let’s talk about k-pop

K-pop group BTS with American singer Khalid, teasing and upcoming collaboration. Source

These days, you simply can’t scroll through Twitter without stumbling upon k-pop fans in the masses. ‘Fancam’ video edits seem to be posted in threads about anything and everything, and tweets are embedded with hashtags urging to #stan or #stream various k-pop groups. Although my own obsession with k-pop started and finished with whatever was playing on SBS PopAsia circa 2015, the ‘Hallyu’ phenomenon, or ‘Korean wave’, has reached tsunami levels of huge in the last decade. The craze has made a splash all across the globe in neighbouring Asian countries, the West, and beyond.

K-pop boyband ‘BTS’ are an immensely popular group within the genre, achieving incredible break-out success in the US at a level never before seen. The group has collaborated with many popular US/European artists like Nicki Minaj, Halsey, Ed Sheeran, and many more. You could say BTS are the poster group for the rapid spread of k-pop throughout the US and other Western audiences. Ingyu Oh’s research paper about the globalisation of k-pop credits platforms like YouTube and the new distribution structures of the music industry for the global success of k-pop as a musical subculture. The report argues that South Korea’s standout success in comparison to other Asian music industries (such as Japan or China) is because of k-pop’s “photogenic appeal”, borrowing aesthetics and production techniques from popular American music. By localising these elements of American music and distributing the final, hybridised product to both Asian and Western audiences, k-pop is able to attain mass global appeal. Woongjae Ryoo explains the cultural hybridisation of k-pop further in an article from the Asian Journal of Communication; South Korea is described as a mediator in popular culture exchange between the West and Asia, and in comparison with Japan, South Korea has “broader cultural affinities with China and other Asian countries while also being just Westernized enough.” In other words, South Korea is currently the bridge between Asian and Western popular culture.

In 2018, American game development company Riot Games released a k-pop inspired music video promoting an upcoming line of cosmetic character ‘skins’, available for purchase in their online multiplayer game ‘League of Legends’. The video features iconic characters from the game in a ‘virtual’ idol group, dancing and singing in the k-pop style. The artists featured in this collaborative project were two American singers, Madison Beer and Jaira Burns, and two members of the k-pop girl group (G)I-DLE. The track ‘POP/STARS’ was debuted on the League of Legends world finals stage in Seoul, South Korea, and featured character avatars in Augmented Reality. This collaboration is an example of cultural hybridisation through the k-pop genre, mixing together elements of Western and Asian pop culture to create a media text with globalised appeal.



Alexander, Julia. (2018). The League of Legends world championship opened with an AR K-pop concert. The Verge. 

Daly, Rhian. (2019). All of BTS’ collaborations with western artists, ranked. NME.

Lee, Lee. (2018). Top 10 most viewed K-pop idol solo fancams. SBS PopAsia.

Oh, Ingyu. (2013). The Globalization of K-pop: Korea’s Place in the Global Music Industry. Korea Observer, 44, 389-409.

Romano, Aja. (2019). BTS, the band that changed K-pop, explained. Vox.

Woongjae, Ryoo. (2009). Globalization, or the logic of cultural hybridization: the case of the Korean wave. Asian Journal of Communication, 19(2), 137-151.

‘once upon a time in hollywood’

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood Movie Poster. Source

I recently caught the new Tarantino film at my local cinema with some friends. Being fans of the director’s previous works, we went into the film expecting the usual satirical, colourful, and violent spectacle, laced with pop-culture references. I think it’s safe to say we got everything that was expected, and more. I mostly enjoyed the movie experience; I would describe Once Upon a Time in Hollywood as a periscope fixed upon the golden era of Hollywood, with Tarantino’s signature alternate-history spin on real life events providing us the ‘fairy tale’ promised in the film’s title. I was particularly impressed by the attention to detail in re-creating the scenery and culture of LA during the 1960’s. Although the film has been criticised for its pacing and lengthy periods without narrative progression, I personally enjoy films that take time to familiarise the audience with each character and spend a little extra time on context than the story itself. My only issue with this film (which isn’t so much with the film itself, but rather the way it is watched by some individuals) was when the final sequence of events played out in the cinema. Though Tarantino is known for his gratuitous, violent scenes that are supposed to be thrilling and exciting, hearing people around me in the cinema cheer and laugh in delight at a young girl having her head bashed against the wall did not sit right with me. During this scene I cringed, I flinched, and admittedly I felt relieved for the protagonist. After all, in real life this young girl and her companions killed innocent people, and here in the film they are invading his home armed with weapons. Although I may have shared the feeling of ‘pay-off’ with those who relished in the violence, I don’t think I actually enjoyed the scene in the same way they had. While I think Tarantino’s style of ‘comical violence’ that is framed as exciting and enjoyable has been fantastic in some of his previous films, this sequence left me disappointed by the gleeful audience reactions. It leaves me wondering if this was Tarantino’s desired reading of this scene, joy and laughter rather than thrills and grimaces. Despite all this, I’d rate Once Upon a Time in Hollywood; ★★★★✰

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was co-produced between the US and UK, and distributed by Sony Pictures. The film’s domestic market (US and Canada) accounts for just over half its gross value, with the rest being the foreign market. Reports from the ‘Communication Research’ journal show that global media consumption is on a trajectory toward homogenisation. This includes audience preferences for film and cinema, with media interests moving toward uniformity. Recent trends in the Hollywood film industry are reflective of this notion, with the international box office usually making up the higher portion of a successful blockbuster film’s market share. The exceptions to this trend can sometimes be explained by linguistic or cultural barriers that prevent it from appealing to international audiences. In chapter 6 of the book ‘The Impact of International Television’, Joseph Strauhbaar outlines these tendencies toward making choices about media based on cultural knowledge using the term ‘cultural proximity’. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood may be a Hollywood blockbuster, ironically about Hollywood itself of all things, but it requires a lot of cultural knowledge and proximity to be fully appreciated and understood. Being based around real historical events in LA around 1968-69, the references to American culture and the events of the Manson family murders can easily fly over the head of an international audience. Even some of my friends left the cinema confused, because they had not read up on the context of the film. This could explain why it has performed better within the domestic market.


Fu, W. Wayne & Govindaraju, Achikannoo. (2010). Explaining Global Box-Office Tastes in Hollywood Films: Homogenization of National Audiences’ Movie Selections. Communication Research, 37(2), 215–238.

Goldsberry, Kirk. (2014). All the World’s a Stage: How International Box Office Is Changing the American Blockbuster Economy. Grantland.

Serena, Katie. (2017). They Committed The Most Infamous Murders Of The 1960s — So Where Are The Manson Family Members Now?. ATI.

Straubhaar, Joseph, D. (2014). Choosing National TV: Cultural Capital, Language and Cultural Proximity in Brazil. The Impact of International Television: A Paradigm Shift. Edited by Michael G. Elasmar. Oxford: Routledge. pp. 77-110.

York, Keva. (2019). Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is less a Manson family story than a mid-life crisis film. ABC.

“because it has tits and dragons”

You probably are already familiar with the popularity of US TV series Game of Thrones, but in case you did not know, the renowned fantasy epic was incredibly successful on a global scale. In fact, the show was broadcast in 207 different countries or territories, 194 of which being simulcast. It’s also stands as the most-licensed HBO program to date, with over 100 licensees worldwide. Love or hate the show, it was undeniably pandemic television; a phenomenon that broke through the limitation of cultural proximity and ignited TV screens all across the globe. Game of Thrones was the show on everyone’s lips, even during its controversial final season (though perhaps for different reasons than before). But how did the series manage to attain and maintain its mass appeal?

Drogon and Daenerys, Game of Thrones. Source

Well, there are your typical shallow responses to this question; “Sex! Violence! And Dragons!”, what more could you ask for? Though over time as Game of Thrones has gained popularity, it has also aggregated a loyal, engaged fan-base. Look no further than the lengthy discussions and in-depth analysis on fan forums like Reddit to see that its appeal can be more than simply “tits and dragons”. The subject of Game of Thrones’ popularity is often approached from a political or philosophical standpoint, pointing to dissatisfaction and unrest in contemporary society that qualifies the want for escapism in our entertainment media. Then of course, the show is frequently described as “Quality TV”; the writing, actors, and production level are ‘good’, and people like ‘good TV’. Not to mention that Game of Thrones was adapted from an already-popular book series by George R. R. Martin with many accolades of its own. In an essay about Game of Thrones and the ‘Quality TV’ meta-genre, Dan Hassler-Forest describes the show as a remediation of ‘cine-literary culture’, mixing cinema-like production aesthetics with narrative structures of 19th century literature novels.

Both of these reasons are indicative of Game of Thrones’ amassed cultural capital. When looking at the success of the series through the lens of media theory, the reason for its mass appeal can be explained in terms of cultural capital and proximity. Joseph Straubhaar defines cultural capital as “the sources of knowledge that permit people to make choices among media” in chapter 6 of the book ‘The Impact of International Television’. Being able to relate to the gritty depictions of human nature and politics from Game of Thrones is an experience that transcends linguistic and cultural differences, while the institutional framework of ‘Quality TV’ on American cable services appeals to a large portion of the global mainstream. Plus, the ‘fantasy’ genre lends itself to cultural ambiguity, meaning the audience does not require in-depth knowledge about any particular countries and their cultural practices to enjoy the story. Game of Thrones became popular on a global scale because it does not require cultural proximity to be engaged with and understood, among other reasons. Being a worldwide phenomenon, the show has countless avenues of cultural capital.



Flood, Alison. (2016). Game of Thrones: an epic publishing story. The Guardian.

Hassler-Forest, Dan. (2014). Game of Thrones : Quality Television and the Cultural Logic of Gentrification. TV / Series, 6.

HBO. (2019). GAME OF THRONES Facts and Figures. Medium.

Investopedia. The Success of Game of Thrones in 5 charts.

Tucker, Ken. (2014). Why is Game of Thrones so popular?. BBC

Siciliano, Leon & Shardlow, Ju. (2019). 9 reasons ‘Game of Thrones’ season 8 was a huge disappointment. Business Insider.

Straubhaar, Joseph, D. (2014). Choosing National TV: Cultural Capital, Language and Cultural Proximity in Brazil. The Impact of International Television: A Paradigm Shift. Edited by Michael G. Elasmar. Oxford: Routledge. pp. 77-110.