20 October 2019
Since 2013, the MAMA ceremony has been held in Hong Kong for five consecutive years. Photo: AFP
Since 2013, the MAMA ceremony has been held in Hong Kong for five consecutive years. Photo: AFP

What Hong Kong can learn from K-pop

Recently, my friends and I attended the Mnet Asian Music Awards held at the AsiaWorld-Expo on Lantau Island.

I was deeply impressed by the dazzling stage effects of the show and the electrifying performances put on by the award winners.

When it started in 1999, the MAMA was a domestic event of the music industry in South Korea. Later, however, its organizer decided to reach out to the rest of Asia and promote the Korean pop culture. And since 2013, the ceremony has been held in Hong Kong for five consecutive years.

The “Korean wave” is taking the entire world by storm. I believe it is worth our government’s while to look into the factors behind the global success of the South Korean show business and draw some insights into how Hong Kong can promote its cultural industry and enhance its “soft power”.

Today, “K-pop” is well known around the world. But according to Korean writer Euny Hong, its tremendous success was actually born out of desperation. Back in the late 1990s, the South Korean government decided to export the products of the country’s pop culture such as music, movies and TV dramas.

That’s because back then the country was devastated by the Asian financial crisis, and in order to compensate for the huge economic losses and generate new demand, then President Kim Dae-jung, inspired by western movies and the global profits they brought, decided to develop an export-oriented cultural industry.

At that time, Japanese pop music, movies and TV dramas were all the rage across Asia. So it was a daunting task for South Korea’s show business to try to get a slice of the Asian market, let alone beat its Japanese peers.

However, in retrospect, South Korea’s initiatives to export cultural products have proven both visionary and highly successful. Over the years, the government has remained heavily involved in promoting the country’s pop culture to the global audience by providing direct funding for the industry and helping the industry develop new stage and performance technologies.

Its efforts have paid off. In 2015 alone, it is estimated that exports directly and indirectly driven by the “Korean wave” reached US$7.03 billion. Of the country’s revenues, US$354 million was generated by K-pop.

K-pop revenues have not only contributed a lot to the national economy, but have also proven instrumental in improving the overall quality of the country’s cultural productions and the employment conditions of the country’s cultural talent.

Hong Kong’s pop music and movies used to reign supreme across Asia back in the 1980s. Unfortunately, our cultural industry has been losing momentum in recent years, not least because of the lack of government support. As a result, Hong Kong’s cultural influence in the region has continued to shrink.

I do understand that given our different cultural, social and economic backgrounds, it would be very difficult for our government to mobilize the entire society in developing and exporting our pop culture products on the same scale as the South Korean government did. Yet I believe there is still much we can learn from the Korean experience.

Despite our limited market size and resources, I know that there are still a lot of local musicians, movie and drama producers out there who are working very hard to sustain our cultural industry. And apart from public stadiums and concert halls, we also have a growing number of privately run venues for local performers.

For example, AsiaWorld-Expo has provided the venue for a lot of international concerts featuring famous foreign singers, thereby fostering exchange and cooperation between local performers and their overseas counterparts.

I believe if our government can step up its support for our own music and cultural industries, Hong Kong’s homegrown pop culture definitely still has a lot of potential for development in the days ahead.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec 12

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Member of Legislative Council (Functional Constituency – Accountancy)