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For Many Youths, Korean Pop Culture Is Still a Hit

South Korean K-Pop group EXO poses prior to the K-POP Awards 2014 in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
South Korean K-Pop group EXO poses prior to the K-POP Awards 2014 in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

Over the last few decades, a lot of cultures have been filtered through Cambodian media. But the pop culture of South Korea seems to have the most staying power.

Korean fashion, music and reality shows are all a part of Cambodian youth culture, and that has only gotten more pervasive with the spread of the Internet. That means Cambodian programming is taking a hit, with the culture of the country shifting toward new influences.

“I have my own idols, and I like watching Korean shows,” Kheang Vouchkheng, a fourth-year student at International University, told VOA Khmer. She watches reality shows like “We Got Married,” which puts strangers together in hopes that they’ll fall in love. “There’s no such show in Cambodia. I like their concept.”

She can spend hours watching episodes of the show on YouTube, which means she isn’t watching typical programming on Cambodia’s broadcast channels. Cambodian programs don’t really do much to enlighten her, she said. There are some that she likes, however. Love9, for example, which gives good advice to young people.

Following this trend, the Cambodia News Channel in May officially began cooperation with MBCTV, of South Korea, to show more Korean programming. Moun Ramady, director of CNC, told VOA Khmer that the idea is to have K-pop that helps with the CNC brand. “Not just in Cambodia, but in other countries as well, K-pop is popular among the youth,” he said. Even teenagers follow Korean styles, he said.

CNC now mixes Korean concerts and drama into its programming, even as it has begun production of its own game show for the near future, he said. But Cambodian budgets are small, and production can be less polished. “In the future, we are hoping that the commercials on television will grow and get a high budget to produce good quality shows to compete with others.”

Thai Noraksathya, a spokesman for the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, said globalization and technological development require Cambodian youth to adapt to new cultures, while trying to keep the old. Cambodia’s institutions could learn much “from the outside,” he said.

For now, K-pop is king. “Korean TV shows are very entertaining and realistic,” Mony Kann Darung, an independent filmmaker, said. “They also explore different creative games concepts, starring famous K-pop artists. By doing so, they can expose a different, personal side of those stars to the audiences.”

Most Cambodian TV shows carry the local jokes that can be quite popular for local audiences, but can also be overdone sometimes, he said. They also lack creativity in hooking audiences to look for more. And it’s hard to compete with the entertainment quality of Korean programming, he said. “When Cambodian youths turn to Korean TV shows, the local industry will suffer. However, without those foreign shows to compete with, the local industry won’t grow as fast, and they wouldn’t try to standardize their shows in order to get back into the competition. So a little competition is healthy.”