How K-Pop Is Conquering Algeria
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
K-pop is stirring the hearts of Algerian youth.
By Eromo Egbejule
- The Korean pop wave is spreading in an unlikely new region: the deserts of Algeria.
- It’s sparking a broader fascination with Korean culture in the North African nation.
On March 1, 2019, Algerians began pouring into the streets for a hirak (Arabic for “movement”) that forced Abdelaziz Bouteflika, president since 1999, to resign five weeks later. A large number of the demonstrators were young — 70 percent of the population is under the age of 30 — and they mobilized social media to make the campaign viral and tackle misinformation. They used placards that encapsulated the frustrations of the millennials while simultaneously highlighting the rise of K-pop in a part of the world with its own, very special musical forms.
The placards used lyrics from BTS (Bangtan Boys), a seven-man group whose popularity has exploded around the world in the last decade as a culmination of hallyu, the Korean wave of soft power that’s been wafting from Seoul since the ’90s. Earlier this year, the band donated $1 million to the Black Lives Matter movement, following in the footsteps of their global fan network that has actively supported political and human rights causes across the world, from police brutality in Chile to racism in the U.S.
In Algeria, the genre has inspired such ardent fandom that young people now dress like K-pop stars and incorporate Korean phrases into their everyday speech. Two years ago, a crowd of young people celebrated the 22nd birthday of BTS vocalist Kim Tae-hyung, singing and waving their phones in the dark. Last year, the BTS Army — as the fanbase calls itself — customized balloons and raised a billboard at a busy mall in Algiers to celebrate the birthday of Park Ji-min, another BTS member. Last year, the South Korean Embassy in Algiers organized a K-pop “world festival” with singing and dancing competitions that it claimed took place in almost 100 countries worldwide.
Fadhela Manar Mezmaz, the 22-year-old spokesperson for the BTS Algeria team, tells OZY that the hallyu wave in the country began around 2008 when Algeria’s national TV started airing Korean TV dramas and series like 대장금 (Jewel in the Palace) and My Lovely Sam Soon. Then came “Gangnam Style,” the 2012 megahit by the quirky rapper Psy.
Nowadays, it’s common to find someone [in Algeria] with Korean added to their résumé.
Fadhela Manar Mezmaz, spokesperson, BTS Algeria
Jewel in the Palace, a 15th century historical romance about a chef working for the royal family who becomes a beloved physician, was such a hit in Asia that Chinese President Hu Jintao became a fan. “It’s a pity that I cannot watch Daejanggeum [the show’s Korean title] every day because I am so busy,” Jintao is reported to have told his counterpart, Lee Myung-bak, during an August 2018 visit to Seoul.
In North Africa, Mezmaz says, “it resulted in piquing interest in Korean culture in general, and eventually people got introduced to K-pop music.” These days, networks like state-owned Arirang TV and KBS World that broadcast from Seoul to an overseas audience are a common fixture on TV stations in Algiers. More Algerians are also curious about Korean hairstyles, fashion, food, makeup and beauty standards.
“There’s a demand for language schools with Korean courses,” says Mezmaz. “The fans want to cross the language barrier with their artists and be able to easily communicate and support them. Nowadays, it’s common to find someone with Korean added to their résumé.”
The youngsters have also tapped into the global fanbase, supporting K-pop ’stans — as obsessive fans of the genre are called — elsewhere in the world. Online, they host streaming parties and come together to fight xenophobia and any discrimination their favorites face. Offline, they organize charity and volunteer projects, and arrange group orders for physical albums and merchandise.
A five-man squad consisting of members between the ages of 17 to 28 handles content for the BTS Algeria social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Their hope is that after the pandemic, the pop stars can have a concert in the North African country.
“The fandom is known for its infinite dedication to the boys,” says Mezmaz. “They use their voice to shine inspiration and hope, and our role is to assist them in delivering their positivity and break barriers.”
- Eromo Egbejule