Compilation of Asia’s Top Stars: Chinese, Korean, and Japanese – can you tell who is who?

Four years ago, I was at my friend’s house and another house guest of hers asked me what my ethnicity was. Before I could answer, he asked, “Are you Korean?” And I said no and told him I was Chinese. And he responded saying “You know that’s a compliment, right? Generally westerners agree that Koreans are the most attractive East Asians.”

At first I was flattered but then I became perplexed and even offended by his comment. Westerners really think Koreans are most attractive? Since when? Why do they think that? I knew Japanese culture was pretty big at that point, what with anime, its advanced technology and unique culture, but what did Westerners see in Korea that I didn’t?

Now putting aside the fact that some people may just be taking the comment as a pick-up line (the guy was clearly in his sixties), that was the first time in my life that I was exposed to a westerner’s perspective of Korean people. The exchange may have been brief and insignificant to some, but several years later, I would come to understand the meaning behind those words.

At that time I had no exposure to kpop and had no idea of the massive influence it would grow to have in terms of spreading the Hallyu Wave around the world.

It all changed when I traveled to China three years ago. At the time, I went into a CD store, looking for popular Chinese pop music to put on my iPod. However, as soon as I went in, a store worker came up to me and asked me if I had heard of a Korean boy group named Super Junior. I said no and she proceeded to show me posters of them and said that their latest album “Sorry Sorry” had sold more copies than any other album in the past couple of months. I was instantly attracted to the handsome faces, sleek and fashionable outfits and decided to give the album a go. When I listened to the music, I was greeted by fast-paced beats, catchy melodies, modern synths, and professional production quality I had not before heard from Chinese pop. And although I couldn’t understand a word that was sung (or rapped), I was instantly hooked.

This was the beginning of my complicated love affair with k-pop. Little did I know at the time that it would explode to become the biggest cultural phenomenon to come from Asia in decades.

At first, I was stunned to discover that there were many other k-pop fanatics just like me, living in countries around the world, some of whom had never met Asians before! So what was the big deal about k-pop? What metaphorical crack did k-pop hide in their songs and music videos that continued to draw in the crowds, gaining more and more devoted fans each and every year?

To be continued…