Besides the K-pop and K-dramas, there remains an essential part of the Hallyu Wave. No, I don’t mean the idols or the culture, I mean variety shows. Variety shows are still commonplace today, with Saturday Night Live as a prominent North American example. Korean variety shows are something different. A proud cornerstone of South Korean pop culture, these variety shows are filled with comedy, games, quizzes, unscripted stunts, challenges, sentimentality, and treachery. There’s a little sprinkling of everything, hence the name “variety show”.
Usually, these programs have a broad theme where a multitude of things can unfold. Besides entertaining, they persuade, inform, and educate. We can visit another culture from the comfort of our beds.
South Korean variety shows present a very idealized picture of the country (which seems glaringly opposite to North American reality series). It may not address underlying issues but it still serves as a window into a foreign land. Instead of the smooth, glamorous stars who hide their normality, idols and stars alike reveal a relatable side of themselves. We can see stars like Big Bang crawling through mud, or Zo Insung drinking fish sauce. Besides making us laugh, they can serve to humanize the people we hold aloft on high pedestals.
Another beauty of variety shows is that they can appeal to everyone. Infinite Challenge, 2 Days 1 Night, and Running Man showcase Korea beyond the K-pop image. Instead of intimidating trained K-pop products, we see bits of the altogether more real side of Korea.
Putting the variety in variety shows
With 2 Days 1 Night and Running Man, they often travel to special landmarks and locations. To show the place off, they play hilarious games so you’ll laugh and remember. Whether name tag ripping in the Seoul Arts Centre or touring various national treasures in a one-day race, their excitement is contagious. Facts are shared about the location as well as wide shots of food, culture, and scenery. Infinite Challenge presents absurd challenges and comedic moments with a constant run of “special projects.” Some are heartwarming, such as ToToGa, which showcases past Korean music idols with reunions of bands for special performances. Others are thrilling, such as Wanted by Public, where they are hunted by Busan detectives.
All these shows are dotted with bits of cultural norms, such as games, traditional wrestling, types of food, different dialects, formal vs. informal language, respect for elders, traditions, holidays, and more. The sole purpose of these shows is to entertain but it’s entertainment on a wide scale. They instruct us about the country in a fun and sometimes hidden way. We don’t realize how much we’ve gained until we talk about it.
Variety shows are an integral, independent part of the Hallyu Wave. Appealing to Korean and non-Korean fans, they serve to further showcase all of Korean culture while still making us laugh. Their brand has grown in leaps and bounds and where it goes is going to be an exciting ride.