More Australians are learning Korean because of their love of K-pop

New research shows the craze surrounding South Korean music and culture has led to an increased uptake in Korean language classes.

The wild fascination of a diverse group of Australians with all things South Korean - particularly the country’s music - has led to an uptake in Korean language classes.

South Korean boy band BTS has developed a massive global following and helped popularise the K-pop (Korean pop) music genre further afield than Asia.

The seven-member group, which formed in 2013, this week broke a YouTube record as their new single Boy With Luv amassed 74.6 million views in just 24 hours. 

And the group recently topped the Australian streaming charts.

Among its many Australian fans is Monash University student, Susan Alhabsyi.

The 29-year old says her love for K-Pop has prompted her to study Korean.

“The main reason why I started studying Korean was to understand what the lyrics were saying in all these K-Pop songs,” she told SBS News. 

“I am a big fan of K-Pop myself and I wanted to understand what they were saying in their videos and all the streams.

“I just wanted to connect with them on a different level.”

Australian K-pop fan Susan Alhabsyi.
Source: Supplied

Ms Alhabsyi, who has Indonesian heritage, said Korean music introduced her to a whole new world.

“It’s different to Western music,” she said.

“I am able to connect to them on a different level, emotionally, but enjoy the beat as well.” 

BTS fans in Australia
Source: AAP

She is not alone.  According to Asian studies academic Dr Thomas Baudinette at MacQuarie University, it’s a growing trend.

“It’s a really fascinating phenomenon”, he said. “There’s a massive attraction to Korean groups.“

“We are seeing young people, but other groups as well, becoming increasingly interested in Korea; its music, its television, music and food.

“And this strong attachment to Korea is then translating to a really strong interest into Korean language.

“In Australian universities we see increased enrolment in Korean language programs.”

According to Dr Baudinette, Australians are also meeting and studying privately to learn the language.

“We are also seeing students reaching out to self-teach, they are doing lessons on their own, they use the internet to learn, they go to meet other Koreans so they can speak Korean with Korean people, and then maybe they share their English with Korean people,” he said.

And while many may think the craze mainly attracts teens or Australians with a Korean heritage, Dr Baudienette says that’s not the case.

It is “fairly evenly spread across the Asian-Australian communities and other communities”, and different age groups, he said, from “teenage girls and boys, to grandparents”.

“It’s a very diverse popular culture in Australia.” 

BTS concert in Sydney, 2017
Source: SBS

Sevana Ohandjanian, who works for SBS Pop Asia, agrees it’s a big movement.

“K-Pop is really popular in Australia, I don’t think people realise how big the audience is.

“A lot of artists come here every year and have sell-out concerts, so it’s actually kind of huge.”

BTS, she said, has become the face of K-pop in the western world.

“They have just gone on to become more and more popular. They use social media a lot, which is how they spread their message so widely.”

Dr Baudienette said many Australians are drawn to South Korean pop culture and music, BTS in particular, because of its participatory and supportive nature.

“In regards to BTS, they have this message of loving yourself and supporting yourself through hard times and a recognition that being a young person is sometimes really difficult,” he said.  

“And the community has taken that message to heart; they support each other, they reach out to each other when they are struggling.”

"I don’t think of this fandom as something that is superficial it’s actually very deep and emotionally very meaningful.”

Published 19 April 2019 at 7:12am, updated 1 May 2019 at 12:58pm
By Dubravka Voloder