Deprived of Hollywood and Western music, Russia is under the spell of K-pop and manga

Russian cosplayers, Chinese video game fans Genshin Impact, during a costume contest in November in Moscow.
Maxim Shemetov/REUTERS

South Korean music, Japanese comics and Chinese video games are flooding the country, where Western production has become rare thanks to sanctions against the invasion of Ukraine.

Vladimir Putin wanted to wage a culture war against the West; here his lines are pushed into the eastern front. Just a few years ago, Karina Marakshina had to explain what K-pop was when asked about her dance school in Moscow. The musical steamroller from South Korea resonates everywhere in the shopping malls today. Russia’s cultural ties to the Far East are ancient, and the country shares a very long border – and an equally turbulent history – with China. But since the introduction of sanctions against the invasion of Ukraine, which made it difficult to access Western products, the country is literally flooded with Asian entertainment: instead of American films, music, books, comics from South Korea, Japan or China series, rap or pop in the hearts of Russian youth.

In a sign of the times, Moscow experienced a major Japan Expo-style festival in November. The public, attracted by manga and anime culture, their transpositions into films or series, Chinese video games, came in droves. The event was packed with a parade of over 1,000 cosplayers, fans who dress up as their favorite heroes. Purple wigs, traditional kimonos, and fake swords flying aloft roamed vendor booths to purchase paraphernalia, figurines, posters, or special editions related to their favorite Japanese series, Chinese gacha, or Korean boy groups.

Shooting a video clip for the Snaky group, dancers specializing in cover dance, staging choreography to K-pop songs in a Moscow parking lot.
Maxim Shemetov/REUTERS

Maraksha’s K-pop dance school, GSS Studio, was founded in 2016. At the time, the teacher had two groups practicing in rooms rented by the hour. Today, he has thousands of students training in three large studios in Moscow and several others across the country.
Every year, GSS organizes a concert of its students and co “battle” dances. And for the most addicted, tours to South Korea are offered. “All the teenagers I know are attracted to Asia, explains Marakshina. K-pop is everywhere now and it’s only getting bigger.’

Choreographer Polina Ivanovskaya has been working for GSS for over five years. He conducts a two-hour trial session, charged at 600 rubles, for a dozen young people. “What I like about this style is that we dance as a group,” she says. We feel the cohesion of a group of people.” According to the 22-year-old dancer, the success of these courses is fueled by the trivialization of the genre throughout Russia. “This phenomenon became contagious thanks to K-poppers who started taking to the streets to shoot their videos”explains Ivanovská.

Among the videos that captivate young girls and attract suitors are cover dance videos: clips, usually filmed in public places, to K-pop hits, with slick choreography and spinning shots. There was one of these eight dancers in full choreography Do not touch by the girl band MiSaMo, filmed in a Moscow shopping center in January. Or the music video for the K-pop dancer Madina, filmed in an empty parking lot with four other members of the Snaky group, all dressed in beige workman’s overalls. Dance allows everyone to take a part of the life of these Korean stars, otherwise unavailable. “It’s like you’re part of this community.”confirms Madina.

Leave a Comment