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Thursday, February 2, 2023

Top culture stories of the year in Korea 2022

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BTS performs during its free concert "BTS 〈Yet To Come〉 in Busan" on Oct. 15 at the Busan Asiad Main Stadium. [BIG HIT MUSIC]
BTS performs during its free concert “BTS 〈Yet To Come〉 in Busan” on Oct. 15 at the Busan Asiad Main Stadium. [BIG HIT MUSIC]

1. BTS heads to boot camp

K-pop sensation BTS has been through a tumultuous 2022. It kicked off the year with a Seoul concert in March, its first in-person performance in Korea in almost three years. It had a dramatic April; expectations were high whether they would become the first K-pop act to win a Grammy, but its hit “Butter” didn’t take home a prize. Undeterred, the boy band painted the town purple in Las Vegas, not only holding a concert but transforming the city with BTS-themed venues and experiences.

A latest picture of BTS's Jin, which was posted online Friday by his boot camp in Yeoncheon, Gyeonggi [SCREEN CAPTURE]
The latest picture of BTS’s Jin, which was posted online Friday by his boot camp in Yeoncheon, Gyeonggi [SCREEN CAPTURE]

Following the Grammys, pressure on the boy band members to decide their stance on mandatory military service increased. All able-bodied Korean men must serve a minimum of 18 months in the military. A law revised in 2020, allowing K-pop stars who received medals from the government acknowledging their cultural service to the country, had postponed the members’ service until they turned 30. BTS’s eldest member Jin reached that age this year.

Amid tension, the boy band announced a hiatus on group activities in June and solo endeavors. Certain members had unofficially dropped solo music and mixtapes in the past, but they had not officially made solo debuts, citing that BTS was complete as a team of seven.

J-Hope became the first, releasing “Jack In The Box” in July. He was followed by Jin in October and RM in December, all of whom saw commercial success. Jungkook also released the World Cup song “Dreamers” for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 in November and performed at the opening ceremony.
The boy band last performed together in October, during a free concert in Busan for the city’s bid to host the 2030 World Expo. Jin enlisted on Dec. 13 and the other members are expected to follow.

Woo Young-woo, the protagonist of ENA's hit television drama series ″Extraordinary Attorney Woo,″ [ENA]
Woo Young-woo, the protagonist of ENA’s hit television drama series ″Extraordinary Attorney Woo,″ [ENA]

2. OTT is where its at

Drama series like ENA’s “Extraordinary Woo” proved that over-the-top (OTT) content has no limits when it comes to its stories, characters, or success.

Director Hwang Dong-hyuk of “Squid Game” and its lead actor Lee Jung-jae became the first Koreans to win Primetime Emmy Awards in September.

Actor Oh Young-soo, also a star in the show, won a Golden Globe for his role, becoming the first Korean actor to win a prize for acting in the event’s history.

Netflix’s Global Top 10 chart in mid-October, which is for the streaming platform’s non-English TV category, five of the spots were filled by Korean-language drama series produced by domestic production studios — “Little Women,” “Extraordinary Attorney Woo,” “Alchemy of Souls,” “Glitch” and “Young Lady and Gentleman.”

“Extraordinary Attorney Woo” proved particularly popular. A coming-of-age narrative about a lawyer with autism spectrum disorder, the show became the No. 1 most-watched non-English show on Netflix and remained in the top spot for five consecutive weeks during the summer.

It is also nominated in the category of best foreign language series at this year’s Critics Choice Awards, along with Apple TV+’s “Pachinko.”

Newsmaker] Song Kang-ho, prolific and versatile actor
Song Kang-ho, winner of the award for best actor for ‘Broker,’ poses during a photo call following the awards ceremony at the 75th Cannes Film Festival on Saturday. [REUTERS/YONHAP]
3. Success for Song Kang-ho

Veteran actor Song Kang-ho won an award for best actor at Cannes for his role in Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda’s “Broker.” The organizers of Cannes praised Song as having played “a key part in writing a remarkable page in Korean cinema’s history.” Song’s best actor award marked the first time that a Korean male actor won the coveted award from Cannes. Back in 2020, The New York Times ranked Song sixth on its list of “25 Greatest Actors of the 21st Century.”

Netflix’s hit original series “Narco-Saints” is inspired by true events. The show revolves around a character that is based on drug lord named Cho Bong-haeng who was active in Suriname from late the 1990s to early 2000s and the mission by the NIS, Drug Enforcement Administration and an ordinary entrepreneur to catch him.[NETFLIX]
Netflix’s hit original series “Narco-Saints” is inspired by true events. The show revolves around a character that is based on a drug lord named Cho Bong-haeng who was active in Suriname from late the 1990s to the early 2000s and the mission by the NIS, Drug Enforcement Administration, and an ordinary entrepreneur to catch him.[NETFLIX]

4. Not too happy Suriname  

Various media outlets found themselves at the center of numerous controversies surrounding their lack of cultural sensitivity when it comes to depictions of foreign countries.

Netflix Korea’s original series “Narco-Saints” and “Little Women” faced particular backlash.

“Narco-Saints” caused a stir in South America’s Suriname in September, after the show depicted the former Dutch colony as a country riddled with gang activity, hard drug deals, corrupt police officers and even a president who accepts bribes from a Korean drug lord. The show’s success was not good news for the Surinamese government – the country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, International Business, and International Cooperation said that he would take legal action against the producers of “Narco-Saints” for their negative depiction of the nation.

Later in October, the Vietnamese government requested that Netflix stopped showing “Little Women,” insisting that the drama distorts the Vietnam War (1960-75) and violates media and cinema laws. Netflix listened to the request.
“Little Women” wasn’t the first Korean media content to be banned in Vietnam; earlier this year, the Korean crime action film “The Roundup” was prohibited from being shown as it portrays the city of Ho Chi Minh as a lawless area, where Korean criminals run rampant, kidnapping and murdering tourists.

Yunchan Lim from Korea performs in the final round in the Sixteenth Cliburn International Piano Competition in Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth, Texas in June. [THE CLIBURN]
Yunchan Lim from Korea performs in the final round in the Sixteenth Cliburn International Piano Competition in Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth, Texas in June. [THE CLIBURN]

5. Pride of the nation

Korean classical musicians were the source of great pride for the nation this year.

Korean pianist Yunchan Lim, 18, was crowned the winner of the 2022 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition on June 18 in Fort Worth, Texas, becoming the youngest pianist ever to win the gold medal in the competition’s 60-year history. Lim’s final performance – Rachmaninov’s Piano Concert No. 3 in D Minor, op. 30 – is said to have received the largest standing ovation in the competition’s history.

In May, Violinist Yang In-mo, 27, became the first Korean ever to win first place at the XII International Jean Sibelius Violin Competition in Helsinki, Finland. Yang previously won first prize at the prestigious International Violin Competition “Premio Paganini” in Genova, Italy, in 2015.

At another prestigious event, the Queen Elisabeth Competition that came to an end in June in Brussels, Belgium, Korean cellist Choi Ha-young, 24, became the first Korean to win the first prize in the cello section. The cello section was added to the competition in 2017. The competition was founded in 1937.

Pablo Picasso’s “Girl with a Red Beret and Pompom (1937)" exhibited during the inaugural Seoul edition of the London-based Frieze Art Fair was held in September. [YONHAP]
Pablo Picasso’s “Girl with a Red Beret and Pompom (1937)” exhibited during the inaugural Seoul edition of the London-based Frieze Art Fair was held in September. [YONHAP]

6. Seoul welcomes Frieze

Reflecting the strengthened status of Korea in the global art market, the inaugural Seoul edition of the London-based Frieze, one of the world’s two biggest art fairs, was held from Sept. 2 to 5 at COEX, southern Seoul, in partnership with Korea’s biggest art fair Kiaf. It was the first time that the Frieze Art Fair, founded by the London-based contemporary art magazine Frieze in 2003, was held in an Asian city. Many participants in Frieze Seoul reported good performances. World-famous galleries visited Korea for the first time, such as Swiss Hauser & Wirth, and renowned Seoul-based gallery Kukje also had a booth.

Girl group IVE set for return to the music scene in August
K-pop girl group Ive [STARSHIP ENTERTAINMENT]
7. Girl (group) power!

For K-pop, 2022 was the year of the girl groups. Virtually all domestic hit songs this year were by girl groups, like (G)I-DLE’s “Tomboy” and “Nxde,” Red Velvet’s “Feel My Rhythm” and Blackpink’s “Shut Down.”

Most notably, rookie female acts Ive, Le Sserafim, and NewJeans, which debuted within the past year, saw success domestically and globally both on the charts and with CD sales. Ive’s hits “Love Dive” and “After Like” became widely loved all over the internet and on social media, as did Le Sserafim’s “Fearless,” “Antifragile” and Nmixx’s “Attention,” “Hype Boy” and its latest “Ditto.” Kep1er and Nmixx, which were also new debuts this year, also secured large international fandoms.

Girl groups have caught up in terms of CD sales as well, which was once regarded as a more advantageous field for boy bands as their fans tended to be more loyal. In July, aespa’s “Girls” became the first album from a girl group to sell over a million copies within a week. The highest CD sales record by a debuting girl group was broken four times in 2022 alone. NewJeans holds the current record.

Because newly-debuted girl groups had such rapid growth in less than a year, expectations are rising for the K-pop scene in 2023.

A scene from “Decision to Leave” starring Tang Wei. [CJ ENM]
A scene from “Decision to Leave” starring Tang Wei. [CJ ENM]

8. A fabulous Korean film

Maestro Park Chan-wook’s 2022 contender “Decision to Leave” topped critics’ end-of-the-year lists worldwide, and was ranked on the top 10 best movies of the year by The Guardian and A.O. Scott’s list from The New York Times. The film was also shortlisted for the Academy Awards Best Foreign Language Film prize and nominated for a Golden Globe. The film already won six trophies at the Blue Dragon Film Awards, one of Korea’s best-known film awards shows. “Decision to Leave,” which initially showed a sluggish performance at the box office, slowly took the Korean audience by storm and finished strong with 1.8 million viewers domestically and a total world gross reach of $21 million.

Police request arrest warrant for Don Spike over suspected drug use
Composer and producer Don Spike, whose real name is Kim Min-soo, enters the Seoul North District Court in northern Seoul on Wednesday for a warrant review requested by the police. [YONHAP]
9. Drugs, booze and bullying

Not all news related to the Korean entertainment industry was positive this year.

Scores of people in the K-pop, film, and television industries were scrutinized by the general public and press, after landing themselves in illegal or ethically questionable situations.

Music producer Don Spike was indicted after being found in possession of illegal drugs, while Kim Ga-ram of Le Sserafim was kicked out of the girl group just a month after its debut following allegations of school bullying. Other celebrities, such as Shin Hye-sung of the legendary boy band Shinhwa, were caught drunk driving. Celebrities faced serious, even career-ending, criticism for their bad behavior this year.

Omega X terminates contract with Spire Entertainment following abuse  allegations
Members of Omega X speak during a press conference at the Seoul Bar Association’s Human Rights Room in southern Seoul on Wednesday. [HALEY YANG]
10. Omega X fight back  

Another scandal that broke out late this year again highlighted the dark side of the entertainment industry.

In November, boy band Omega X announced the termination of its exclusive contract with Spire Entertainment and said that it would take legal action against the agency.

Rumors began circulating after a fan claimed they had witnessed the wife of the then-head of Spire physically and verbally abuse the 11 members on the street after a concert.

The band revealed that such abuse was far from unique to Omega X or Spire Entertainment and that it is prevalent throughout the industry.

Soon after, singer Lee Seung-gi and Hook Entertainment became embroiled in a highly-publicized battle involving his earnings for the digital streams of his songs over the past 18 years.

Just last week Lee’s lawyer said that his client sued the executives of entertainment agency Hook Entertainment, including CEO Kwon Jin-young, for not properly compensating him for his work.

Despite claims from the agency that it has “finalized the settlement” by giving him 5.4 billion won ($4.12 million), Lee said that the money is not the issue and that he will “continue to fight in the court” against the agency.

BY THE CULTURE DESK [kjdculture@joogang.co.kr]

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