Congratulatory Remarks on “K-Pop and Innovation” at 2020 New Year Seminar

Harry Harris
U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Korea
2020 New Year Seminar: K-Pop and Innovation
January 14, 2020


President Lee Geun, Professor Lee Jang-woo, President Kim Ki-woong, President Lee Soo-man, seminar organizers, ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you very much for inviting me here today to join this 2020 New Year Seminar, which is a celebration of the success of K-Pop, and by extension, contemporary Korean culture. And what an apt theme for this year’s meeting: the world is abuzz with K-Pop! Wildly popular here at home in the ROK, K-Pop has now established a global brand and following.

Distinguished by slick harmonies, creative choreography, and the latest in fashion and style, K-Pop now boasts hundreds of millions of ardent fans worldwide. And if the fans don’t speak Korean? No problem, they learn the lyrics phonetically. Kids from Tennessee to Timbuktu are motivated to study the Korean language – which I know from experience is not easy to learn – heem-du-roh-yo! – so they can understand the meaning of the songs, as well as enjoy the melodic hooks.

I understand today’s seminar examines K-Pop as an example of the evolution of the Korean economic model from a “fast follower” to a genuine innovator. While familiar strains of American popular and hip-hop music can be heard in K-Pop, Korean musicians have shown exceptional creativity through the genre’s evolution and global rise. Groups like BTS, BLACKPINK, EXO, and Red Velvet are topping America’s famed Billboard Chart. Pioneers like Mr. Lee Soo-man, who will give the keynote speech today, helped groomed these supergroups and paved the way for the Korean wave.

And Korean musicianship, like Korean technical knowledge and manufacturing excellence, has always been world-class. This is another area in which America and Korea have mutually benefited from our close bilateral relationship.

As several folks have joked, Boston’s Berklee School of Music might have closed years ago were it not for all of the talented Korean musicians who have studied there. PSY, the Gangnam-style Oppa himself, studied at Berklee. I urge any budding musicians in the audience today to consider bringing your talents to a U.S. university for training, which will enrich both their student body and your career prospects.

And not only can individual artists and groups make a career in music, a K-pop has proved to be a great financial boon for the ROK economy. K-Pop and related merchandising, tourism, etc., promise to contribute trillions of won to the Korean economy over the next few years.

And the United States will continue to partner with our Korean friends to ensure that this intellectual property is protected, so that content creators realize the fruits of their labors and that revenues generated are brought back home to the ROK.

And while it may be sacrilege to say in this temple of finance, there are some things even more important than economic benefits. The way that cultural products have raised and burnished South Korea’s profile and reputation on the world stage – with the wild popularity of K-Pop, and “Parasite” recently winning a Golden Globe, and being nominated for multiple Oscars – is something that money can’t buy.

In short: Korea is cool! Other countries want to be more like Korea. So, hat tip to ROK artists, businesses, government, and the media, who have turned this Korea Wave into a soft power tsunami and marketing blitz for Korea and Korean products that is the envy of every nation.

Thank you again for permitting me to join you all today. I very much look forward to seeing what comes next in K-Pop, which is demonstrating to the world what those of us lucky enough to live here see every day: that there is no country more innovative than South Korea, which America is proud to call our great friend and staunch ally.

Gam sah hap nida.