YONGIN, South Korea — One of South Korea’s hottest YouTube stars is a 70-year-old grandmother whose cool, undaunted style and hilarity are a breath of fresh air in a social media universe that exalts youth and perfect looks.
Park Makrye’s videos are all about showing off her wrinkles and her elderly life in the raw. Young South Koreans find her so funny and adorable that big companies like Samsung Electronics and Lotte are banking on her popularity.
Despite her new life as a celebrity, she still gets up before dawn to run her diner.
Serving kimchi while clad in a dotted pink top and short skirt with a kitchen hygiene hat on her head, Park isn’t exactly the most stylish beauty icon.
Yet, South Koreans love watching her give make-up tutorials, reunite with an old friend or try pasta for the first time in her life in her “Grandma’s Diary” YouTube videos
“She’s real. She’s not fake,” said Lee Injae, a 31-year-old living in Seoul. “It’s refreshing to see the world through the eyes of a grandmother.”
Before YouTube, Park says, her life was “dead like rotten bean sprouts.”
“We used to think, ‘Since I’m over 70, my life is over,’” Park said, sitting in the living room that she turns into her YouTube studio by taping a broad piece of paper on the wall.
“But as I started doing this, I realized life starts at 71 years old,” she said, adding an extra year as is the custom in Korea and many other Asian countries.
Park’s stardom defies the conventional expectations of the elderly in South Korea, often portrayed in mass media as suffering from poverty or as angry patriots protesting for conservative values. South Korea has the highest elderly poverty rate among developed countries. The country has been struggling to provide better social safety nets or jobs to the elderly as fewer in younger generations support their aging parents as they move away from the Confucian traditions of revering the aged.
Encouraged by a granddaughter to start making videos as a way to stave off dementia, Park is living it up. She’s posed for a women’s monthly magazine spread, hosted a home shopping show for retail giant Lotte and will be appearing as a model in a YouTube commercial for Samsung TVs.
Her fans travel from across the country to eat at her diner where one can get filled with a rice and vegetable meal for $5.
Kim Yura, Park’s 27-year-old granddaughter, stopped working as an acting instructor to travel with her grandmother after a doctor told the family she had a high risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease like her three elder sisters. Kim took her grandmother to Australia, as a treat after more than 40 years of raising children and running a restaurant.
A video of the grandmother-granddaughter duo visiting Cairns, Australia in January shows Park describing her first time diving in the ocean and her sprinting to a swimming pool like a kid. It was a big hit among young South Koreans: less than six months later, Park has about 400,000 followers on YouTube and Instagram.
“I learned then that my grandmother was just like us. She likes to travel, eat tasty food and take pretty photos,” said Kim, who films and edits the videos.
“I’m her fan too. She is such a cool person.”