Asian pop scenes have been growing steadily for the past few decades, from J-Pop to Taiwanese dramas, K-pop, and now Thai TV. The booming popularity of K-pop and Korean dramas have especially proven that the entertainment industry is indeed capable of turning the tables in every aspect from political and economic to societal changes.
South Korea’s entertainment industry has become a blueprint for most Asian countries to take reference. Recently, we witnessed a rise in Thai showbiz talents capturing hearts, especially in Southeast and East Asian countries. Thailand’s film industry, however, has always been major—think thrillers that get you at the edge your seat or horror movies that have you questioning every shadow from the corner of your eye. There’s no doubt that Thailand is ever ready in becoming one of the most mature entertainment hubs in Southeast Asia for nurturing talents, only this time it’s the Lakorn, a literal translation of “soap opera” in Thai, that is taking over the globalised buzz.
Thai TV Shows
As a newly converted Thai Lakorn viewer myself, I reckon what makes these series addictive is the light-hearted and cheesy storyline—it’s so cringe you’d curl your toes and squeal into your pillow. Comfort shows like these Lakorn series serve as an escape for the audience to run away from our mundane daily routines. Thai TV shows viewers are not here for logical plots or mind-blowing stories like Black Mirror; they are here to relax and laugh the day away. Most of the scenes are realistic depictions. For example, more practical sartorial choices and making the characters and stories more relatable—especially ones that are set in schools.
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One of the recent examples would be F4 Thailand: Boys Over Flowers. The main leads of the show, affectionately known as the F4, featured popular names like Bright Vachirawit and Win Metawin who rose to fame as the main leads in the 2gether The Series—a Thai rom-com that gained international traction; as well as Dew Jirawat, Nani Hirunkit, and female lead Tu Tontawan, who made their TV debut with the show.
Case in point: three members from F4; Win, Bright, and Nani’s recent appearances in Malaysia got crowds flocking over to catch a glimpse of these charismatic actors who had also become the darlings of global brands.
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Boys Over Flowers or Meteor Garden is not new per se, the original story was a manga first released in 1992, written by Japanese comic artist Yoko Kamio. It’s such an iconic series that it was adapted into various mediums—specifically live-action television adaptation later remade into different versions throughout the decade. Like all its previous iterations, the Thai version garnered massive global fame.
There’s a reason why the story is being remade so many times in different languages and settings, the plotline is a formulaic success that attracts audiences from across generations. The pandemic lockdown has definitely contributed largely to the viewership, especially since most Thai TV series are usually accessible on various streaming platforms. Another reason is the retro nostalgia element Boys Over Flowers carries—a key ingredient found in most of the all-time top-charted TV shows. What makes this version more interesting are the slight tweaks to fit the current settings, some of which you, as a viewer, might have always wished to change when rewatching the older versions.
Thai BL Series
BL, short for Boys Love or else known locally as the Y series (Y derived from the term yaoi in Japanese) is another thriving genre in the Thai entertainment industry. Featuring two male leads, the Y series commonly features romantic relationships between two male leads. Having two good-looking leads might be one of the many reasons why this oeuvre appeals to more female audiences, the rise of support in the queer community and the lack of Asian queer content too—despite having a relatively conservative society and cultural beliefs—contributed heaps to the viewerships.
2gether The Series by Bright and Win, for example, is dubbed as one of the BL’s breakout show that gained millions of views with audiences from all over the world, especially from China and Japan. With the unprecedented influences, BL series gradually became one of the major exports in the country, so much so the Department of International Trade Promotion (DITP) of Thailand close its first online event in 2021 that promotes the BL series with $10.7 million worth of deals from foreign investors in merely two days.
Tourists from every nook of the world flock over to visit the filming spots (there are even tours specifically for BL series fans FYI if you are keen to join), making it a successful tourism rebuild after the global pandemic. Not only are small businesses like coffee shops and restaurants profiting from BL series’s popularity; global brands too, recognised the commercial appeal—Bright is now the brand’s ambassador of Burberry, his co-star Win on the other hand, for Prada. The con of such a breakthrough, however, is the glorification of queer relationships in Asia as these series often opt out of the hardships, misrepresenting the community in the region. It is, nonetheless, the first leap of faith. The success has even encouraged production teams from other Asia countries such as South Korea and the Philippines to get their feet wet in said genre.
TV series aside, music is a universal language. Granted, the first person that pops up in your mind when it comes to Thai pop artists is Lalisa Monabal, widely known as Lisa from the South Korean girl group Blackpink or TEN from WayV who recently graced the YSL Libre event; OG K-pop stans would suggest Nickhun too. Though often overshadowed by K-pop or Mandarin Pop, local Thai pop has a strong presence in the region and as Asian pop scenes burgeon, Thai music has grown to become one of the most listened to, if not the most popular among Southeast Asia countries—Thai drama OST has definitely contributed a lot to this growth as well!
While the local scene retains many folks and classics, indie-pop is a genre that recently gained traction, especially among younger listeners. Known for being the Lover Boy, Phum Vumprit gained worldwide recognition with his international hit of the same name. Performing his numbers in English could be the reason for his meteoric rise but the fresh and lighthearted essence in his vocals that encapsulate the Thai culture adds uniqueness to his performance, endearing to ears despite cultural differences.
If mellow neo-soul Phum is the heart throbber, MILLI caught global attention not just for her rapid-firing flow, but also her larger-than-life personality—the rapper was the first Thai artist to perform at Coachella. Many netizens dubbed her Thailand’s soft power as she single-handedly got ‘mango sticky rice’—-an already well-known Thai dish—to trend on various social media platforms after she finished her Coachella debut performance by eating mango sticky rice, causing sales surge and eventually, an authoritative response from the government to consider nominating the national dish for a UNESCO World listing.
Not only has MILLI put Thai-pop on the map, but her bold and daring lyrics also break the archetypal sweet Southeast Asian female celebrity assumption, leading her to be the only Thai face on the BBC Top 100 Women 2022 list.