From BTS to KBBQ: How South Korea shaped world culture

South Korean barbeque

Danny Baggs

Posted August 22, 2022

South Korea’s cultural power is on the rise around the world. Here are some of the most influential South Korean phenomena in Australia and around the world, from motor vehicles and K-pop to K-dramas and cuisine.

The ‘Korean wave’ or popular spread of South Korean culture has been globally influential since the turn of the 21st century: so much so that the terms Korean wave and hallyu (‘wave/flow of Korea’) were even added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2021.

South Korea is now a popular travel destination alongside Japan in East Asia, as tourists in love with the country’s catchy tunes, tasty cuisine and popular technology make plans to travel the nation’s sub-tropical islands, high-tech cities, ancient Buddhist temples and coastal fishing villages.

The rise of South Korea's cultural economy

Hyundai and Kia

‘Hyundai’ means ‘modernity’ in Korean, which is fitting considering this company created Korea’s first automobile. In recent years, Hyundai has grown into one of the most popular car brands in Australia and the world, as has its sporty subsidiary Kia. In 2021, Hyundai and Kia together captured 13.4 per cent of the Australian new car sales, beaten only by Toyota at 21.3 per cent. The Hyundai i30 was the sixth most popular model in 2021, with 25,575 vehicles sold across Australia. Hyundai also owns the EV brand Ioniq and the luxury car brand Genesis, making it one of the world’s largest car manufacturers.

While Hyundai and Kia vehicles have been traditionally recognised as economical and reliable transportation, both are now leading brands in the global electrification race and pushing the boundaries of car design. The recently-launched Hyundai Ioniq 5 and Kia EV 6 have both won critical acclaim around the world and quickly sold out in Australia.

Kia's EV6 electric vehicle has won critical acclaim around the world.

Korean barbecue

Korean cuisine like Korean BBQ has surged in popularity across Melbourne. Known locally as gogi gui (‘meat roast’), the Korean barbeque sees diners seated around gas or charcoal grills to grill their own meat cuts. The smell of smoky, sizzling meat is strong in a Korean BBQ venue, although some restaurants include copper ventilation shafts that hang from the ceiling and suck up the fumes from your table.

Common Korean BBQ cuts include bulgogi (thin-sliced marinated beef), galbi (beef short ribs), dak galbi (spicy marinated chicken) and samgyeopsal (pork belly). The meat is often wrapped in lettuce and dipped in condiments like ssamjang (spicy paste) before eating. Korean BBQ also comes with delicious banchan (side dishes) that complement the meaty mains. Popular Korean side dishes include kimchi (fermented cabbage), tteokbokki (hot rice cakes) and pajeori (spicy green onion salad). The meal is usually paired with drinks like soju (distilled liquor), makgeolli (rice wine) or Korean beer. 
Acclaimed Koren BBQ restaurants in Melbourne include Guhng in Melbourne CBD, Towoo in Surrey Hills, Mansae in Melbourne CBD, and Mrs Kim’s Grill in Carnegie. Since, unlike other cuisines, Korean doesn’t yet have a notable cultural food hub in Melbourne, use an app like arevo to get around and try the best Korean BBQ restaurants spread across the city. 
After a truly authentic foodie experience? Hop aboard a real food adventure in South Korea covering everything from from bibimbap to bustling street food markets.

person flipping meat on a Korean BBQ

Korean BBQ is a dining experience that is loved across Melbourne. Image: Getty

K-pop and “Gangnam Style”

The pop dance song “Gangnam Style” by South Korean singer/rapper Psy took the world by storm in 2012 thanks to its addictively catchy tune, goofy dance moves and sardonic lyrics spoofing the fashionable Gangnam District in Seoul, which Psy has likened to California’s Beverly Hills. It reached 500,000 views on YouTube on the first day of its release and became the first video to reach 1 billion YouTube views - it now has over 4.5 billion. “Gangnam Style” also topped domestic and international pop charts, leading directly to an increased global interest in K-pop. It remains the fourth best-selling single in Australian music history and is the first Korean song to reach #1 on Australian charts.

K-pop – an umbrella term that covers Korean pop, hip-hop, rock and electronic music – has flooded the mainstream music market over the last decade. Global audiences are entranced by K-pop stars’ coordinated dance moves, super-polished looks and pop culture references. But unlike many Western music stars, who are ‘discovered’ on YouTube or talent shows, the Korean music industry sees children join their entertainment labels as trainees. They spend months to years training in singing, dancing and other practices before they debut solo or as a group. Famous K-pop groups have included BTS, Blackpink (starring Rosé, who was raised in Australia), Shinee, Super Junior, Big Bang, and EXO. Australians can’t seem to get enough: in 2017, the country became the seventh country worldwide to host KCON, an annual K-pop convention. BTS has had a massive impact on South Korea's economy: the group has been the world's best-selling musicians for two years running (2020 and 2021), and their 64 million Instagram followers make BTS the most-followed music group on the entire app.


gangnam station in seoul's gangnam district

The eclectic Gangnam District in Seoul was spoofed in Psy's "Gangnam Style" global hit in 2012.


Taekwondo is a popular Korean martial art that emphasises fast, agile kicks to the head and upper body. It’s so popular in South Korea that most children take taekwondo lessons at some point for fitness, self-defence and mental strength. You can find many non-Koreans wearing a dobok (taekwondo uniform) to their taekwondo classes across the world.

Taekwondo is sometimes mistakenly attributed to Japan or China. In reality, taekwondo was developed during the 1940s and 50s by Korean martial artists with experience in Japanese karate, Chinese kung fu, and indigenous Korean martial arts like taekkyeon, subak and gwonbeop. Taekwondo remains the only Korean martial art that is an official Olympic sport and the sport is practiced by over 100 million people worldwide. 

If you want to learn taekwondo yourself, or enrol your kids, the martial art has centres and classes all around Melbourne.


man performing a taekwondo kick

Taewkondo is practiced all around the world and is popular in Melbourne. Image: Getty

K-dramas and Squid Game

Korean dramas, or K-dramas, are short-term TV shows with high-drama storylines, bingeable runtimes and fascinating portrayals of Korean fashion, culture and scenery. The genre achieved massive fame worldwide with the 2021 release of the brutal survival drama Squid Game on Netflix. Squid Game remains Netflix’s most-watched series, having been viewed by more than 142 million households and collected 1.65 billion viewing hours during its first four weeks of release. K-dramas are now so popular in Australia that Netflix Australia has an entire category dedicated to the genre. Particularly popular K-drama shows include Descendants of the Sun, Full House, Jewel in the Palace and Boys Over Flowers.

Korean movies are also increasingly popular, with the Busan International Film Festival drawing more crowds every year and particularly popular films airing on Netflix and other streaming services. The 2019 black comedy thriller Parasite proved particularly successful: it took in over $1.9 million in Australian box office sales, making it the highest-grossing Korean film of all time in Australia. The cutting cinematic social commentary went on to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards (the first ever non-English language film to do so) and the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival (the first South Korean movie). Other South Korean movie masterpieces include Okja, Oldboy, Snowpiercer and Train to Busan.  
To experience Korean cinema for yourself, you can attend the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) in August, the Korean Film Festival in Australia in September, or grab cheap movie tickets to cinemas showing Korean flicks.

neon signs in Seoul

Interest in South Korean culture and travel experiences has surged in recent years. Image: Getty


South Korea’s leading export is electronics, and no wonder, considering that global powerhouse Samsung calls the country home. Looking around your home, you might notice the Samsung logo on your television, air conditioner, display monitor, refrigerator, dishwasher, printer, washing machine, clothes dryer, vacuum cleaner, microwave...and of course, your laptop, tablet or mobile phone.

In fact, Samsung rewrote smartphone history several times over, from developing cutting-edge displays to waterproof protection. And it doesn’t stop there: Samsung even created many of Apple’s computer chips for their own iPhones and iPads.

Innovations since these have helped Samsung transform South Korea into one of the world’s leading economies. According to Forbes, Samsung has the eighth highest global brand value as of 2020.


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