Hallyu Korean Wave Data Analytics
Credit: Midjourney

Cultural analytics: Machine learning and understanding the Korean Wave (Hallyu)

How can analytics, specifically geo-visualisation unpack details about Korean pop culture?

Ever wondered how Walt Disney conquered the world, amassing a multi-billion audience spanning different cultures and economies? While Disney’s success may appear linked to America’s longstanding dominance in global media production, there’s more to the story. In recent decades, new media influences have emerged on the world stage.

What is the Korean Wave “Hallyu”?

Since the late 1990s, South Korea’s creative sector has rapidly evolved into a transnational hub for popular culture production. It initially captivated Asian markets like Japan, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore with its media offerings, including music and films. This phenomenon of Korean culture gaining popularity abroad came to be known as the “Korean Wave” or “Hallyu,” a term coined by Chinese news media to describe the admiration of Korean cultural products by young Chinese audiences.

What began with the export of Korean TV dramas has now expanded to encompass a diverse array of creative industry products. Beyond pop music (K-pop), it includes films, animation, online games, smartphones, fashion, cosmetics, cuisine, and even lifestyles. South Korea’s cultural influence has traversed borders and continues to shape the global landscape.”

Credit. Midjourney

Over the past few decades, thanks to advances in new media technologies and the proliferation of social media platforms, the Korean Wave has transcended its Asian and Middle Eastern origins. It is significant in Europe, North America, and Latin America.

At the forefront of this cultural phenomenon are K-pop sensations like BTS, EXO, and Blackpink, who have garnered massive international followings in various corners of the world. The Korean Wave is not limited to music; it has extended to billion-dollar industries. Korean dramas, for example, have found a massive audience on streaming platforms like Netflix. Simultaneously, Korean beauty products and fashion trends have gained immense popularity worldwide.

Even during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020–21, Korea’s cultural exports thrived, exceeding US$10 billion and reaching over 157 million fans across the globe. The widespread appeal of Korean Wave culture raises intriguing questions. What accounts for its dramatic rise? Why has it captivated diverse audiences from different linguistic, religious, and cultural backgrounds? And what are Hallyu’s social, cultural, economic, and political implications on a global scale?”

Various factors may contribute to the rise of global movements. These could include support from the Korean government for its creative industries or be associated with the opportunities presented by social media platforms. Take, for instance, the story of PSY, whose 2012 hit “Gangnam Style” has now amassed over 5 billion views on YouTube, turning him into an overnight global sensation.

Harnessing Hallyu with analytics

Yet, global movements’ rapid and wild development will always hold an element of mystery. While we can’t fully explain the “human factor” and the magic behind the birth of a global movement, can we harness data on their spread, impact, and intensity across different regions in recent decades to anticipate their future trajectory?

A geo-visualisation application called Data to Power, designed to measure, map, and predict soft power—the ability to attract, engage, and influence—has successfully tested a predictive analytics tool to address precisely these questions.

A mapping application employs a prediction model known as linear regression. This model relies on a supervised machine learning algorithm to analyse various data sets as numeric input values, ultimately predicting outcomes. This algorithm is closely tied to computational statistics, using computing to make predictions. It constructs a mathematical model based on historical data, encompassing the inputs (past data) and forecasted outputs, continually refined as actual outputs are received.

This machine learning algorithm trains a dynamic model that processes new data to make increasingly accurate predictions. By leveraging machine learning, the Data to Power mapping application utilises a wealth of previously collected data from open and closed institutional channels. This data is used to formulate a predictive model, transforming data analysis into a robust data intelligence system.

The latest large-scale interdisciplinary research initiative, “Measuring, Mapping, and Forecasting the Global Impacts of Hallyu,” is set to leverage the predictive analytics capabilities of the Data to Power mapping solution. This project aims to harness collected and aggregated datasets to predict the future trajectory, reach, scope, and intensity of the Korean Wave across diverse regions.

This pioneering project is the first of its kind, consolidating and mapping extensive datasets related to various facets of Hallyu’s physical and digital presence. These datasets encompass media and social viewership analytics, consumer trends linked to Korean cultural exports, tourism statistics, spending patterns, and social demographics across countries.

In the realm of Hallyu studies, scholars and government researchers have amassed a wealth of data dispersed across reports, databases, maps, and unexplored materials. These data come from various organisations, including the Korean Foundation for International Cultural Exchange, Korea Creative Content Agency, The World Association for Hallyu Studies, or Korea Culture & Tourism Institute, among others. Surprisingly, no prior effort from academia or industry/government has sought to unite this existing “Dataverse” to manage the Korean Wave better. This becomes especially pertinent in light of the emerging anti-Hallyu movement gaining ground in different parts of the world.”

The future of Hallyu geo-visualisation

The new project aims to employ geo-visualisation to create a dynamic platform for inductive exploration of the Korean Wave’s influence and impacts in different parts of the world, exposing important variables that affect the spread, scope, reach, intensity, and impact, either cultural, economic, social, or even political, of the Korean Wave across time and space. In this way, the project will identify and test all key factors, built on three decades of Hallyu data, in terms of how and to what extent they affect Hally’s success or failures in different geo-locations worldwide, depending on local challenges or opportunities. This will allow us to test the promises of machine learning based on a regression model and to explore the power of prediction analytics to benefit a more informed, strategic, and evidence-based approach to understanding global cultural-economic phenomena, like the Korean Wave, to benefit creative industry development as well as national policy and international diplomacy.


Journal reference

Grincheva, N. (2022). Beyond the scorecard diplomacy: From soft power rankings to critical inductive geography. Convergence28(1), 70-91. https://doi.org/10.1177/13548565221079158

Dr Natalia Grincheva is a Programme Leader in Arts Management at LASALLE, University of the Arts, Singapore, and an Honorary Senior Research Fellow in the Digital Studio at the University of Melbourne. She is an internationally recognised expert in innovative forms and global trends in cultural policy, digital/cultural diplomacy, and international cultural relations. She is the author of two monographs: "Museum Diplomacy in the Digital Age" (Routledge, 2020) and "Global Trends in Museum Diplomacy" (Routledge, 2019). Her new co-authored monograph, "Geopolitics of Digital Heritage," will be released with Cambridge University Press in 2023.