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K-pop in Ekta Kapoor serials — the Korea-India YouTube boom no one saw coming

Dramaholic, Drama Master to Ishideukie—Gen-Z content creators on YouTube are entertaining audiences with unique Bollywood and K-pop crossover videos.

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What would Korean dramas be like if Karan Johar directed them? In the vast universe of YouTube, a video puts this imagination to rest. The end game is a hilarious montage of K-drama clips fused with overplayed music scores from classic KJo movies.

The background score plays a sentimental tune from the 2003 Bollywood multi-starrer Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Ghamfrom the iconic scene where Jaya Bachchan runs to welcome Shah Rukh Khan as he makes a fashionable descent from a chopper. But on screen, one sees a clip from the hit 2016 K-drama, Descendants of the Sun. Here, actor Song Joong Ki’s character gets out of a helicopter in the fictional town of Urk.

The K-drama-KJo mashup video has racked up more than 5 lakh views. Available on a YouTube channel called Dramaholic, it was the brainchild of then-17-year-old Ahana Dubey from Lucknow.

Today, this 20-year-old YouTuber’s channel boasts 3.13 lakh subscribers. Ahana is part of the young brood of leading Gen-Z content creators in India who make videos around the axis of K-dramas and K-pop music. It’s a treacherous territory that banks on content already owned by production houses and music labels, making them vulnerable to copyright threats. However, their passion for making videos and their love for dramas and music from South Korea has trained them to navigate these regulations skillfully.

But can love be a befitting word to sum up their not-entirely-original content? It may not be the most convincing but it is undoubtedly an easier way to comprehend why they invest so much time and effort in return for minimum remuneration.

A hilarious crossover  

Ahana’s list of comic compilations also features If K-dramas Were Directed by Ekta Kapoor. The seven-minute video mixes bits from Korean TV serials with Kapoor’s trademark close-up shots and frozen frames. It finishes off with the sound of thunder and all other accompanying dramatic music. At one point, the creator adds a comedic side note on the screen: “Don’t know how I survived while making this.”

And viewers are, quite evidently, in splits. “That ‘dhumtananananan’ is the most iconic moment,” for one, was the most-liked comment under this video.

Another viewer wrote that Kapoor would have dragged K-dramas to 1,000 episodes if she had the chance: “The leads would separate and remarry countless times, 20-year leaps with kids taking over the show, saas-bahu drama, close-up shots of each character every time they give a reaction…”

There’s also If K-drama Stars Advertised Indian Products, a quirky mix of scenes from Korean soaps with voiceovers from Sunsilk and Boost advertisements. Old ad clips from dairy cooperative Amul also feature in the video, which has nearly 90,000 views on YouTube.

Prakrati Dubey, a 21-year-old content creator from Madhya Pradesh who helms a fan channel called Drama Master, also has an inventory of funny videos. Hers are a crossover of K-dramas and Indian songs under the ‘Korean-Hindi mix’ category. One such video perfectly fuses clips from the 2017 K-drama Suspicious Partner and a song from the Bollywood movie Jolly LLB 2 (2017). The common link between the two is that the lead character is a lawyer. There’s also the teenage romance Boys over Flowers (2009)with the song Main Tera Boyfriend (2017) playing in the background.

“I used to make culture-mix videos years ago, but they didn’t get much recognition. I still like those edits of mine, and some of them are still up on my channel,” she said.

Twenty-year-old Ishita Tripathi from Noida had several videos removed from her channel Ishideukie, many of which were hybrid videos like these. But she has managed to retain this content on Instagram. One of them shows Nayeon, a band member from the K-pop band Twicesuperimposed on an Indian wedding scene. “She really be the IT girl at the sangeet stage,” the video says.

However, creators made such videos in their early days. Today, with diverse subscriber demography—from the US to the Philippines to Russia– they prefer making videos with a universal appeal instead of using too many local references.

Also read: After K-pop, K-drama, K-food, Indian fans are now getting married the Korean way

How it started 

Apart from Ahana’s Dramaholic, Prakrati’s Drama Master (with 4.49 lakh subscribers) and Ishita’s Ishideukie (with 1.13 lakh subscribers) are two YouTube channels piloting such content on social mediaIt is serendipitous that all three channels happen to be helmed by women who began making content as teenagers. In hindsight, they reminisce how this outlet positively shaped them as adults.

Unlike most social media influencers—who collaborate with others of their brood and often appear on screens together—these three content creators haven’t ever met each other. They are self-proclaimed introverts who found comfort in the world of Korean popular culture and overlapped it with their interest in making videos. They continue creating such content alone, with no help from any fancy marketing team.

But their mutual love for Korean pop culture did lead to friendship: Dramaholic’s Ahana reached out to Drama Master’s Prakrati in 2018, and the two have been internet pen pals ever since.

Their stories run almost parallel: Both were pulled into the vortex of K-pop content by videos mixing Korean content with Hindi songs—a rage on YouTube around 2017.

“There are two stories of me discovering K-dramas. First, my best friend introduced me to them. In 2017, Descendants of the Sun with Hindi dubbing was aired on [the] Zindagi channel in India. I watched it for like 5 minutes and switched the TV off,” recalled Prakrati.

Later, she rediscovered K-dramas through Hindi mix music videos made by random fan channels of Korean content. “I watched Legend of the Blue Sea [2016] on YouTube. I liked the mermaid concept, so I began watching. That’s how I am in this whole K-drama mess now,” Prakrati added.

Ahana was also hooked on videos of Korean edits on Hindi songs and wanted to know the whole story behind them. This sudden curiosity prompted her eventual segue into the K-pop fandom.

For Ishita, it was K-pop music from the yesteryears, starting with girl band 2NE1, which led her into the Korean content rabbit hole in 2015.

A second-year college student pursuing design, Ishita hopes her content-making hobby can materialise into a lucrative career in studio set or video game designing.

“Before my K-pop channel, I had this channel for Marvel, which I started when I was in middle school. And while surfing, YouTube miraculously gave me a recommendation for 2NE1’s [I AmThe Best. I was looking for something badass in my life then and the video was it. That led me to K-pop and I started listening to Bigbang and other groups like EXO, BTS, and Twice,” Ishita shared.

Her obsession with creating and “falling deeper into her area of interest” led her to the Marvel channel, and the same story replayed when she started Ishideukie in 2018.

Also read: You go in for pop culture, but stay for the language—why Korean is India’s new favourite

K-drama ‘world domination’

When Ahana started her channel in 2017, getting access to K-dramas was a colossal struggle. It was before the OTT boom and the Covid-19 pandemic—eras during which the popularity of Korean content soared to new heights in India.

“In 2017, people used to make fun of me. K-dramas weren’t very popular so I got a lot of negativity. But editing made me happy. And now I really enjoy it,” said the Lucknowite, who also enjoys Korean food, Korean fashion and K-pop music.

Prakrati introduces herself on her channel as a fan “who wants K-drama world domination.” And according to her, the wish has come true. A lot has changed in the last five years: From when she only found bad-quality K-drama episodes to now when there is no shortage of easy access.

“In India, the Korean wave is not just a wave now. it’s a tsunami. You can say that all around the world. There is a big chunk of people who appreciate Korean culture. Not only girls but boys as well,” she said, noting that K-entertainment has grown a lot “due to easy availability in India.”

Prakrati says her YouTube journey has been enlightening. She has understood more about her journalism and mass communication degree, learnt lessons in human nature, and acquired a “little bit more knowledge about different cultures and opinions” through her channel.

Also read: Kimchi and parathas – There’s a winner in Korea’s soft power game in India

Stop the K-pop fan wars

Unlike K-dramas, the story of K-pop accessibility took a different flight. The easy availability of music videos on YouTube steered the global popularity of Korean pop music.

The K-pop fan culture also varies from its K-drama counterpart. A K-pop fan creator focuses on a particular group, unlike K-drama content creators who aren’t confined to just one soap opera.

“I started with second-generation K-pop bands which weren’t very active. So I focused on groups like BTS, Blackpink, Twice, GOT7 and EXO. I saw the statistics and realised that people really wanted to see Twice videos a lot more,” said Ishita.

However, what catapulted her channel to fame was a video trying to end a notoriously infamous characteristic within K-pop fandom – fan wars.

“I really dislike people not respecting other idols. Instead of just talking about stopping this practice, I thought I could create the series ‘Stop the fan wars’. One of the videos in that series about Blackpink and BTS boomed up… I remember waking up and shaking as I had 500k views overnight,” she recalled.

While Ishita’s channel was gaining popularity in the virtual space, those around her were less enthusiastic. Most told her that her content simply wouldn’t take off. “Most didn’t care about it enough to hate it or love it. Right now, I feel they welcome the culture a lot. They find similarities,” she noted.

Also read: K-dramas can teach Bollywood a much-needed lesson on romance

Navigating challenges – racism & creators’ block 

Running a successful YouTube channel was a lesson in adulting for the three creators.

The bane of putting out compilation videos prevents a lot of content creators from getting YouTube’s monetisation nod. Both Dramaholic and Drama Master earn through paid promotions.

Ishita was able to clear the monetisation gateway but had to overhaul her channel after the platform changed its policies in 2019, dubbed among the community as the ‘Adpocalypse’.

“Because a lot of my content was a compilation—although I used to speak very less—most of my content got debarred. I had to delete 43 videos to revamp my channel,” said Ishita.

Money or not, it was a serotonin boost for teenagers who cracked the code to millions of views. But success also meant facing unpleasant comments.

“When I had just begun, I faced a lot of racism. At times, it was Indians with hateful comments but other times it was from the West,” Ishita said.

She narrates how users picked on her name and accent.

“Ishi (her nickname) can be of Japanese origin, right… So people commented, ‘don’t try to be Japanese’. Your name is probably Shanti Priya,” recalled Ishita.

For Ahana and Ishita, humour and comedy are unique selling points. But for a lone person, posting content almost every week–the usual benchmark for most YouTubers–is a task.

“It takes a lot of time to find the exact scene of the drama that I need. I don’t have a team helping me; I do it on my own,” Ahana said, who usually posts three videos a month and manages to squeeze in one more if there is time.

Though a slump in ideas pushed Ahana to the brink of closing her channel in the past, reading old comments appreciating her content motivates her to keep going.

Prakrati says she is one of the few fortunate creators who haven’t received negativity for their content.

“There is negativity, and there is positivity. I just want to create a community where people can be happy,” she said.

(Edited by Zoya Bhatti)

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