Young people in Thailand are fervently embracing Korean music, commonly known as “K-pop”
Thanks to the success of Thai-born Hallyu (Korean Wave) stars, there has been a significant surge in people aspiring to become singers and idols. Korean dramas and fashion have become integral, demonstrating significant growth.
Empowered by the energy of Hallyu, the Thai government has also begun promoting the entertainment industry.
At the end of October, 20-year-old student Jeffrey, who is currently attending Silpakorn University in Bangkok, repeatedly checked his movements in front of the mirror in the university dance room. This is to prepare for an audition for a Korean entertainment agency in Thailand.
Silpakorn University established a new department last year with the goal of nurturing talent active in the entertainment industry. Students are given the opportunity to learn a wide range of skills, including singing, dancing, and effectively using SNS for information dissemination, making it appealing to students interested in K-pop. Aspiring K-pop idol Jeffrey says, “My future goal is to promote Thai culture worldwide.”
Recently, there has been a significant increase in Thai youth aspiring to become Korean idols. Since 2016, the Korea Culture Center in Thailand, under the Korean government, has been holding selection meetings in collaboration with Korean entertainment agencies.
As of mid-October 2023, the number of applicants is about 3,000~5,000, which is three to five times higher compared to 2016. Director Jo Jae-il proudly stated, “K-pop has become so famous that it no longer needs support from the (Korean) government.”
Hallyu’s popularity in Southeast Asia dates back to the 2000s. Thanks to the all-encompassing promotion strategy by the Korean government, Korean products have received high acclaim not only in terms of dramas and music but also in products such as smartphones and home appliances. This wave has now reached Thailand.
Behind the enthusiasm of Thai youth for K-pop lies the success of BLACKPINK’s Lisa. Born in Buriram Province in northeastern Thailand, Lisa debuted in 2016. She solidified her position as one of the top idols in the Korean entertainment industry by achieving numerous global records, including recording more than 1 billion streams for her solo music on music distribution services.
The economy of Thailand is moving alongside Lisa’s moves. Lisa is currently the K-pop idol with the most followers on Instagram (more than 90 million followers), so all the places and food she posts on her SNS account can attract a large number of fans visiting such places and selling out products she used in an instant.
Gate, owner of seafood restaurant Lao Lao in Bangkok, revealed that the number of customers has tripled and even quadrupled since Lisa’s visit in January. The owner not only added ‘Lisa special menu’ with a list of dishes Lisa ate but also redecorated the restaurant by displaying the chair and table Lisa sat on when enjoying her meal.
Since Lisa’s debut, the popularity of Thai members in other groups, such as NCT and (G)I-DLE, has also increased. At the end of this year, two Thai members will debut in the seven-member girl group BABYMONSTER.
Tickets for concerts of Hallyu stars in Thailand are currently sold at 4,500 baht (about 160,000 won) on average, which has increased by 9 times over the past decade. The number of young Thai people learning Korean is also increasing. Thai media reported, “As of the past two years, 175 secondary educational institutions in Thailand have begun teaching Korean as a second language. The number of learners has exceeded 40,000”. The influence of K-pop is also spreading widely in various areas of Thai society, from food to beauty, fashion, and travel.
In fact, there are still very few world-famous Thai artists and athletes. Lecturer Fukutomi Wataru at Kanda Foreign Studies University, who knows Thai culture quite well, says, “The performance of Thai artists has served as an opportunity to inspire patriotism in the public”.
In September, it was announced that a ministry dedicated to fostering the entertainment industry would be launched. Using Korea and Taiwan as models, the people who proposed this national-scale campaign said, “Thailand aims to get away from being a ‘middle-developed country’ through this industrial promotion”.