Joseph Nye

When I write about Korean culture this subject can be more or less broadened since studies on contemporary Korean culture are often intimately linked to what is happening in other East Asian nations, the United States, and partly also other countries and regions of the world.

One example of this is that some key concepts which are relevant in relationship to Korean studies are also used in many other different contexts. Soft power – coined by the American poltical scientist Joseph Nye (1937-) in the late 1980s, developed in his work Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power (1990), and re-elaborated in a number of later books and articles – is one such key term.

According to Nye soft power signifies ‘the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payments’, and hence it is different from hard power phenomena such as miltary force, funding, and sanctions. Power – whether ‘soft’ or ‘hard’ – is often connected to foreign policy and a particular country’s will to influence other countries of the world by the means of dissemination of their own particular cultural taste.

Looked upon in a broader way, it can simply mean dispersion of culture in general and has less to do with power in the normal sense; but since soft power is often linked to current (Western) economic models and globalization, it can be hard to distinguish between soft power and hard economic power. In fact, the economic and the cultural dimensions do often overlap; or rather, soft power is often funded by governments.

I well not try to analyze or describe this complex concept in more depth. However, I will give a brief explanation of how soft power can be used these days. This I will do through a list which comprises five significant countries that use culture in one way or another – often in tandem with funding and/or export of cultural products – as a means of soft power.

The United States
The United States – the world’s largest economy and superpower (although a declining such) over the last 150 years or so – does unhesitatingly use a lot of hard power, such as military force, the almost global imposition of their currency, and sanctions against certain countries. But soft power-wise, one can also highlight the near-global dispersion of American popular culture – films, music, sports, fast food etcetera – and its largely market-based economic system and liberal democracy that many other countries either already have absorbed or wish for. The quote below offers a relevant and nuanced overall description of how hard versus soft power can be understood in the case of America:

Take the United Stated as the example. The worldwide popularity of Hollywood movies, Apple products, Google, Starbucks, and the NBA — to name just a few — may be cited as evidence of U.S. soft power, but it would be far-fetched to argue that this soft power has been a crucial factor behind the U.S. ability to get what it wants in other parts of the world. For one thing, drinking Starbucks coffee or watching the NBA does not necessarily translate into pro-American policy preferences. For another, it is difficult to imagine that the symbols of American soft power would have spread to the rest of the world and had such broad appeal had it not been for unrivaled American economic and military power.


Chinese soft power has become more evident during the recent years – a country to be the largest economy in the world in the not too distant future – and this has been manifested through for instance the large funding and dissemination of Chinese academic institutions and Chinese cultural centers around the world, as well as large-scale events such as the Summer Olympics in Beijing in 2008:

The Chinese government also has spent hundreds of billions of dollars improving the communication capabilities of its media outlets like CCTV, organizing mega events such as the Olympic Games and Shanghai Expo, funding Confucius Institutes, hosting summits attended by dozens of world leaders (e.g. APEC), and sponsoring forums on regional security and prosperity (e.g. the Boao Forum). An important justification for such lavish spending is that these activities can contribute to China’s soft power.

In democratic countries like Canada and Sweden, the academic freedom appears to have been undermined by Chinese-funded and -controlled institutes, which has resulted in several shutdowns of Confucius institutes that promote research on Chinese culture.

Perhaps China may not be as successful as The United States in this regard – people do generally long more for democracy and Starbucks than Confucian values – but the Chinese government does still strive for the use of soft power and has funded a vast amount of projects with large sums of money.


Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia is in total a rich country indeed – and at the same time it is one of the most authoritarian regimes in the entire world.

Saudi Arabia’s soft power is intimately connected to the country’s Wahhabi doctrine, a ‘modern’ and fundamentalistic form of Islam that was founded during the late eighteenth century and which advocates a draconican, Sharia-based (Hanbalic school) interpretation that will not allow any other interpretation, or for that matter any other religion, than their particular form of Islam. This religio-cultural framework has been funded by rich and influential Saudis since the 1970s onwards:

All in all, Saudi figures show that in the period 1973 and 2002, the kingdom spent more than $80 billion to promote Islamic activities in the non-Muslim world alone. This truly colossal sum has built a huge network of Wahhabi-controlled institutions, including over 1500 mosques, 150 Islamic Centers, 202 Muslim colleges, and 2000 Islamic schools in non-Muslim countries alone. (Alexiev 2011)

Unfortunately, far from all people around the globe stand against Wahhabism and its ideological twin, Salafism, which is manifested through the Islamic State and other organizations and movements that partially hinge on these totalitarian ideas.


Russia constitutes one of the largest countries and economies in the world, and like China and Saudi Arabia it is more or less authoritarian. Another current characteristic is its geopolitical expansions in for instance Ukraine.

Besides military hard power, influential Russians use soft power by the means of media channels such as Russia Today in order to spread an alternative world-view, different from the Western, pro-EU and pro-American counterpart.

This might be a relatively fruitful way to get both Western and other people more on the Russian side, or at least to have a more nuanced understanding of Russia and what it aims for both culturally, economically and (geo)politically.


South Korea
I have written serval posts on the Korean wave and explained why I do generally support its dissemination and proliferation.

However, I might add that the South Korean government – after recognizing the good financial results in the aftermath of the distribution particular TV dramas and k-pop – currently uses Korean wave products as means for national branding and consequently increasing revenues through tourism and export of Korean wave products, such as music, TV dramas, and food.

This will probably lead to – and has already to some exetent led to – a positive feedback relationship, since a probable consequence may be a better depiction of South Korea in the global community as well as more revenues; and the revenues can in turn be used for more investment in cultural products and their distribution, which may lead to even larger revenues.

It is also interesting that Chinese leaders are concerned about the vast popularity of South Korean celebrities in China. South Korea is definitely one of the big soft power players these days and constitutes a pop cultural alternative to both the US’ and Chinese products.

När det gäller nutida eller samtida koreansk kultur, är det ofta relevant att vidga vyerna eftersom den sällan kan förstås som isolerad från det som sker i övriga Östasien, USA och i viss utsträckning även andra länder och regioner. Dessutom kan det finnas kopplingar till aktuella saker som sker i världen. Detta inlägg utgör en sådan bredare utblick.

Begreppet soft power, eller mjuk makt på svenska, myntades av den amerikanska statsvetaren Joseph Nye (1937-) under slutet av 1980-talet och har blivit mer utarbetat i ett flertal böcker och artiklar sedan dess. Det handlar om att övertyga med hjälp av attraktion snarare än ekonomiska eller militära maktmedel (hård makt).

I detta sammanhang kan till exempel populärkultur spela en viktig roll, vilket har varit fallet med inte minst USA, som på närmast global nivå har spridit filmer, popmusik, tv-kanaler, snabbmat och mycket annat under 1900- och 2000-talen.

Nedan ges fem exempel på länder som kan sägas bedriva soft power i en mer löst definierad mening, om än delvis på väldigt annorlunda sätt.


USA har varit världens ledande supermakt under cirka 150 år och är det alltjämt, även om Kina successivt lär komma ikapp både ekonomiskt och militärt. Detta land har också varit framgångsrikt i att sprida amerikansk (populär)kultur på många håll, till exempel filmer, musik, snabbmat och en mängd teknologiska produkter och företeelser.

Mycket av det som USA gör utrikespolitiskt kan visserligen kategoriseras som hard power, men populärkultur, liksom amerikanska politiska ideal och livsstilar, har onekligen attraherat många människor runtom i världen.


Kina har intresserat sig för mjuk makt under ett antal år, och har bland annat försökt bedriva detta genom att finansiera Konfuciusinstitut runtom i världen. Något tidigare har kinesiska wuxia-filmer och sommar-OS i Beijing år 2008 varit två företeelser som kan kopplas till kinesisk soft power-strävan.

Satsningen på att sprida kinesisk kultur i och genom akademiska sammanhang verkar dock ha fått visst bakslag i demokratiska länder som Kanada och USA eftersom det har lett till, eller tros kunna leda till, censur på institutionerna i fråga – känsliga ämnen som relationerna mellan Kina och Taiwan, Kina och Hongkong, och vad som hände på Himmelska fridens torg 1989 verkar inte vara tillåtet att belysa på Konfuciusinstituten, vilket leder till inskränkt akademisk frihet.

Det återstår att se om Kina kan hitta andra, alternativa lösningar och bli mer framgångsrika i detta avseende.


Den globala spridningen av wahhabism, liksom den mycket närbesläktade salafismen, har finansierats av saudiska oligarker sedan 1970-talet och framåt. Det rör sig om enorma summor, så mycket som 80 miljarder dollar enbart i icke-muslimska länder.

Wahhabism är en “modern” och fundamentalistisk form av islam som uppstod under slutet av 1700-talet och vars lära är synnerligen intolerant gentemot andra religioner, inklusive kristendom, liksom andra inriktningar och tolkningar av islam som till exempel shia och sufism.

Tyvärr verkar den trots det ha en viss attraktion bland framför allt unga män på många håll runtom i världen, vilket har kunnat skönjas i fråga om omfattande rekrytering till al-Qaida, IS och andra terrororganisationer-/rörelser som i stor utsträckning bygger på wahhabism eller salafism.

Idén om att som jihadist komma till ett paradis fullt av villiga kvinnor – till skillnad från de sexslavar som används i dag – kan utgöra en del av attraktionen, liksom viss grad av individuella maktanspråk och det meningsskapande som sker genom att vara en del av en kollektivistisk rörelse med högtflygande målsättning.

Ett litet tecken som dock pekar i rätt riktning – och om inte annat är det lite intressant kuriosa – är dock att en saudisk prinsessa gillar G-Dragon!


Ryssland har invaderat Krimhalvön i de östra delarna av Ukraina under 2014 och 2015, vilket förstås kan klassificeras som hård makt.

När det gäller mjuk makt har dock den välproducerade och engelskspråkiga nyhetskanalen Russia Today varit ett viktigt redskap för att sprida en alternativ och samtidigt mer positiv bild av Ryssland och samtidigt en mer negativ dito av västvärlden, framför allt USA och EU. Givetvis finns även amerikanska och västerländska motsvarigheter – Russia Today har i mångt och mycket uppstått som en motvikt till dessa globalt mycket inflytelserika medier.


Jag har redan skrivit ett flertal inlägg om den den koreanska vågen och varför jag generellt stödjer dess spridning och behöver därför inte utveckla detta så mycket.

Man kan dock nämna att den sydkoreanska regeringen, delvis i samarbete med grannländer, försöker hitta nya sätt att attrahera konsumenter av koreansk populärkultur. Man kan exempelvis tänka sig ett större fokus på det koreanska köket framöver.

Noterbart är också att ledande kineser har oroats en del över att koreanska stjärnor får så mycket uppmärksamhet i Kina, till skillnad från de inhemska motsvarigheterna. En av de allra kändaste kinesiska stjärnorna är talande nog också en k-pop-artist, Victoria Song från gruppen f(x).

Body and Brains – self-test

The main idea behind this post is to offer a self-test with regard to one’s level of body and brains, i.e. how smart and knowledgeable one is, and the physical level one has reached. To reiterate myself, it is thus not a question of either/or but to constitute a more or less complete personal synthesis.

Needless to say, this test and all of its ten questions hinge on a construct and is partly based on arbitrary or personal preferences, but its various components – which are reflected in the different questions and their respective answer alternatives – are based on both science and sound reflections. Many of these topics or sub-topics have also been elaborated in earlier blog posts, such as this one (about the importance of traveling for personal development) and this one (about general strength and endurance statistics). Notice that all strength statistics are based on strict and full-range movements.

The most difficult part has been to distinguish between different academic fields and subjects in relationship to a relevant international university ranking. The main point, though, is to take into account the current inflation of university ceritifications, degrees and diplomas and to be self-critical in this respect. And it is implied that one can largely or at least partly compensate the lack of a high-value degree with extensive reading of books.


1. How much can you squat?
Less than 1 x one’s particular body weight: 0p
1-sligthly less than 1,5 x one’s particular body weight: 1p
1,5-slightly less than 2x one’s particular body weight: 2p
2 or more than x one’s body weight: 3p

2. How much can you bench press?
Less than 1 x one’s particular body weight: 0p
1-slightly less than 1,25 x one’s particular body weight: 1p
1,25-slightly less than 1,5 x one’s particular body weight: 2p
1,5 or more x than one’s body weight: 3p

3. How much can you dead lift?
Less than 1,5 x one’s particular body weight: 0p
1,5-slightly less than 2 x one’s particular body weight: 1p
2-slightly less than 2,5 x one’s particular body weight: 2p
2,5 or more x than one’s body weight: 3p

Less than 1,25 x one’s particular body weight: 0p
1,25-slightly below 1,5 x one’s particular body weight: 1p
1,5-slightly below 2 x one’s particular body weight: 2p
2 or more x than one’s body weight: 3p

4. How many strict, wide-gripped chin-ups can you do?
0-9: 0p
10-14: 1p
15-19: 2p
20 or more: 3p

0-5: 0p
6-9: 1p
10-14: 2p
15 or more: 3p

5. How fast do you run three (3) kilometers on a regular all-weather running track?
15 minutes or more: 0p
14:59-13:00: 1p
12:59:-12:00: 2p
11:59 or less: 3p

16 minutes or more: 0p
15:59-14:00: 1p
13:59:-13:00: 2p
12:59 or less: 3p

6. What is your current level of educational achievement?
Upper-secondary school, diploma/certificate outside of a university context, various university courses and/or unfinished educational programs (regardless of university ranking), or a bachelor’s or master’s degree in the social sciences at a university out of the top 100 world ranking: 0p

Bachelor’s or master’s degree in the social sciences or humanities at a top 51-100 ranked university, bachelor’s or master’s degree in science, law, psychology or medicine from a 101-200 ranked university, phD in the social sciences or humanities from a 100-200 ranked university, or two Bachelor’s degrees or master’s degrees in the social sciences or humanities from a 50-100 ranked university: 1p

Bachelor’s or master’s degree in the social sciences or humanities from a top 50-11 ranked university, bachelor’s or master’s degree in science, law, psyhchology or medicine from a 100-51 ranked university, or a PhD from a 11-50 ranked university: 2p

Bachelor’s or master’s degree in social sciences or humanities from a top a top-ten ranked university, bachelor’s or master’s degree in science, law (법학 in Korean), psychology or medicine frm 11-50 ranked university, PhD, regardless of subject, from a 11-50 ranked university, hired docent, senior lecturer or professor at a 11-50 ranked university: 3p

7. How many novels and/or academic works have you read in their respective entirety during the last twelve (12) months?
0-9: 0p
10-19: 1p
20-49: 2p
50 or more: 3p

8. How many novels and/or academic works have you read in their respective entirety during your entire life?
0-99: 0p
100-200: 1p
200-499: 2p
500 or more: 3p

9. How many countries have you ever visited?
0-9: 0p
10-20: 1p
21-50: 2p
50 or more: 3p

10. How much time have you, in total, stayed abroad?
Less than six months: 0p
Six months up to slightly less than a year: 1p
One-two years: 2p
More than two years: 3p


0-10 points
You will probably need to work hard on your physical and intellectual development. If it seems impossible to earn a decent university degree – perhaps due to one’s particular personal situation – then focus on to visit both the gym and the library often and on a regular basis. Of course, changes in nutritional habits, and consequently loss of fat-weight, may also be important when it comes to physical development. Be active and patient at the same time.

It might also be the case that you are quite young and at some point within a larger personal process. If so, do not give up and continue in the right direction.

11-20 points
On the physical and intellectual continuum, you are somewhere in between and may have to decide if you want to keep improve (or perhaps work hard on maintenance) or continue to be – let us be honest – quite mediocre. If you are at the upper level, you have done a decent job already and are hopefully heading in the right direction.

21-25 points
You are indeed a physically able intellectual, or perhaps rather a quite intellectual fitness person, and can be proud of your progress so far. It might be the case that you do not have to develop even further, but perhaps a little more progress in one or even both of these respects is what you need in order to be or to feel more complete as a person.

26-30 points
You are one of those few individuals who have experienced large part of the world and for more extensive periods of time, earned a higher and prestigious degree at a top-ranked university, and in parallel with this do also have a high-class physique, both strength- and endurance-wise. Regardless of how your more exact socio-economic and personal situation is at the moment – there are, of course, other important things in life besides body and brains – you can be very proud of your achievements and development.

Huvudpoängen med detta inlägg är att erbjuda ett självtest som mäter ens grad av fysisk och intellektuell förmåga, vilket som bekant är en del av denna bloggs koncept och min egen livsfilosofi.

Det är givetvis svårt att konstruera “objektiva” tester som täcker in mycket av det som är väsentligt och samtidigt får med nyanser och gradskillnader, men jag har gjort mitt bästa, och mycket av detta bygger vidare på det jag har skrivit tidigare om till exempel vikten av att resa mycket och läsa mer utmanande litteratur för att utvecklas, samt att utgå från rimliga fysiska krav som (delvis) är anpassade efter vikt och kön.

Det svåraste har varit att göra rimliga avvägningar när det gäller universitetsutbildningsnivå, men poängen är att ta hänsyn till den inflation av utbildningar och examina som förekommer och att vara självkritisk i det avseendet. Som kompensation för en eventuell låg poäng i det avseendet kan man ha läst väldigt mycket litteratur, både inom ramarna för universitetsstudier och/eller på egen hand.


1. Hur mycket lyfter du i knäböj?
Mindre än 1 x den egna kroppsvikten: 0p
1-1,5 x den egna kroppsvikten: 1p
1,5-strax under 2x den egna kroppsvikten: 2p
2 eller mer x än den egna kroppsvikten: 3P

Mindre än 0,75 x den egna kroppsvikten: 0p
0,75-strax under 1 x den egna kroppsvikten: 1p
1-strax under 1,25 x den egna kroppsvikten: 2p
1,25 eller mer än x den egna kroppsvikten: 3p

2. Hur mycket lyfter du i bänkpress?
Mindre än 1 x den egna kroppsvikten: 0p
1-strax under 1,25 x den egna kroppsvikten: 1p
1,25-strax under 1,5 x den egna kroppsvikten: 2p
1,5 eller mer x den egna kroppsvikten: 3p

Mindre än 0,75 x den egna kroppsvikten: 0p
0,75-strax under 1 x den egna kroppsvikten: 1p
1-1,25 x den egna kroppsvikten: 2p
1,25 eller mer x den egna kroppsvikten: 3p

3. Hur mycket lyfter du i marklyft?
Mindre än 1,5 x den egna kroppsvikten: 0p
1,5-strax under 1,75 x den egna kroppsvikten: 1p
1,5-strax under 2 x den egna kroppsvikten: 2p
2 eller mer x den egna kroppsvikten: 3p

Mindre än 1 x den egna kroppsvikten: 0p
1-strax under 1,25 x den egna kroppsvikten: 1p
1,25-strax under 1,5 x den egna kroppsvikten: 2p
1,5 eller mer x den egna kroppsvikten: 3p

4. Hur många strikta chin-ups med brett grepp kan du göra?
0-9: 0p
10-14: 1p
15-19: 2p
20 eller fler: 3p

0-5: 0p
6-19: 1p
10-14: 2p
15 eller fler: 3p

5. Hur snabbt springer du tre (3) kilometer på en vanlig löparbana?
15 minuter eller mer: 0p
14:59-13:00: 1p
12:59:-12:00: 2p
11:59 eller mindre: 3p

16 minuter eller mer: 0p
15:59-14:00: 1p
13:59:-13:00: 2p
12:59 eller mindre: 3p

6. Vilken är din nuvarande akademiska utbildningsnivå?
Gymnasieutbildning, diplom/certifikat utanför ett universitetssammanhang, högskole- eller universitetsstudier i samband med diverse oavslutade utbildningar eller kurser (oavsett universitetsranking), kandidatexamen eller masterexamen i samhällsvetenskapliga ämnen eller humaniora vid ett topp 101-200-universitet på internationell rankinglista: 0p

Kandidat- eller masterexamen i samhällsvetenskapliga ämnen eller humaniora vid ett 51–100-rankat universitet, kandidat- eller masterexamen i naturvetenskapligt ämne, juridik, psykologi, eller medicin vid ett 101-200-rankat universitet, PhD i samhällsvetenskapligt ämne eller humaniora vid ett 101-200-rankat universitet: 1p

Kandidat- eller masterexamen i samhällsvetenskapliga ämnen eller humaniora vid ett 100-51-rankat universitet, kandidat- eller masterexamen i naturvetenskapligt ämne, juridik, psykologi, eller medicin vid ett 51-100-rankat lärosäte, PhD i samhällsvetenskapligt ämne eller humaniora vid ett 51-100-rankat universitet, PhD i naturvetenskapligt ämne, juridik eller psykologi vid ett 101-200-rankat universitet: 2p

Kandidat- eller masterexamen i samhällsvetenskapliga ämnen eller humaniora vid ett topp-tio-rankat universitet, kandidat- eller masterexamen i naturvetenskapligt ämne, juridik, psykologi, eller medicin vid ett 11-50-rankat universitet, PhD i något ämne vid ett 11-50-rankat universitet, anställd docent eller professor vid 51-100-rankat universitet: 3p

7. Hur många hela romaner och/eller akademiska verk har du läst under de senaste tolv (12) månaderna?
0-9: 0p
10-19: 1p
20-49: 2p
50 eller fler: 3p

8. Hur många hela romaner och/eller akademiska verk har du läst under hela din livstid?
0-99: 0p
100-200: 1p
200-499: 2p
500 eller fler: 3p

9. Hur många länder har du vistats i?
0-9: 0p
10-20: 1p
21-50: 2p
50 eller fler: 3p

10. Hur mycket tid har du sammantaget tillbringat utomlands?
Mindre än sex månader: 0p
Sex månader till och med strax under ett år: 1p
Ett-två år: 2p
Mer än två år: 3p


0-10 poäng
Du måste förmodligen arbeta hårt för att utvecklas fysiskt och intellektuellt, i synnerhet om du är lite äldre – för ungas del kan det handla om att man bara har kommit en viss bit i en längre personlig utvecklingsprocess och bör fortsatta på den inslagna vägen. Om det av olika skäl verkar omöjligt att genomföra en gedigen universitetsutbildning, kan det vara lämpligt med många och regelbundna biblioteks- och gymbesök (och man kan även genomföra kurser som ger en, om än inte en helgjuten utbildning, högre grad av bildning och kunskap), och/eller bevista motionsspåret. Självklart kan det även vara väsentligt för många att förändra sina kostvanor och följaktligen minska sin underhudsfettvikt, vilket i sin tur tenderar att göra en både snabbare och starkare i förhållande till kroppsvikt. Det kan också vara relevant att utvärdera sin privatekonomi och spara pengar som läggs på skräpmat och shopping till en resa resa.

11-20 poäng
På det fysiska och intellektuella kontinuumet, är du någonstans mittemellan och måste kanske avgöra om du vill fortsätta att utvecklas eller – låt oss vara ärliga – vara relativt medioker. Eller så måste du kanske kämpa för att bibehålla din nuvarande nivå, vilket kan vara nog så viktigt.

21-25 poäng
Du är utan tvekan en mycket fysiskt utvecklat intellektuell, eller kanske snarare en intellektuell fitnessperson. Det kan kanske vara så att du inte behöver utvecklas särskilt mycket mer, eller så är det precis det där lilla extra som behövs för att bli eller uppleva själv dig vara mer komplett som person, fysiskt och/eller intellektuellt.

26-30 poäng
Du är en av ganska få personer, andelsmässigt, som har upplevt stora delar av världen, och under längre perioder dessutom, erhåller en prestigefylld examen vid ett mer eller mindre topp-rankat universitet, och parallellt med detta har en högklassig fysik, såväl styrke- som uthållighetsmässigt. Oavsett hur din livssituation i ekonomiskt och andra avseenden ter sig i nuläget – det finns givetvis andra viktiga saker i livet än fysisk och intellektuell utveckling – kan du vara stolt över vad du har åstadkommit hittills.

Why K-pop groups are superior in dancing and East Asians in educational achievement

While being in the process of making final revisions on a peer-reviewed journal article on K-pop, I have looked into some K-pop-related scholarly works that I have not previously examined. Such as Wonho Jangs and Youngsun Kims article ‘Envisaging the Sociocultural Dynamics of K-pop: Time/Space Hybridity, Red Queen’s Race, and Cosmopolitan Striving’ (2013).

I will not make any subjective or personal assertions regarding the pros and cons with having a strong work ethic and highly competitive meritocratic education system and social culture. However, this is nevertheless one of the endogenous factors which seems to underlie both the high PISA scores and the hard-working K-pop stars. The quotes – and not the least the imbedded videos – below say something substantial about this general East Asian, yet particularly South Korean phenomenon (at least regarding pop music).

As one may notice, contemporary South Korean nationalism is intimately related to globalization and cosmopolitan striving. That is: to either succeed abroad, at an overseas high-ranked university (preferably in the US or UK), and hence to be acknowledged in South Korea, or to be globally famous within the frames of for example the South Korean entertainment industry (which simultaneously implies some degree of overseas fame, at least in East Asia and Southeast Asia).

One may also note that Jang and Kim emphasize Confucian elements with regard to the general K-pop talent trainee system, which, however, John Lie is skeptical about in his latest work on this subject. Since I have read both of these two contributions, as well as an earlier article on the same topic by Lie (2012), I do sort of take a middle position regarding this very particular subject; hence there is still some degree of Confucianism left in contemporary South Korea, and it seems to affect behavior among citizens such as family values, but it is no longer very distinctive and much of its former doctrines, practices and social structures have been lost in oblivion.

Additionally, since Jang and Kim regard high results and high-quality performances among (young) South Koreans in general as a part of the same socio-cultural phenomenon and dynamics, it should be emphasized that other (East Asian) countries and city regions, such as Shanghai, Singapore, Hongkong, Taiwan and Japan – and with Finland and Switzerland as prominent exceptions among European countries – have high PISA results while not being particularly successful when it comes to the production and distribution of pop music.

Thus, if the aim is to explain the relative regional and global success of the production, distribution and dissemination of South Korean pop music, i.e. K-pop, then one has to keep other endogenous and exogenous factors in mind too. (In my article I put emphasis upon some of these key factors, which scholars such as for instance Lie and Ingyu Oh have examined, and to whose works I have referred to.) Or rather, one may have to clearly differentiate between particular kinds of socio-economic and socio-cultural domains and activities – school performance is one thing, while pop performance is another (although these may overlap to some extent).

With regard to educational achievement in East Asia and Singapore – particularly test perfomance scores such as PISA (국제학생평가프로그램 in Korean) – and work ethics, Confucian or post-Confucian elements may be – combined with largely Western-influenced capitalism and meritocracy – part of the explanation, but then it is more about general regional characteristics than local endogenous factors. However, the largely export-oriented South Korean economy is definitely one key component in this respect; both in relationship to overall economic patterns and outcomes and pop cultural circulation, and clearly differs from the more insular Japanese economy. [1]

The tenative conclusion at this point is that there is not any single main factor that underlies neither educational achievement nor pop cultural success, but strong work ethics and a vast amount of practice or studies are unhesitatingy linked to all of these outcomes. Over the last ten years or so, K-pop has become the – at least commercially – the superior form of pop music in Asia, and to less extent the entire world, and once its talent system is put into place new stars will continue to be educated within its highly competitive frames. The reason for this may in turn partly be due to what is labeled as cosmopolitan striving.

[1] Apart from the first-mentioned article, among several studies of significance in this respect one may also mention John Lie’s K-pop (2014), Donald Baker’s Korean Spirituality (2008), and Niall Ferguson’s Civilization (2011).

To reiterate, both the exogenous and endogenous features of a particular music genre or a particular group of singers must be discussed in order to explain such massive success. Many scholars have underestimated K-pop’s endogenous success factors, although they highlight the exogenous ones, such as globalization, regionalization, and the influence of J-pop and other Asian pop music on K-pop (Iwabuchi 2001; Chua 2004; Cho 2007; Allen and Sakamoto 2006). Even when endogenous factors were investigated, only the negative factors, such as the long-term contracts which were even referred to as “slave contracts,” were unnecessarily highlighted (Ho 2012), without addressing the validity of the harsh training system based on such long-term contracts. This system has only been effective in Korea and is seen as largely responsible for the global success of K-pop, particularly because such intense training and long-term contracts in other countries, such as Japan, China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, have not had any positive influence on singers in the long run. This section, then, attempts to shed light on the endogenous elements that are deemed germane in the formation of the global K-pop fandom. In order to do so, the reasons for K-pop’s success should first be discussed before examining the negative endogenous factors that may cause its possible future failure. We suggest three specific features of K-pop that have been pivotal in K-pop’s ascendance to its present global status: the contemporaneity of the uncontemporary, the synchronized dancing to melodic music (vis-à-vis beat music), and the multi-top dancing formation.

Boy and girl bands all over the world usually dance to beat music in a synchronized fashion. However, the preference of harmonized melodies over beats in synchronized group dancing is not common, as it is hard to dance to certain types of trendy beats, while singing a song that incorporates complex harmonies. A common claim regarding the reason K-pop bands are able to master synchronized group dancing while singing complex harmonies is that these singers were harshly disciplined and carefully controlled by their so-called “slave contracts.” For example, Nusrat Durrani of MTV World pointed out that the nine members of Girls’ Generation perform “every dance move in sync, every [melodic] note precisely hit.”

Cosmopolitan striving is a metaphor for a collective motivation toward upward mobility in a transitional society from Asian or developing economies to modern and Western economies (Park and Abelmann 2004). In Korea, it is widely thought that learning English, for example, is a quick way to become rich and powerful, as English is thought to provide one with new cosmopolitan opportunities, such as studying in the United States and the United Kingdom (Park and Abelmann 2004). Learning about Western culture is also considered to be an important stepping stone to advance one’s economic fate in society. Under this type of biased Western-centric, promodern social rubric, cosmopolitan striving motivates people to pursue what Oh (2009, 436) calls “forward learning.”

Jag håller för närvarande – parallellt med andra sysslor – på och reviderar en peer-review-granskad tidskriftsartikel om k-pop. Inte bara om denna företeelse i allmänhet utan om vissa särskilda aspekter av detta ämne.

I samband med denna process har jag även tagit del av ett antal studier som jag inte har läst tidigare, till exempel Wonho Jang och Youngsun Kims artikel ‘Envisaging the Sociocultural Dynamics of K-pop: Time/Space Hybridity, Red Queen’s Race, and Cosmopolitan Striving’ (2013).

Denna sätter till stor del fingret på unga nutida sydkoreaners höga utbildnings- och prestationsambitioner, och är i sin tur en av orsakerna till att k-popstjärnor och -grupper, som exempelvis TVXQ, Girls’ Generation och Super Junior, kan träna så pass enträget och frekvent att de klarar av att göra mer eller mindre perfekta synkroniserade dansformationer, både i flera av sina musikvideor och live (även om de ibland förenklar sina framträdanden, inte minst danskoreografin, i en del livesammanhang).

Snarlika typer av hårda och envetna tränings- eller studieprocesser tycks ligger till grund för sydkoreaners höga PISA-resultat, och benägenheten att vilja söka till utbildningsinstitutioner i andra länder, allra helst de högst rankade universiteten i USA och Storbritannien.

När det gäller åtminstone PISA-resultat kan man dock notera att andra (till stor del östasiatiska) länder och storstadsregioner som Shanghai, Singapore, Hongkong, Japan och Taiwan, samt vårt grannland Finland, också har mycket höga resultat inom matematik, naturvetenskap och läsförståelse. Därför måste man belysa även andra för Sydkorea typiska faktorer när man förklarar k-popartisternas högutvecklade förmågor. Dessutom är k-pop en transnationell företeelse, som över huvud taget inte kan förstås utan USA, Japan och i mindre utsträckning även andra länder, varför fokus delvis måste ligga på exogena faktorer.

Som ett flertal olika studier visar när det gäller många östasiatiska länders – inklusive Sydkorea – höga resultat kan säkerligen konfucianska element och värderingar spela en viss roll, men ännu viktigare är de västerländska influenserna som har kommit till och spridits inom denna region via framför allt USA och Japan. Den är i sin tur en historisk förutsättning för den kosmopolitiska strävan som finns bland en stor andel unga sydkoreaner. [1]


[1] Se till exempel John Lies K-pop (2014), Donald Bakers Korean Spirituality (2008), och Niall Fergusons Civilization (2011).