When K-pop Gets Under Your Skin…

city of girls' generation gangnam(Source)

My latest piece for Busan Haps, on the contributions that K-pop has made to cosmetic surgery medical tourism.

I chose the topic because I’d always assumed that K-pop was easily Korea’s #1 cultural export. And, building on from that, that surely most medical tourists to Korea would be coming for cosmetic surgery. After all, what would this blog be without all the posts on dieting and body-image narratives in K-pop songs? On stars’ cosmetic, beauty, and dieting-related endorsements? Or, of course, on the ideals set by their bodies themselves?

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

First, because K-pop only accounted for just five per cent of the revenues from cultural content exports in 2013, as demonstrated in this Arirang news report from January. That worked out to $255 million, out of a total of $5.1 billion.

Korean Content Industry Exports for 2013(Source)

Next, because cosmetic surgery tourists only comprised seven point six percent of medical tourists in 2012. Yes, really.

When I wrote the article, I mistook that for the 2013 percentage, which isn’t available yet. But, assuming it remained the same (although the trend is for rapid growth), that would have resulted in a paltry $7.6 million in revenues in the January to November 2013 period, based on these figures that incorporate revenues lost from Korea’s surprisingly high numbers of outgoing medical tourists (unlike the grossly inflated KTO figures).

No wonder “a renowned business professor” recently dismissed the economic benefits of K-pop.

Frankly, another reason I chose this topic was because I expected I’d quickly prove him wrong. Instead, I soon found myself chagrined, forced to concede that perhaps he had a point.

But the long-term benefits? He’s dead wrong about those. To find out why, please see the article!

3 thoughts on “When K-pop Gets Under Your Skin…

  1. Hey,

    I just wanted to ask a small request. Since I am very much into video gaming (Esports), I often stumble about the korean culture, because gaming is huge in korea. Most of the people from my small community (Starcraft) adore Kpop and Samyopsal, just because the best gamers come from Korea. So my question to you is: Do you see any comparisons in how the korea socity (or some agents in it) treats their different popcultural export articles (gaming or kpop)? And do you have some knowledge about the perception of pro-gamers and “nerds” throughout the socity?


    1. Apologies for the late reply, but I don’t really understand your first question sorry. As for the second, I do know that pro-gamers and nerds aren’t considered as negatively as they are in Western countries (although it’s kind of cool to be a nerd in Western countries too now, right?), which is related to the high value put on education here, but I can’t really add any more than that.


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