SEOUL >> The freshest faces among South Korean influencers are no longer the usual, 20-something celebrities. Instead, entertainment and social media are focusing on a new generation: the elder generation.
Older women were once invisible in South Korean entertainment as the industry stuck to rigidly conservative traditional female roles and cast them only as devoted mothers.
But older women are front and center in recent advertising and entertainment series.
A pioneer in the trend is Oscar winner Youn Yuh-jung, the 74-year-old “Minari” actor who promotes Oriental Brewery beer and the Zig Zag shopping app in two recent ad campaigns.
The beer video highlights the novelty of its spokeswoman, who says, “For someone like me to be on a beer ad, the world has gotten so much better.” With a Cass beer in her hand, Youn says she makes friends by being her authentic self, and alludes to the beer helping people to dissipate their social awkwardness.
South Korean producer Kim Sehee said Youn’s Oscar win earlier this year inspired his entertainment series, “Wassup K-Grandma.” He said South Korean young people have a new interest in their elders, birthing a new word, “harmaenial” — a portmanteau of the South Korean word “harmoni,” or grandmother, and the English word “millennial.”
The series broadcast in May was one of the first Korean shows to feature grandmothers as main characters, according to Kim. It brought international guests to live as temporary sons-in-law with Korean grandmothers. The color of the series came from the grandmothers’ attempts to communicate with their foreign in-laws and share homemade meals and decades-old ginseng alcohol.
Park Makrye, a popular South Korean YouTuber, said the country’s attitude toward gender and age has been rapidly changing.
“Back in the days, people thought women were supposed to be only housewives cooking at home, but that’s once upon a time. People must adapt to the current era,” she said.
Park, 74, is one of the leading lights in the South Korean frenzy. Her YouTube channel “Korea Grandma” has over 1.32 million subscribers. In her videos, Park throws expletives while reviewing a Korean drama and screams her lungs out while paragliding for the first time.
Park’s success has paved the way for others. Jang Myung-sook gives out fashion and lifestyles tips on her channel “Milanonna”; a nonagenarian known as Grandma “Gganzi” raps and shares personal stories about living through the Japanese colonization; and a 76-year-old YouTuber flaunts her “single life” on “G-gourmet.”
“I would like to tell grandmothers to try everything they want to do and not be concerned with their age,” Park said.
“For young people … You’ll be OK as long as you are healthy,” she said. “Please fight on, and best of luck.”