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BBC Arts : Seoul Power - How South Korea Became a Cultural Giant

From movies and TV to K-Pop, South Korean culture manages to punch far above its weight - across East Asia, and beyond. But how did this happen, and why is it so important to Koreans? In three exclusive films produced and directed by Phil Tinline for BBC Arts, Rana Mitter visits the South Korean capital, Seoul, to investigate.

One of South Korea’s most successful cultural exports is K-Pop. From China and Japan to Singapore and Thailand, K-Pop stars like Psy, HyunA, CL and G-Dragon are dizzyingly famous. But how did this happen? Rana finds out – and discovers that this shiny, manufactured genre has begun to take an unexpected turn...

From movies and TV to K-Pop, South Korean culture manages to punch far above its weight - across East Asia, and beyond. But how did this happen, and why is it so important to Koreans? Rana Mitter investigates.

South Korea is now the world's 12th-biggest economy - not bad for a country that was sunk in abject poverty until the 1950s. But over the last decade, Korea has become known for more than the cars and electronic goods that helped speed this small nation to economic success. Since the late 1990s, the 'Korean Wave' of popular culture has won great prominence and popularity across East Asia, starting in Japan, but now spreading increasingly to China.

Rana visits the South Korean capital, Seoul, and meets pop producers and pollsters, noise musicians and historians, movie and TV directors and novelists, to find out how Korea has managed this - and why it cares so much about its standing in the region and beyond.

He explores how, as it has become richer and freer, South Korean culture has been turning to face the pains of the past - which saw it colonised, destroyed by war and oppressed by dictatorship.

And he discovers how, as freedom and wealth bed down, South Koreans are breaking from the conformity that helped them pull off an economic miracle towards a more raucous, more individualist culture, from pop singers to workers in banks.

Speakers include: Chung Chang-wha, Bernie Cho, Hong Chulki, Christopher Green, Kim Jiyoon, Lee Jung-hoon, Han Kang, John Nilsson-Wright, Moon So-ri, Yun Sukho, Tesung Kim, JK Youn.

Producer: Phil Tinline


TechCrunch : Leading Seoul Accelerator SparkLabs Presents Its Fifth Startup Batch

With its high smartphone penetration rate, extremely speedy broadband, and government support, South Korea’s startup ecosystem is one of the most notable in Asia.

SparkLabs, one of Seoul’s top accelerators is hoping its fifth batch will produce new success stories (alumni include online beauty product retailer Memebox, another one of Korea’s top-funded startups).

The twelve companies that presented during its Demo Day today include two security companies that have the potential to expand globally: Lockin, which wants to make it easier for developers to integrate cloud-based security into their Android apps, and Qubit Security, which operates a hacking detection platform called Plura to sniffs out attacks as soon as they happen.

On the consumer side, streaming site DropBeat wants to become the top source for electronic dance music, while Way, a device that helps users customize skincare regimens, has raised $105,000, more than twice its target, on Indiegogo.

Other companies include: LoanVi, a peer-to-peer lending platform and SparkLabs’ first investment in Vietnam; Genoplan, which uses genetic testing to customize fitness and nutrition programs; PiQuant, a food-tech startup that checks for melamine in milk and plans to target countries like China where food safety is a major concern; wearable products maker Leemyungsu Design Lab (its first product is a backpack for cyclists); Townus, a group-buying platform for university students; social network-based job recruiting platform Wanted Lab; holographic virtual reality developer DoubleMe; and Evain, which filters out spam and phishing phone calls.

Treeplanet, which participated in SparkLabs’ fourth class but showcased its product at today’s event, is a crowdfunding platform for reforestation projects.

SparkLabs Demo Day 5 : Movies, Music and Mayhem Panel

Netflix and Amazing are continually disrupting movie and TV viewing habits and production cycles. Both of these companies have already received Golden Globe nominations and have traditional TV and cable companies wondering where the next blindside hit will come from. Other disruptors include Hulu, Maker Studios and YouTube.

YouTube is also trying to disrupt the music industry since millions of people use YouTube as their default music source. The initial music wars resulted in Spotify and other streaming services leaving Apple in the dust and forced the tech giant to play catch up and acquire Beats for $3 billion. Will Apple's new streaming service beat out Spotify? Will there be new disruptors launching in the coming years? How has all this uncertainty affected music artists and the overall industry? The panel speakers are: Marc Randolph (Co-founder of Netflix), Sam Wick (EVP of Business Development and Operations at Maker Studios), Andreas Ehn (Founding CTO of Spotify) and moderated by Bernie Cho (President of DFSB Kollective).

Panel Moderator : Bernie Cho (DFSB Kollective)


Music Matters Asia : In Conversation With Indie Rights Holder : Charles Caldas (CEO of Merlin Network)

All That Matters took Singapore by storm on May 20-24th, 2015 with a stellar week of B2B2Fan events for the global entertainment community.

Music, Live, Video and the inaugural Sponsorship Matters attracted over 1,500 delegates from 32 countries who tuned in to 153 speakers and attended 13 networking events across the week.

Thousands of souls were entertained by 200+ performances over 4 nights of Music Matters Live  and over 3,500 teenage fans turned out for the 3rd YouTube FanFest Singapore to meet their heroes of the YouTube screen.

In Conversation With Indie Rights Holder: Charles Caldas (CEO of Merlin Network)

Charles Caldas shares Merlin’s independent label perspective and future outlook of streaming across Asia and around the globe

- How has music consumption changed from the storefronts of the past to the current vast array of online streaming services for the independent label and artist?

- How are these new modes of consumption providing dynamic experiences for users, and a new kind of commercial success for artists?

Interviewer: Bernie Cho (DFSB Kollective)


The Korea Herald : Bringing Korean Sounds to SXSW -- Korean musicians of diverse genres attract fans abroad with ‘phenomenal’ live acts

Bernie Cho, DFSB Kollective president, poses at his office in Sinsa-dong, Seoul, on Monday. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)
K-pop is no longer limited to idol groups and their synchronized dance moves to upbeat music: The term has broadened to encompass all genres of music from Korea.

“You will be surprised to know that Korean rock is very popular in the U.S.,” said Bernie Cho, president of DFSB Kollective, a pioneer in introducing Korean indie music to the United States, during an interview with The Korea Herald on April 6.

Having just returned from the U.S. where he had introduced a team of Korean musicians to SXSW in Austin, Texas, Cho described how the U.S. audiences respond to Korean artists. “Rock, EDM (electronic dance music), urban music, which includes R&B, and hip-hop did well, grabbing headlines,” he said.

Marking the fifth year at the biggest music festival and conference in the U.S., the SeoulSonic stage organized by Cho featured From the Airport, Solutions, Big Phony, Heo, Victim Mentality and YB.

“The SXSW festival director discovered Victim Mentality in Hongdae last year. They put on a phenomenal live show,” said Cho.

“Hongdae is a phenomenal indie incubator, accelerator and hub,” Cho elaborated, referring to an area near Hongik University known for its indie music and art scene. “The bands spend years grinding their acts.”

Cho particularly appreciated YB for their performance at the SeoulSonic stage. “We were surprised but flattered he was headlining our bill. They are an arena act and they came to play in a club,” he said, adding that YB is a fantastic mentor of indie bands.

Cho started introducing Korean indie acts at SXSW in 2011 after noting that even as K-pop was gaining popularity overseas, Korean music wasn’t present in the biggest music festival and conference in the No. 1 market in the world. “Influencers are at SXSW looking for the next big thing.”

Believing that there was safety in numbers, Cho brought a number of acts to the festival. “We put on our branded stage for Korean bands,” said Cho. That was the beginning of SeoulSonic, a stage that introduces Korean musicians from different genres. Following the performance at SXSW, the bands tour several U.S. cities.

It was not lost on Cho that Texas has the third-largest Korean-American population. “We assumed that it would be safe, that there would be Korean-Americans we could fall back on, but we found that people attending our shows are not Koreans,” he said.

How does he pick the bands? “I look for passion. But it is a business decision. As cool as flashy K-pop may be, the cold hard facts and figures tell us the American music market is marching to different beats. We are targeting what the U.S. market is listening to,” said Cho. Indie acts are the No. 1 best-selling artists in the U.S., followed by rock and R&B/hip-hop which share the No. 2 spot. Electronic dance music is the fastest-growing music market in the U.S.

“We have to be fans of their music and the acts must be critically acclaimed and nominated for music awards,” said Cho, adding, “Korean music critics have fantastic tastes.”

Another requirement is that they need to do “amazing live shows.” “An amazing, intense live show transcends translation and requires no interpretation,” he noted.

Cho sees definite progress by Korean acts. “It is getting easier over the years because Korean artists are more confident singing in English. They have an easier time crossing over, making music more accessible. They no longer perform exclusively for the Korean market.”

“The K-music mystique is that it is unique, innovative and new. And the diversity in genres is definitely the ace card for promoting Korean music overseas,” Cho said.

How do audiences appreciate music whose lyrics they do not understand? On top of being great live acts, Korean performers use a lot of visuals, according to Cho. “Visuals help Korean music translate well ― dance, instrumentation and the visual team. The audience may not understand the lyrics but they can understand through watching the videos on the screen.”

“Visual presentations are not really done outside of Korea, but it is a common practice here. It takes Korean live shows to a whole new level,” said Cho. “It gives a cool and cutting edge vibe.”

“The Korean music market is No. 10 in the world. It is the fourth-largest net export market in the world, following the U.S., U.K. and Sweden. It really belongs to an elite group of countries,” said Cho.

DFSB Kollective actually does very little work in Korea, focusing instead on distributing Korean music worldwide through digital platforms ― it is the official distributor of Korean digital tunes to iTunes, Google and Spotify ― and providing Korean artists access to major international music festivals. “We are not like S.M. or YG in that we don’t own or produce music.”

An aspiring filmmaker at Dartmouth College in the U.S. who switched majors to government and East Asian studies at the behest of his parents who considered filmmaking “too light,” Cho fell into the music industry by accident.

“It was the summer before I was to have started graduate studies in Seoul. I crashed a party where I met a music channel owner,” he said. Soon, he was working at Mnet from where he moved onto Channel [V] and later, MTV.

“Around 2007, I realized people were looking at music on devices. I felt digital media production had more potential and left the music TV industry after 10 years,” he said.

“I could sense how popular Korean music was going to be but saw no bridge between business and buzz. This is how I got the idea to start an artist-friendly agency,” Cho explained.

“I would love to see Korean musicians heading international festivals and not only be nominated, but win awards. My biggest fear is that K-pop will be considered a fad. I hope market conditions will improve locally, meaning more resources and opportunities to go overseas.” However, with music downloads from Korean sites costing only $0.05 per tune, things are difficult here, according to Cho.

“This summer, we are expanding direct digital distribution to top 10 platforms in over 100 countries. It is exciting that we’re going to make Korean artists’ music more available worldwide,” he said.



Weber Shandwick : Soft Power Drives City Reputation and Success in Asia Pacific 

A new and far-reaching study conducted by Weber Shandwick, one of the world’s leading global public relations firms, uncovers the increasing significance of “soft power” as a key contributor to the reputation of cities in Asia Pacific. “Engaging Cities: the Growing Relevance of Soft Power to City Reputations in Asia Pacific” focuses on how cities in the region leverage soft power – that is, those attributes of city brand reputation beyond politics, economics and military might – and reveals Tokyo’s leading reputation as a city of influence in Asia Pacific with its reputation as a creative hub driving its top ranking across 10 of 16 soft power attributes examined.

The study examines eight cities – Bangkok, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Seoul, Shanghai, Singapore, Sydney and Tokyo – across 16 soft power attributes that, when combined, contribute to a differentiated positioning of a city’s brand reputation and perceived influence. They include social media and digital technology; tourism; food, culinary and dining experiences; architecture and design; sustainability and the environment; and standard of living. In partnership with KRC Research, Weber Shandwick interviewed 4,147 people online and spoke with 20 experts in sectors as diverse as media, design, architecture, retail, sports and trade.

Among the soft power attributes studied, the Weber Shandwick report reveals Singapore’s top ranking for its innovative approach to sustainability and the environment and for offering a particularly high standard of living to residents. Hong Kong was rated first for being seen as the financial centre of the region, and Sydney was rated first across sports and leisure infrastructure, contemporary architecture and design, and gender tolerance, but was rated as the least influential city in terms of food, culinary and dining experiences.

“The dramatic urbanisation of Asian countries and the increasingly challenging environment in which civic leaders compete for creative talent, inward investment and tourism dollars has made brand reputation a priority for cities,” said Ian Rumsby, chief strategy officer, Asia Pacific, Weber Shandwick. “The ability to articulate, connect and promote unique, soft power attributes is now at the centre of success for governments and cities.”

Insights on Overall Perceptions that Distinguish City Reputations Today

The report reveals five primary observations that inform public, private and social sector leaders about the drivers of reputation in Asian cities.


The strength of national brands can overwhelm the ability of a city to cultivate awareness of its core attributes. This presents challenges and opportunities in equal measure as cities strive to elevate their reputation as a destination of choice. As cities compete to attract and retain top-tier talent, leveraging national attributes whilst balancing and creating their own city brand identity is an essential first step in fostering better understanding of a city’s total value and offering.


Neighborhoods are culture-clusters that showcase the unique, diverse attributes of a city to residents and non-residents. These are the areas where a city’s personality can be revealed, giving people the chance to witness and engage with the distinctive attributes of a certain location that suit their areas of interest. Cities that elevate the interest and relevance of neighborhoods to people’s lives advance their reputations.

Citizen Advocacy

Residents of the eight cities in Weber Shandwick’s report consistently rate their own city higher against each of the selected soft power attributes than non-residents. Overall, residents rated their own city 18 percentage points higher against all attributes, combined, than non-residents.

Understanding and tapping into the groundswell of citizen pride in cities is becoming increasingly relevant. As cities grow and people become wealthier, their ability to travel and engage with people in different markets becomes easier. Finding ways to stimulate residents’ endorsement as ambassadors of their hometowns in other markets has enormous branding potential.

The Creative Classes

Creative people are a potent force behind city innovation. They invent idea-led economies that bolster innovation in everything from music and technology to sustainability and design. Civic leaders need to think deeply and strategically about how to foster a diverse and inclusive environment that attracts creative talent needed to future-proof cities.

“Creative and innovative talent has always played a fundamental role in the cultural and economic development of a city. In today’s highly-connected, highly-competitive world, being able to attract that talent requires a strong brand reputation,” said Tim Sutton, chairman, Asia Pacific, Weber Shandwick. “Civic leaders can utilize the powerful ideas and insights uncovered in this new research to identify, refine and capitalise on their city’s strongest soft power attributes to build a reputation that competes for the best.”

People Power

Big investments in city infrastructure can be undermined by a failure to deliver an engaging experience. Whether it is an airport or sporting venue, the experience of a place is dependent on the people who define it. Cities that invest in a people-based service culture can enhance experiences and ensure that a reputation as ‘warm and welcoming’ is advanced.

* * *

The “Engaging Cities” report includes an analysis of each city’s performance against 16 soft power attributes with commentary by respondents on the rationale for their ratings. The report also explores City Self-Esteem—an initiative designed to understand the perspective of residents of a particular city against those who visit or do not live there.

“There is a huge amount of mobility between the cities of Asia Pacific,” said Jennifer Sosin, chief research strategist at KRC Research. “The proportion of respondents who said they have visited at least one other city or actually lived in one of the other cities is high. This means that city brand and influence, more than ever, are created through the personal experiences of people who are not residents.”

Please view “Engaging Cities: The Growing Relevance of Soft Power to City Reputations in Asia Pacific” and infographics for the cities reviewed here.

Featured Commentator : Bernie Cho (DFSB Kollective)