such as BTS members who sell themselves as ordinary people, can be relatable.

“It’s such a contrast to Western artists who often act like they’re here on a pedestal. We look up and revel in it,” said Hae Joo Kim, who teaches Korean culture at Berklee College of Music in Boston. “But in K-pop, idols are real people. They always think about their audience and how they can relate to them.”

Movies and TV shows are also very relevant because the companies that produce them don’t have big budgets. So they rely more on personal stories than on special effects.

“Squid Game,” one of the most popular dramas in Netflix history, is rooted in the bond between desperate contestants. It’s one of the main reasons why series leads Lee Jung-jae and HoYeon Jung were honored at the SAG Awards recently, beating out established stars like Jennifer Aniston of “The Morning Show.”

All of these successes change the image of a country that most Americans would still find difficult to place on the world map.

“The respect has definitely grown,” Kim said. “Right now, it’s pretty cool to be Korean.”

Also taste this Korean fare

You already know all the dance moves from BTS’s “Butter” and ripped through the first season of “Squid Game.” And after? We asked hallyu experts for recommendations:

BlackPink: The all-female band that recorded with Lady Gaga and Dua Lipa. “They’re at the top of their game,” said Patricia Liu, editor of Best of Korea. “The documentary about them on Netflix [“Light Up the Sky”] takes you behind the scenes to show you the hard work it takes to achieve perfection.”

Jung Ji-hoon: Also known as Rain, the artist is a pioneer of modern K-pop sound and one of the first Korean stars to break into America through roles in ‘Speed ​​Racer’ and ‘Ninja Assassin’. . “He’s a great dancer and his songs are catchy,” said chef Chang Yoo.

“Old boy”: Skip Spike Lee’s Americanized remake and check out the 2003 original, which is considered a classic example of a neo-noir thriller. “‘Parasite’ caused Hollywood to give South Korea its official endorsement, but the country has been churning out high-quality movies like this for decades,” Liu said.

Oriental Foods and Dong Yang Delicatessen: Liu raves about this hilltop grocery store with an upscale restaurant in the back. “It’s extremely authentic,” she said.

“Answer 1988”: A heartwarming series about how the Seoul Olympics was a game-changer for local residents. “I love it,” said WCCO’s Hassanzadeh. “It’s a great window into what it was like to be a teenager at that time.”

“Coffee Prince”: TV follows the lives and dreams of four ambitious young people who frequent a café. “I watched K-dramas to learn the language and got hooked on this show,” Hassanzadeh said. “That’s hilarious.”

“My love from a star”: A 400-year-old alien falls in love with a modern-day Hollywood star in this 21-episode romantic comedy. “One of the things I love about Korean shows is that they take me outside the box,” said playwright May Lee-Yang. “Some of the locals are quite funky.”

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