BTS is breaking YouTube records. The group is becoming a well-known face on Billboard. “Squid Game” became Netflix’s biggest series launch ever, worth almost $900 million, according to Bloomberg. Korean dramas are becoming a staple in American entertainment. Recently, Phoenix entered into a sister cities agreement with the South Korean city of Suwon. The popularity of Korean culture is becoming an accepted part of American life and is expected to continue to rise in popularity.

“Honestly, it’s a bit confusing and shocking to me to see how popular it has gotten in such a relatively short time,” Emilie Shin, president of Arizona State University’s Korean American Student Association (KASA), said.

She recalls being looked down upon by her peers in elementary school for the Korean food her mother packed for her. Now, Korean culture is receiving an endless amount of exposure and popularity.

READ ALSO: Westgate Entertainment District adds 8 new tenants to lineup

During the 2000s and 2010s, Korean culture slowly seeped into the American conscience. Wonder Girls, a K-pop girl group, came to the U.S. and performed its song “Nobody” on American television in 2009. In 2012, PSY, a Korean singer, released his viral hit song “Gangnam Style.” However, the popularity of Korean entertainment took a turn when people had easier access to the internet.

In recent years, technology has advanced to a point where anything can be easily accessed with the push of a button. The rise of Korean culture’s presence in America is due to the entertainment industry being so easily digestible globally thanks to technology, Shin said.

Youngju Lee, a member of ASU KASA, also holds similar sentiments.

As technology innovates and people have more exposure on social media, it gets a lot easier to introduce Korean culture, starting from food, music and culture,” she said. With easier access to the internet, it wasn’t long before America was introduced to BTS.

“I would say BTS has been paving the way for Korean culture’s popularity and exposure on a global level,” Shin said.

The global K-pop sensation has had a great deal of influence ever since the group attended the Billboard Music Awards in 2017. Since then, the group has become a dominant force within the American music industry, garnering hundreds of millions of views on YouTube with their music videos. The group also has over 43 million monthly listeners on Spotify. BTS is a music powerhouse.

Yoori Han, an ASU student, agrees with Shin.

“For me, I honestly think that BTS paved the road for all the K-pop artists,” she said. She says that as BTS gained popularity, American audiences became more open in listening to Korean music. This led to more Americans listening to different Korean artists.

“When people started listening to their [BTS’s] music, they realized that it’s really good,” Katarina Thompson, a sophomore at ASU and avid fan of Korean culture, said. “They realized just because it’s in a different language it’s not bad.” As Americans were introduced to Korean music, they were also slowly introduced to Korean forms of entertainment.

Recently, Netflix’s “Squid Game” has become a popular series which many enjoyed watching. Even before “Squid Game,” Bong Joon-ho’s 2019 film “Parasite” became critically acclaimed, receiving global praise. It won four Oscars at the Academy Awards.

For many avid watchers, the plots of Korean shows and films are what draws them in. “Squid Game” shows the dangers and extreme competition within capitalism. The toxicity of greed is a focal theme in “Parasite.” While they are foreign films, they contain themes and messages that anyone can understand and appreciate.

Nevertheless, there is worry as to what this exposure will bring.

Thompson fears that this rise in popularity will begin a rinse-and-repeat cycle. She states that when those in the industry realize that a certain formula works, she worries that the creative and unique style of Korean films, dramas and music will deteriorate.

Shin believes that the exposure will lead to an idolization of Korean culture.

“Many people will only see and understand Korean culture on a surface level,” she said. “I know this makes a lot of people want to live there or praise the culture and people. Just like any other country, Korea isn’t perfect and has a lot of negatives as well.”

To those unfamiliar with Korean culture but want to understand it, there are simple steps that can be taken.

“If you’re looking to understand Korea, you should look into Korean traditions, you should look into Korean food, you should look up the language a little bit,” Thompson said. “Remember that it’s a culture. It’s a whole country. Don’t romanticize it so much. Keep it real.”

I think the best way is to learn the Korean language, at least the basic words. I believe language definitely opens more doors to people and also helps them embrace the culture better,” Lee said.

As Korean culture continues to thrive in the U.S., one thing must be remembered. To fully understand and appreciate a culture, an individual must put in the effort. Researching, reading, and watching things related to Korean culture can go a long way. The alternative is confusion. Shin puts it into simple terms.

“Keep an open mind.”