Exploring India’s Fascination with Korean Culture

The K-wave is real and powerful. What does India's fascination with Korean culture reveal about our longings and the power of God?

In late 2021, my Instagram feed was overtaken by memes, reels, and posts influenced by a viral hit show, Squid Game—a South Korean TV show about a dark survival game where people compete in children’s games, to win money. The loser faces elimination by death.

The gruesome became hugely popular in India, one of many things that showcase India’s growing fascination with Korean culture. The K-wave has well and truly hit India

The K-Wave is Real and Powerful

When I was in college, only a handful of people knew about Korean dramas (K-dramas). That has drastically changed. Now even 69-year-olds seem to be addicted to them. K-dramas have become more popular, accessible, and in demand online.

Today, BTS and Black Pink enjoy the cult status once held by Michael Jackson or The Beatles.

In 2020 Parasite became the first foreign language film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Today, Hallyuwood has authority and influence in the stories we are telling in India.

Ten years ago, in April 2012, Gangnam Style began to take over the world. It became the first video to hit 1 billion views on YouTube and quickly prompted imitations of its own in India.

Today, BTS enjoy the cult status once held by Michael Jackson or The Beatles. Even my 5-year-old knows their songs.

K-pop and K-dramas have contributed to increasing sales of K-beauty products in India, like Innisfree and The Face Shop. “Glass skin” beauty routines are now the norm. Move over, fair and lovely. India now wants that dewy, glow, glass skin.

South Korea has worked hard to export popular culture. The K-wave owes its power to extensive research that gives people what they want. Once subtle and considered outlandish, the K-wave is now real, visible, and powerful.

What the K-Wave Reveals About Us

Modern Indian society is obsessed with being on trend. We allow trends to shape the way we live. But trends can simply be a coping mechanism or hiding place from reality.

All entertainment calls out to the escapist in us, to hide from the things we find too difficult to face. The K-Wave is no different. In our obsessive search for greener grass, could we be overlooking, ignoring, and perhaps avoiding the need to sit in the dark and process or grieve our hurt?

The K-wave can be a tempting and beautifully crafted escape hatch from reality.

I want to forget my pain. It is easier for me to scroll through Instagram, and indulge my cravings for junk. I want to be satiated with a culture that is not my own. I want something bigger than myself to make my problems go away. 

The K-wave can be a tempting and beautifully crafted escape hatch from reality. It is powerful to control us, but powerless to heal us.

The K-Wave and Our Call to Live As Exiles

All cultures are beautiful and broken at the same time. Every culture has things we can freely enjoy, things that can be redeemed and reframed by the gospel, and things we must completely renounce.

This is equally true of the K-Wave that comes to India and the soft-power of Indian culture that goes abroad.

The Bible is filled with stories of our faith ancestors living as sojourners. Israel engaged foreign cultures throughout their history. They were slaves in Egypt, new arrivals in Canaan, and exiles in Babylon.

May Christ be the anchor on which we stand firm as we face the waves of cultural influence around us.

In Jeremiah 29, God guides the exiles on how to live among a foreign, hostile, oppressive people. He calls them to grow in population, seek the welfare of the city where they live, and intercede on its behalf (Jer. 29:4-7). 

After the ascension of Christ, Peter encouraged Christians facing opposition and persecution by reaffirming their identity in Christ as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (2 Pet. 1:9). He calls them “sojourners and exiles” (2 Pet. 2:11).

We are called to live as ambassadors of Christ in all earthly cultures (2 Cor. 5:20), who embrace our identity as sojourners and exiles. 

In this in-between age of the now and the not yet, we are waiting for the return of Christ when he will redeem and restore all things (Acts 3:21). On that day we will live as citizens, not exiles, freely and fully enjoying the presence of God in perfect unity.

The K-Wave and the Hope of New Creation

Today, as I wait for the new heavens and the new earth at the return of Christ, I have to be aware of the brokenness that surrounds us. But instead of being bogged down by the brokenness, I can live as a sojourner in the hope of tomorrow. 

May Christ be the anchor on which we stand firm as we face the waves of cultural influence around us (Rom. 12:2). In today’s beautiful and broken cultures, may we live with the hope of one day living in a new creation where every culture is whole and we will be united with people from every tribe and every nation (Rev. 7:9). 

In this present age, may we always live in expectant hope of the new creation when all things in heaven and on earth, will be united under Christ (Eph. 1:10).

How the Gospel Sets Us Apart in All Cultures

In the gospel, we are set apart in Christ to be in the world, but not of the world. In light of that, when I engage with any culture I have to be careful and intentional in testing whether something could be misleading me or taking the place of God in my heart.

Is my binge-watching on Netflix causing me to avoid community and prioritise the next episode over a good night’s rest? Am I trying to satiate my soul with feel-good food apart from feasting in Christ? 

In the gospel, we are set apart in Christ to be in the world, but not of the world.

Is my understanding of beauty being shaped by “glass skin” or am I seeking a deeper sense of beauty in Christ? How can I enjoy common cultural touch-points and build fruitful friendships with people who enjoy them?

I have seen how Korean culture, like all cultures, can be used to draw people together. Bonding over K-dramas or K-pop, over some Korean food is not uncommon among Christians. 

In communities, I have seen how a friendship that starts with K-drama ends with Christ’s redeeming love over our own personal drama. I remember having heavy conversations with friends over Korean Fried Chicken, with much prayer and laughter. 

God uses our shared interests to find common ground and build his redemptive community.

We are called to live in the world through faith in Christ, set apart by his grace, not by our works. When Christ is at the centre of the way we engage with a culture, it becomes a way we grow in our love for people and trust in Christ. 

The K-Wave cannot heal us but it can reveal where we need healing and how Christ alone can make us whole. May we ride the K-Wave as sojourners, awaiting our restoration in Christ.