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09 DECEMBER 2022

Welcome to this week’s edition of Culture Wire, a newsletter brought to you by Singapore-based pop culture and lifestyle marketing agency Culture Group.

📈 Released earlier this week, TikTok’s year in review rounds up the platform’s most popular breakthrough creators, songs, life lessons, fyfaves, and much more. There’s plenty to keep you scrolling until 2023 (just click the link after you’ve read the newsletter 😉)

In this week’s edition:

  • Innovation of the Week: Thailand bets big on Boys’ Love*
  • Fax, No Printer: Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year
  • Regional Round-up: Drag Den debuts, inclusivity in SEA, gamified movie promos… and more!

Innovation of the Week


Regular readers will be familiar with the success of Boys’ Love (BL) genre that shows no sign of waning. Just a few weeks back, we wrote about KinnPorsche The Series – which topped iQiyi’s streaming charts in 191 territories, spawned a sold-out pan-Asian tour (with a world tour in the works) and generated over 10M Tweets across SEA in November. Thailand – the country responsible for this phenomena – is now capitalizing on BL to boost tourism, which makes up 12% of the economy and was hard-hit by the pandemic. The Tourism Authority of Thailand is looking to attract BL fans to drive tourism recovery starting this year, and will increase their targets by 5X next year.

💡 Our take

BL seems like an overnight success story,  but it’s actually rooted in a subgenre of Japanese manga that dates back to the 1970s. Although it gained some traction, the audience remained fairly small until Thai series 2gether, which was released in 2020. What else happened then? That’s right, a global pandemic. Millions of people had time to look for and binge watch new content, and 2gether – a college freshman story – offered just the right level of escapism. It also helped that it was widely accessible, available on multiple platforms, and subtitled (sometimes by the fans themselves). Suddenly, BL was everywhere. 

This crossover also maps to a bigger trend in Asia, where once-niche cultures now have far-reaching influences. Take anime. It has had a strong foothold in Asia and inspired homages beyond (did someone say Akira Slide?), but it’s now gaining even more mainstream popularity. Studio Ghibli has partnerships with Uniqlo and LOEWE; more recently Japan’s football team pulled off a World Cup upset wearing a kit designed by creators of the popular Blue Lock and Giant Killing mangas (more on that here).

The biggest takeaway here? If you still think niche cultures are confined to Reddit r/ channels, think again. Everyone is familiar with how popular culture is an economic powerhouse – K-pop, anyone? But now, niche cultures can also command sizable communities of heavily-invested fans, becoming an important driver of economic growth in their own right. Our friends at WARC, whom we recently did a joint webinar with, call this Bubble-up Culture. The organic, fan-driven nature of niche pop cultures like BL and other genres is an opportunity – fans that aren’t currently being catered to will jump at the chance to get even more immersed in their fandom, which means topline growth for brands!

Editor’s Note: From your friendly Culture Group anime nerd enthusiast – we have seen a lot of variations on “Boys’ Love” floating across the internet, from ‘Boy Love’ to ‘Boy’s Love’. Based on its original manga inspiration, the genre is now called ボーイズ ラブ [bōizu rabu], which translates to Boys’ Love. This is the terminology we will be using going forward to describe the genre of romance between two men.

Fax, No Printer*

For those of you born before 1997, ‘fax, no printer‘ is Gen Z speak for ‘undeniable facts I agree with’

What is the Oxford English Dictionary 2022 word of the year?


Goblin Mode


Scroll down to the end of the newsletter for the correct answer!

Regional Round-up

🎆 Ahead of Tet, Pepsi is partnering with Vietnam Airlines to bring overseas workers home – rising flight prices and overseas restrictions make it near-impossible for migrant and blue-collared workers to return. This isn’t Pepsi’s first Tet reunion campaign, but it could be the most ambitious yet. 

✨ Launching on Prime Video todayDrag Den Philippines is a reality TV show hosted by drag legend Manila Luzon (star of RuPaul’s Drag Race). It will feature eight Filipino drag superstars who will take part in themed challenges, including ‘Pinoy national symbol’. No to hearsays, yes to bodycams! 

🤟Starbucks just opened its first Signing Store in Indonesia (the brand’s 17th in the world). Located in Jakarta, it is staffed by Deaf and hard of hearing baristas and there’s a community area for members of the local Deaf community. Last week, we highlighted Jollibee’s braille and large text menus. In 2023, what can your brand do to practice inclusivity?  

🐬 Avatar: The Way of Water is nearly here! In China, the movie is being promoted with Alipay Ant Forest Fantastic Ocean, a mini program where fans can complete challenges and unlock badges while learning about marine ecosystems. If you’re looking to double down on social impact, gamification can help your brand reach younger audiences. 

⚠️ ICYMI: Kpop is a global juggernaut and TIME certainly got the memo: BLACKPINK were just named the magazine’s Entertainer of the Year. They’re the first girl group to nab the spot, but not the first Korean band (BTS topped the list in 2020). We can’t wait to see how they’ll continue the story in 2023. 

This Week's Trivia Answer

👺 B. Goblin Mode 

Every year, the Oxford English Dictionary inducts a new word into its pages – and this year, they put it to a vote. Faced with the other two choices of ‘Metaverse’ and  ‘#IStandWith’, over 93% of online voters chose Goblin Mode. 

Goblin Mode, as we may remember, was the movement that grew in the pandemic of rejecting your manicured self. Goblin Moding was air-drying your hair, eating tuna on crackers at 2am, and watching K-drama on your laptop in a big fluffy onesie. It became a rallying cry to reject curated aesthetics and societal expectation, and the freedom to get back to your raw self.

It is telling that, while marketers have been busy focusing on the metaverse and social justice issues, Goblin Mode actually won out for a majority of consumers worldwide. Which begs the question – as a marketer, how in touch are you with your audience? More importantly, are you ready to serve this consumer expectation around authentic selves in 2023? 

🚀 Over and Out!

What did TikTok make you buy this year? 

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Your Culture Mavens,

Acacia, Aliya, Angela, Kiko, & Vicki