How has East Asia influenced life in the UK? – Korea

In early 2021 the School of East Asian Studies ran a creative writing competiton for students in years 10, 11 and 12 in the UK. We asked entrants to write an essay that addressed the following question ‘How has East Asia influenced life in the UK?’.

Prizes were awarded in line with out four main undergraduate degree programmes

  • Chinese Studies (Chinese culture, society and politics)
  • Japanese Studies (Japanese culture, society and politics)
  • Korean Studies (Korean culture, society and politics
  • East Asia Studies (East Asia as a cultural, social and political region)


Winning entry
How has East Asia influenced life in the UK? – Korea
Written by Samantha Barret

BTS in concert at Wembley Stadium, 2 June 2019 01

Like many young people in the UK today, I have a profound interest in South Korean Culture and Society- mostly due to my love for South Korean Popular Culture such as K-Pop, Fashion and Makeup Trends. It all started for me in 2015 when I stumbled rather ungracefully on a lesser known group at the time called BTS and after inhaling all of their music videos and flashy dance routines, it’s safe to say I was a little obsessed. I’m incredibly thankful for that accidental YouTube encounter, as it opened me up to a whole world of possibility and culture- it would change my life for the better, and the not so. Over the course of this essay, I will be exploring how South Korean popular media has influenced my life and that of other young people in the UK.
The so called ‘Korean Wave’ has brought about many alterations to English media and its structures; by extension a part of our culture in the UK. The thing that pointedly springs to mind for me in particular is it’s influence on our views on makeup and skincare, with East Asian based makeup and skincare sellers like Yes Style being increasing popular in the UK. Extensive articles from both Glamour and Vouge capitalised on the virality of the ’10 Step K-Beauty Skincare Routine’ and if anything boosted its popularity here in the west and one could argue aided in the boost of the commercialisation of skincare here in the UK, makeup brands in the UK such as NYX and Revolution started releasing lines of makeup that resembled the lighter and glowing feel of Korean Makeup and thus ‘K-Beauty’ solidified its place in the interest of the UK beauty markets. It has motivated me in particular as I now take far better care of my skin and have extensive knowledge in some areas of skincare products and ingredients-all because I liked the glass skin that I saw on many K-Idols.
Korean Media has also changed the way we view beauty- mostly for the better in our part of the world and in the UK. With BTS’ Kim Taehyung aka V being named The Most Handsome Man 2020 over world-renowned actors such as Tom Cruise, Korean Popular Culture has begun a much-needed wave of Asian representation within our beauty media and features that we culturally deem as ‘beautiful’. However, K-pop boy and girl groups have brought about with them a standard of beauty that feels at times unattainable. With their perfect, glowing, and airbrushed skin and near-‘perfect’ bodies can cause people to take a knock at their own self confidence. I remember seeing so called ‘K-Pop Idol Diets’ circulating around the internet at one point during my time in the K-Pop fandom. Personally, I’ve definitely felt the onslaught of a lack of self-confidence due to not appearing like a K-Pop star I idolise, so I have to find beauty in myself in other ways. Korean Media has had a massively positive effect on my life- It’s opened my eyes to a new world and a language that I adore, and it’s helped me through some pretty horrid parts of my development as a teenager and offered messages to me of self-love and acceptance through music and spoken word that is oftentimes overlooked in Pop music in the UK charts right now that I definitely needed and still very much appreciate.
However, it’s not just Makeup and Skincare. The way our music is presented to us has changed so very significantly due to the influence of K-Pop on the general British Discography. For example, British musician Sam Smith’s Music Video for his single ‘How Do You Sleep’ features mostly a catchy choreography and back-up dancers behind Smith, it is extremely reminiscent of a more ‘minimalist’ Korean Idol dance line-up. Our music-based media has changed too, as shows like The Masked Singer sparked a huge flame of popularity here in the UK- and it’s based entirely off of a successful Korean TV programme called King of Mask Singer , which I’ve avidly watched since it’s early years. It was wonderful to see my family enthralled with a programme based upon a show that I gave so many hours to, and the way in which it brought them to ask questions about Korean Media and their newfound interest in it made it apparent to me that you don’t have to be in a niche circle to be interested in South Korean Culture. There has also been a very recent competition programme on UK television which is evocative of shows such as the Produce series from Korea. Little Mix’s The Search raked through contestants in both singing and dancing to see which group ultimately made it out on top. Overall, our music media has changed almost entirely, with popular K-Pop sounds making their way into the western hemisphere and generally changing everything up a bit, even for long running shows such as X-Factor. Simon Cowell in a scouting video for X-Factor in 2019 said, “Right now K-Pop you could argue is ruling the world,”- and he’s not far off.
Korean Popular Culture and the people associated as the faces of it are making moves that will hopefully spread awareness and change the world for the better. Recently, K-Pop Megastars Black Pink spoke to the BBC about the importance of recognising Climate Change in the upcoming major UN Conference being held in the UK. Black Pink have a very large following of young people in the UK and by reaching out they’ve joined the wave of influential people in British Media for environmental issues and although it was a short speech, it was very much appreciated by those of us struggling to find a voice on issues such as global warming in the UK. They’ve also been recognised by the Prime Minister and he has written to thank them for their support in the heavily important matter for us all.
In conclusion, Korean Popular Culture had influenced our ideas on self-care and beauty, as well as altered the way music-based entertainment is presented to us in the UK, just to name a few. On a more personal level, growing up Autistic, Korean Pop Culture such as Korean Dramas and music has given me a sense of belonging in a world where I often feel as though I’m drifting down the wrong path of the river constantly. I’ve always been avidly interested in languages and how they form and continue, but I’ve never been so interested as I am in the Korean Language. I’m a very creative person and Korean Media and art as well as the art of other East Asian countries have hugely influenced my creative output and inspired me to make more art than I ever did before hand- sometimes just a line from a song is enough to make me get out the acrylics and brushes. Korean Culture and Media to me is an interest that I so vividly adore, so I would love to share it with everyone, and I love seeing it make waves across our culture and changing things for the better.