A lot of K-Drama fans are introduced to Korea, Korean society, and Korean culture through K-Dramas. While K-Dramas are entertaining programs that do not always aim to cover real-life and factual events, they are a good window into Korea.

Kpopmap aims to give you more insight and understanding of the numerous and exciting Korean cultural facets you’ve seen or glimpsed in K-Dramas. With the information we aim to provide, you will know more facts and understand even more about Korea and Koreans in their complexity. Of course, you would enjoy the dramas better with a smoother and deeper understanding of what you could have missed. These topics are also fascinating to talk about among K-Drama fans.

SBS

With the airing of the SBS drama “Cheer Up”, many drama viewers have been curious about cheerleading in Korea and might have missed all the hints about the famous Yonsei and Korea University rivalry. We aim to quickly cover cheerleading culture in Korea but primarily focus more on university cheerleading and the universities hinted at in the drama (especially Yonsei). Also, don’t miss out on the interviews of Koreans on the topics at the end of the article.

Korea Explained: Similarities Between K-Drama "Cheer Up" & Korean Cheerleading At Yonsei University (ft. Interviews)

Made by Kpopmap / SBS

 

Cheerleading in “Cheer Up”

“Cheer Up” is a campus romantic comedy drama that focuses on the story of the struggling Yeonhee University’s cheering squad – Theia. It stars Han JiHyun and Kim HyunJin as Do HaeYi and Jin SeonHo, the new members of Theia, and Bae InHyuk as Park JungWoo, the captain of Theia.

Korea Explained: Similarities Between K-Drama "Cheer Up" & Korean Cheerleading At Yonsei University (ft. Interviews)

SBS

Korea Explained: Similarities Between K-Drama "Cheer Up" & Korean Cheerleading At Yonsei University (ft. Interviews)

SBS

The majority of the characters and plot are centered around Theia, the cheerleaders of Yonhee university, by covering how they recruit the members, train, teach dance steps, go through competition days, etc. It is a drama that introduces non-Korean viewers to the world of the university cheerleading culture of Korea.

Viewers have all swooned over these beautiful and shining costumes and the energy transmitted on stage.

 

Is Yonhee the famous Yonsei University?

When it comes to cheerleading, most Koreans would make the link between Yonhee University and famous Yonsei University.

Let us explain. Yonhee University takes inspiration from Yonsei University, one of the most prestigious universities in Korea. The drama’s production team used similar designs to the actual school and even filmed at the university.

Korea Explained: Similarities Between K-Drama "Cheer Up" & Korean Cheerleading At Yonsei University (ft. Interviews)

Made by Kpopmap / Yonsei University / SBS

 

 Cheering and cheerleading culture in Korea (pro games)

Korea has a special culture of cheering and cheerleading (in university or in pro sports). We aim to explain simply. 

To simply explain, Korean Cheering aims to support the supporting team’s players and bring the supporters together as one in energetic songs and give them the energy to continue cheering. It is not aggressive and does not aim to make the other team lose. As for school, it is also to make the audience feel the school spirit and be from the same school. Cheerleaders and cheerleading captains are key elements in cheering.

Japan also has cheerleading, but less than Korea on a pro level. USA, well known for its cheerleaders, has a team in schools but not in pro games. Korean cheerleaders can be seen in school to pro sports. The cheering culture (응원 문화) is well-implanted.

Here are some facts:

  • -Cheerleaders’ pro team can mostly be seen at baseball (main), volleyball, and basketball games. Other long games, such as soccer, do not have cheerleaders but ‘supporters’.
  • -The cheerleaders for pro games is composed of girls and the captain is a man. Girls are dancing and the man is at the mic (usually). For school cheerleaders, it does not matter.
  • -Cheerleaders can go to different games and are not fixed on one team.
  • -Some of them become celebrities.

We are the flowers of the game… Cheerleaders in the past were perceived as women in short skirts who dance. Now we are seen as professionals who give fans energy and receive energy from them too and act as a bridge between players and fans.
Bae SooHyun, cheerleader for AFP News Agency

Since baseball cheering is the most popular, let us introduce it to you simply: 

In the stadium, fans use stick balloons of the colors of their team and sing songs well-known by the fans. These songs include fight, energetic, and cheering songs. They also eat food special to the team they are supporting. And of course, they have cheerleaders at the stadium to cheer. Out of the stadium, people also gather at the official bar of the team and cheer on the team with an unofficial cheerleader. That is how strong the cheering culture is in Korea.

 

 Yonhee VS Hokyung or Yonsei VS Korea University

Back to the university explanation, you are most likely familiar with SKY (Seoul University, Korea University, Yonsei University, or the three most prestigious universities of the country) but do you know about the regular annual games between Yonsei and Korea University?

It is one of the biggest events for the two universities and is famous among the students of these universities (and beyond because it is famous college sports). According to Yonsei University, the aim of these games is “To reaffirm their strong friendship and tradition as the two most prestigious private universities in South Korea. The regular Yonsei-Korea Games, which inherited the tradition of the competition between Yonhi College and Bosung College during the Japanese Colonial Era, is still considered the best annual festival for both university students”. The two universities compete in baseball, basketball, ice hockey, rugby, and football. If you don’t know how big this is, celebrities are even sending their good luck wishes to one team or another for the few days of the sports competition.

These games are called by two names based on the university you are attending! Your university (or the one you are supporting) should be first in the name. So Ko-Yon-Jeon (고연전) for Korea University + Yonsei University + Jeon or Yon-Ko-Jeon(연고전) for Yonsei University + Korea University + Jeon.

Korea Explained: Similarities Between K-Drama "Cheer Up" & Korean Cheerleading At Yonsei University (ft. Interviews)

Made by Kpopmap

Both team cheerleaders play a big role during Ko-Yeon-Jeon (or Yeon-Ko-Jeon). Cheerleaders play a core role in these festivities. Each team cheerleaders bring the supporters to dance and scream in the stadium to support the players. The students are enjoying the games even more with the cheerleading.

Korea Explained: Similarities Between K-Drama "Cheer Up" & Korean Cheerleading At Yonsei University (ft. Interviews)

Ignis (Hokyung University) vs Theia (Yonhee University) in “Cheer Up” (SBS)

But that is not all. A cheer battle is organized too between Yonsei University and Korea University. Their most famous chants are the Akaraka (아카라카) for Yonsei and the Ipsilenti (입실렌티) for Korea University.

In “Cheer Up”, Hokyung is the biggest competitor of Yonhee. While the drama has no direct link to reality, for Korean viewers it is obvious there is a reference to the famous rivalry between the two top schools. The blue and red crowd seen just seems like a picture from the Yonsei and Korea University games since a lot of students gather and wear the same outfits.

Korea Explained: Similarities Between K-Drama "Cheer Up" & Korean Cheerleading At Yonsei University (ft. Interviews)

Made by Kpopmap / Korea University / SBS

In the drama, you can hear songs similar to the original ones used in the universities in Korea. In the YouTube comments of “Cheer Up” videos, former Yonsei University students mention how they like to see the cheerleading topics well shown in the drama and that they remember their time when they were a student with these songs.

To have a better understanding, there are videos you can compare some of the famous songs of Yonsei with the drama version. For example, below are videos of (1) Theia performing ‘I Love Yonhee’, (2) the actual performance of ‘I Love Yonsei’ from the Yonsei University Cheerleaders Akaraka during a cheer battle with Korea University, and in bonus (3) ‘I Love Yonsei’ sung by Suzy at the Yonsei Festival in 2018.

‘I Love Yonhee’ by Theia

‘I Love Yonsei’ at (2:07) by Akaraka

Suzy ‘I Love Yonsei’ in 2018

For Korea University and Hokyung, you can check ‘Minjogui aria’ (‘민족의 아리아’) by Ignis and Korea University cheerleaders.

‘Minjogui aria’ by Ignis

‘Minjogui aria’ by Korea University cheerleaders

The similarities are just obvious, and Korean viewers enjoy these.

 

Yonsei University Cheerleaders Akaraka

Now that we know that Yonhee University is inspired by Yonsei University, let’s have a look at Akaraka, the Yonsei Cheerleaders. It has been active for over 70 years and they cheer on 5 games: baseball, basketball, hockey, rugby, and football.

Here is Akaraka at Yeon-Ko-Yeon (Ko-Yeon-Jeon) this year.

Meet the actual cheerleaders of Yonsei University, you can check them below on their official Instagram.

Korea Explained: Similarities Between K-Drama "Cheer Up" & Korean Cheerleading At Yonsei University (ft. Interviews)

Yonsei Akaraka Official Photos

You can notice the similarities in the clothes (a few were selected below). As seen in the drama, there are various outfits for each person.

Park JungWoo (Bae InHyuk) the cheerleading captain of Theia and Kim YoonSung the cheerleading captain of Akaraka (Fall 2022)

Korea Explained: Similarities Between K-Drama "Cheer Up" & Korean Cheerleading At Yonsei University (ft. Interviews)

SBS / Yonsei Akaraka Official Instagram

Tae ChoHee (Jang GyuRi) the vice-captain of Theia and Jang YuRi the vice-captain captain of Akaraka (Fall 2022)

Korea Explained: Similarities Between K-Drama "Cheer Up" & Korean Cheerleading At Yonsei University (ft. Interviews)

SBS / Yonsei Akaraka Official Instagram

Jin SunHo (Kim HyunJin) cheerleader of Theia and Ok JiHoon cheerleader of Akaraka (Fall 2021)

Korea Explained: Similarities Between K-Drama "Cheer Up" & Korean Cheerleading At Yonsei University (ft. Interviews)

SBS / Yonsei Akaraka Official Instagram

Check out the performance of ‘Stay all night long today’ (‘오늘밤새’) by Akaraka, a song also performed in “Cheer Up” by Theia.

 

Korea University Cheerleaders

As mentioned earlier Hokyung University is inspired by Korea University. Korea University Cheerleaders started back in 1968 (official recognition). They don’t have a specific name. The school’s official chant they have been using for over 100 years is Ipsilenti. While Yonsei use Akaraka, the school’s official chant, Korea University does not use it.

According to Korea University, in the past “Yonsei University students cheered with Western-style upbeat wind music, Korea University students cheered by playing Korean instruments and Gongs as they marched through the city”, highlighting the school difference even from the past.

Below you can have a look at the cheerleading captain outfits from HoKyung and Korea University which are also similar.

Lee HaJin (Jung SinHye) the cheerleading captain of Ignis and Ahn HyunTae the cheerleading captain of Korea University Cheerleaders (Fall 2022)

Korea Explained: Similarities Between K-Drama "Cheer Up" & Korean Cheerleading At Yonsei University (ft. Interviews)

ACE Factory / Korea University Official

Here are some videos that might interest you.

And Korea University students parting in the streets during the Ko-Yeon-Jeon. (Yeon-Ko-Jeon).

 

Koreans Insights (interviews)

We talked with S, I, and H about cheering and cheerleaders in Korea as they have some previous experience in cheering in pro games. Listen to what they have to say about it.

 

What do you like about cheering and cheerleaders in Korea?

I like that we gather and cheer together as one.
S, 45 years old, M

It is a reason that makes it possible for people who do not know the games or the players to visit the stadium. Also, it brings a different fun and feeling of competition from the games with different cheering styles for each club.
I, 4X years old, M

I am a fan of Korean professional baseball. My favorite thing about Korean cheering culture is that not only team cheering songs, but also each batter has a cheering song that symbolizes the player. Whenever a batter enters the batter’s box, we sing his cheering song with cute movements. The cheering song is usually addictive, and I can memorize all the cheering songs of other team players.
Cheerleaders play a role in making cheering more exciting. You can sing cheering songs without cheerleaders, but it’s more exciting when the cheerleaders are with us. Like this everyone can be united. Also, it helps people who visit the baseball stadium for the first time to adapt quickly. When I took my friend who was watching a baseball game for the first time to the baseball stadium, she felt awkward at first, but she quickly learned cheering songs and movements by watching the cheerleader. Even after the game, we went home humming the cheering song. I felt proud with this experience.
H, 24 years old, F

In your opinion, why is cheerleading culture a big thing in Korea?

Korea is a country where professional baseball, professional soccer, professional basketball, and professional volleyball are loved samely more than any other country. That’s why I think cheerleading culture is loved at the same time.S, 45 years old, M

It encourages active participation by attracting the response of the majority of people who have a hard time being in front of others. If you ask a Korean to do it, they will do well…
I, 4X years old, M

Cheerleading is simply exciting, but it also shows the symbolism of the group and gives members a sense of belonging. Since Korean society is a society where such things are considered more important, I think it was able to develop in combination with the entertainment elements of Korean culture.
H, 24 years old, F

Have you ever been to a baseball game where there were cheerleaders? Do you think a baseball game without cheerleaders would as entertaining? If not, why?

Of course, I’ve been to baseball stadiums with cheerleaders a lot, but I personally don’t prefer seats around cheerleaders. Sometimes I want to watch the game quietly.
S, 45 years old, M

When you want to focus on the game quietly alone, it can be a disturbance, but it is easy to attract people who are not interested in the game, and the excitement doubles when you are with people.
I, 4X years old, M

When I choose a seat before watching a baseball game, I always choose the cheering seat in front of the cheerleaders. Because I want to enjoy more passionate cheering. It’s quite important to choose where to sit in the stadium. If you sit in a faraway outfield seat from the cheerleaders, you can’t hear the cheering song well and you can’t fully enjoy the game. Moving away from the cheerleaders would mean something similar to thinking, “I want to focus on the game rather than cheering.” As I said before, you need cheerleaders to watch baseball more excitedly, and it is rewarding to support the players and the team.
H, 24 years old, F

Do you know any famous cheerleaders if yes, please introduce them to our readers?

Here are cheerleaders who are doing celebrity-level activities beyond being influencers – Three major goddesses of baseball: Park KiRyang (박기량), Kim YeonJung (김연정), and Lee SooJin (이수진).S, 45 years old, M

Doosan cheerleader Seo HyunSook (서현숙). She was popular with her BeatSaber video too~
I, 4X years old, M

The famous cheerleaders that come to mind now are Park KiRyang (박기량), Seo HyunSook (서현숙), and An JiHyun (안지현). They have so many fans. The cheerleader I want to introduce personally is Bae SooHyun (배수현), the cheerleader of SSG Landers. She has been working as a cheerleader for SSG Landers for a very long time through constant self-management, overcoming hearing problems she has suffered since she was a child. She is probably the longest career player in the KBO (Korean Baseball Organization). She is a cheerleader and a longtime fan of the team.
H, 24 years old, F

Did you train to be a cheerleader when you were young? Have you ever dreamed of becoming a cheerleader?

I never did.
S, 45 years old, M

Never.
I, 4X years old, M

I’ve never dreamed of been a cheerleader, but I think I’ve been exposed to it often. When I was in middle school, there was a cheerleader club in my school. Also, there was a time when each class prepared and presented cheerleading at every sports day. I couldn’t do high-level techniques. After school, all my classmates gathered and practiced until it was dark. High school also had a cheerleading event at the sports day. I remember choreographing and practicing cheerleading with my friends to YounHa – ‘Comet.’ It’s a really fun memory. I still remember the choreography, and whenever I listen to that song, I get emotional.
H, 24 years old, F

Do you know about Ko-Yeon-Jeon/Yeon-Ko-Yeon? How famous do you think these games are in Korea?

I know, and I’ve experienced it a lot when I was young. Most of Koreans would know if they are middle school students or older. S, 45 years old, M

As there are more and more things to enjoy besides sports games, I lost interest. Unless you are from Yonsei or Korea University, it is less interesting.
I, 4X years old, M

Of course I know. I am not a student in either school, so I often envy them. It looked like a competition, but it looked fun to interact happily. In fact, when I was a college student, there was a classmate who suggested, “Let’s make an event with other nearby universities like Ko-Yeon-Jeon/Yeon-Ko-Yeon.” I think there are many high school students who are about to go to college that have the fantasy about Ko-Yeon-Jeon/Yeon-Ko-Yeon.
H, 24 years old, F

If you are watching “Cheer Up”, how well is this drama portraying the university cheering and cheerleader culture?

I’m not sure… I only remember the special appearance of Jang NaRa!S, 45 years old, M

I am not watching dramas.
I, 4X years old, M

I think it’s pretty much the same. It describes well not only music and costumes, but also college life. I’ve never been in the cheerleaders, so I don’t know the details. I’ve always been in a position to watch cheering, but it’s interesting that I can indirectly experience the emotions of the cheerleaders through dramas on stage.
H, 24 years old, F

Do you understand more about cheerleading in Korea and “Cheer Up”? Are you interested in seeing such events yourself?

 

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