By Alix Norman
Hallyu shouldn’t appeal to me. I’m a minimalist, classical music loving thirty-something, with a wardrobe of neutrals. Whereas this is an assault on the senses, all eye-watering colour and hyper energetic music that appeals to those in their teens and twenties. Plus, it’s all in a foreign language! But the more Crystal shows me, the more I’m drawn in to this entirely alien world of Korean pop culture. The clothing is fantastical – a riot of feathers and neon, leather and bling; the music is beat-heavy, all sound and rap and flash; the idols are polished pop stars and striking actors… it’s the antithesis of everything I am, and yet Korean culture (also known as Hallyu) and everything it stands for, is eminently appealing. I defy anyone, of any age, not to be fascinated by a movement bursting with such energy and enthusiasm.
Perhaps it’s the sense of community, safety and clean-living that it promotes. It’s the antithesis of western angst (heavy rock, metal, emo) to which so many young people ascribe. It’s about hard work (some of the stars train for years to get to where they are) and society and respect – all the values, Crystal tells me, that one sees in South Korea. And she should know. Not only is she head of Cyprus’ fan group, HallyuCY, she’s also been to Korea. Twice!
“I’ve been to Seoul, and to Gyeongju, attended festivals and seen lots of groups,” she reveals. “It’s a different world: everything is tidy and well-organised, the people very respectful and the language beautiful. What’s really amazing about the country is the blend of modern and traditional,” she says, showing me her bespoke hanbok (traditional Korean costume), “and the history and culture of the country are amazing.”
A culture, then, that respects the old while fostering the new – an idea which western nations might do well to embrace. But how did Hallyu (which translates, literally, as ‘flow of Korea’) become so big that dedicated groups have sprung up all over the world? Even here in Cyprus!
Well, the local Hallyu movement is mostly down to Crystal herself who, while studying to be a make-up artist in London, came across K-drama – an addictive type of Korean miniseries – and was immediately fascinated. “When I moved back to Cyprus,” Crystal explains, “I decided to create a Facebook group around Korean culture. At first it was just me, posting away and pretty much talking to myself. But then others started stumbling across the page, realising that someone else in Cyprus shared their passion!”
Four years on, HallyuCY stands at 293 members and growing, with regular activities and events to inform, promote and share everything K-wave. “We organise a number of gatherings throughout the year,” says Crystal. “Arts and crafts, cooking sessions, Korean karaoke nights, K-pop dance cover meetings, afternoon bubble tea get-togethers, and cosy film nights. Tonight,” she adds, “we’re off to a Korean fusion dinner, and tomorrow we’ll be celebrating Pepero Day” – a festivity similar to Valentine’s Day, in which special biscuits are shared by loved ones.
“We’ve also taken part in Cyprus ComicCon, and even been invited to attend a Korean Culture Night, organised by the Korean Embassy in Athens, which celebrated 20 years of diplomacy between Cyprus and Korea.” It was an event, she says, which was amazing: “As early as 2015, we were in contact with the Embassy; they’ve been very supportive of our efforts. Being invited to the Culture Night was an absolute highlight: we saw some incredible performances by well-known dance groups and musicians.”
While the majority of the members keep abreast of everything Hallyu via the Facebook page, there’s a very strong core group who really involve themselves in the day-to-day business of appreciating and promoting K-wave. They often meet at Crystal’s house for educational events (“we’ve been learning the language, studying the alphabet recently with the help of some Korean friends”) or to sample Korean food – a cuisine which comprises “spicy, sweet and salty tastes, all at the same time. It’s some of the most intense flavours you can imagine!” says Crystal.
With the group members ranging in age from 15 to nearly 30, one thing that’s a top priority for HalluCY is safety. “Parents are sometimes cautious,” she suggests. “If we were celebrating German or Italian culture, they’d think nothing of it, but I guess because this is Asian, it’s considered different, and people don’t always know what to expect. But we’re very careful: we don’t allow alcohol to anyone under 18; we don’t post our meeting places publicly; we check applicants’ profiles and only add those who are genuinely interested.
“Of course, anyone can apply to join,” she adds. “And it’s great to know that HallyuCY is bringing people together. Being alone and liking something so different can be hard, so it’s great for members to see there are more people out there with the same interests. It helps to build confidence, and knowledge: we’re learning cooking, arts and crafts, dancing, drawing… it’s creative and educational.”
As a non-profit group (any funds go straight back into hosting events) the group is always on the look out for more fans of Korean culture. “We really want this community to grow,” Crystal adds. “We’re looking to organise larger scale events such as K-pop parties and Korean cinema screenings, hopefully with the support of the Korean Embassy. So far,” she concludes, “the feedback has been amazing. When I started HallyuCY I honestly thought it would be just me and a few friends. But now we’re organising events and bringing people together… It’s a culture that’s so fun, energetic and colourful. I always say it keeps me feeling young…”
Perhaps, I think, as we watch YouTube videos of K-pop bands Big Bang and 2NE1, this is what I find so attractive about Hallyu: that essence of energy, coupled with a firm respect for tradition. Who wouldn’t want their offspring to be involved in such a group? If only I’d known about Hallyu when I was growing up…
For more information on HallyuCY, visit or message the Facebook page ‘HallyuCY’