The Increasingly Elusive K-pop Fan

At a time when K-pop is more easily found than ever, it seems like the K-pop fan is disappearing. Increasing division driven by single-fandom obsession is becoming the norm.

It seems strange to talk about back in the day, but not so long ago (2011), K-pop was hard to come by. So when K-pop fans found one another, they were just so happy to find someone else who knew about K-pop. It didn’t matter if their favorite groups weren’t your favorite groups. At least you had heard about their favorite groups, and that was good enough. A shared camaraderie formed as you exchanged stories of waiting for English subs and trying to figure out the members’ names.

There are at least two types of K-pop fans. There are people who are fans of particular K-pop groups, and that’s cool. Then there are people who are fans of K-pop, people who move beyond their first group and look for other groups. Sometimes they might be multi-fandom, but not necessarily. They like lots of different groups and the songs they make.

These days, there seems to be more emphasis on individual group loyalty. Fans are calling themselves things like “pure EXO-Ls” or “pure Carats.” They are excluding individuals who may be multi-fandom from activities like voting campaigns. They are insisting on not mentioning other K-pop groups in fan groups. They act like you aren’t even supposed to know about other groups, even as members of their groups are friends with, collaborate with and are seen with members of other groups.

Let’s be clear. We know that fan energy is indeed finite, so you can’t  like or support all groups in the same way or at the same level. But it is unrealistic to act like other groups don’t exist and groove to their music.  It is unreasonable to ask people not to be aware of other groups that are out there and possibly like them. K-pop is too small for this. And in the long run, it’s bad for K-pop, because K-pop is an industry. With people. And groups and artists. These groups do not exist in a bubble. they listen to each other, know the songs and can do the dances.

Even more sad, this also is causing some people to leave their fandoms or strenuously claim not to be associated with them, even though they like the group. People leave behind something they love because others create a toxic environment and spoil the fun.  Unless your brand of fan activity involves illegal activity or other harmful acts, there is no need to police how other people practice their fanship. The base requirement for being a fan is having affection for something. Everything else after that is gravy. I’ve never seen a group come out and say, “Our fans are sucky because they like other groups.”

Can we just all get along?  

 

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What Matters in K-pop?

Image: Pixabay

I have often viewed increased visibility of K-pop in mainstream American media with ambivalence. On one hand, increased visibility may mean more opportunities for concerts and access to K-pop-related media. On the other hand, it may mean significant changes to K-pop and its fandom that take away the things that drew fans in the first place.

One phenomenon that falls into the latter category is the centrality that awards and breaking records have taken in fandom activity. There is no doubt that winning an award, especially one that doesn’t cater to Korean or Asian music, can be seen as an achievement. But at what cost? I don’t know if this is happening in your fandoms, but I’m seeing a significant increase in requests that border on harassment to vote for this award or that poll or watch a video to increase views. To be sure, some people politely ask. But more often, other fans are implying or directly coming out and saying that you aren’t a ‘real fan’ unless you watch this video on repeat all day or create an account to vote on that website. I know this means a lot to some fans, but it doesn’t mean as much to others….myself included.  There are too many ways to be a fan and this shouldn’t be the measure of your identity as a fan.

These awards represent popularity. And yes, it says something if you can mobilize your fandom to achieve that for your group. But it says absolutely nothing about the quality of the music or group talent or whatever got you into the group in the first place. At the end of the day, what does all this activity even mean? Because when you view a video just to increase the views on it, it ceases to be a measure of how much a video is “liked.” It only says X number of people saw it.

This laser focus on popularity also has some negative effects. There is still a large number of  non-fans who believe that K-pop artists have no talent at all, so awards for popularity only serves to reinforce that idea. I feel like the time fans now spend on voting used to be spent on reaction videos and blog posts where they talk about how they got into a group, or their favorite song, or even the logic behind their bias choice.  These activities show what K-pop means to fans in ways that voting do not.

 

 

Why The BTS Billboard Win Is Only One Half Of The K-pop Fan Story

Unless you have been under a rock, you are surely aware of the win by BTS for Top Social Artist at the Billboard Music Awards. While the win shows the way K-pop fans can mobilize in the moment, the celebration of group anniversaries demonstrates the longevity of K-pop fandom.

Many have pondered what the win means. The BTS win comes in the wake of other instances where K-pop fans mobilize. In 2011, 2NE1 won the Best New Band award at the MTV Iggy Awards as a result of fan votes. In 2013, SNSD garnered the Video of the Year Award for “I Got A Boy.” These wins for BTS, 2NE1 and SNSD reflect the work that fans put in for the groups. It shows what K-pop fans already knew: K-pop fans are a force. Mainstream media outlets marvel at the win.  However, some have also questioned the BTS win.  Theo Howe argues that the win really reveals a “fetishisation” for Korean artists:  “K-pop is a deeply visual genre, and the artists are made to look pretty, but there’s a danger among international K-pop fans that this can create an echo chamber for saying how BTS or Twice are that much more attractive than people of any other ethnicity.” Helen chalks up the win to marketing:  “K-pop being recognised by big mainstream Western media sites doesn’t mean it’s somehow ‘made it’, and BTS winning an award at a music awards show that has nothing to do with music isn’t K-pop making it either. It means that mainstream Western sites have figure out that K-Pop is marketable, which of course it is.”

I argue that the win tells us something about K-pop fandom, but only half of the story. On one hand, it demonstrates, once again, that K-pop fans will mobilize for the opportunity to promote a K-pop group to the world. Such events work because for a brief, shining, moment, fans come together to achieve a task recognized by non-K-pop fans. But there are other measures of the global impact of K-pop on fans.

While many were fixated on BTS, Shawols were celebrating the 9th anniversary of  SHINee, whose popularity points to the longevity of K-pop. J.K. of soompi chronicled the way fans celebrated the anniversary, including a trending hashtag and Twitter posts. SHINee is not the only K-pop group celebrating multiple years of grouplife. 2PM also celebrates its 9-year anniversary this year, and F.T. Island celebrates its 10th. Shinhwa celebrated its 19th-year anniversary in March and Sechs Kies is currently promoting their 20th year (despite several years of inactivity). Even without the same level of fanfare and public recognition, these fans ensure that their groups can continue to have an audience and make music. This fanwork is more constant.

People have been declaring the death of K-pop for years. K-pop fans are both of the moment and here for the long haul. Even as newer fandoms groups like ARMYs break barriers, older fandoms like Shawols show the lasting power of K-pop.

Images

Adrian. “SHINee To Tour Canada With ‘SHINee World V’ in March 2017.” hellokpop. 9 Mar 2017. http://www.hellokpop.com/event/shinee-tour-canada-march-2017/ (9 Jun 2017).

J.Lim. “BTS Discusses The Secret To Their Global Popularity And Goals for 2017.” soompi 18 Feb 2017. https://www.soompi.com/2017/02/18/bts-discusses-secret-global-popularity-goals-2017/ (9 Jun 2017).

Sources

Helen. “Why Do BTS Fans Care So Much About That Billboard Award? Of Course They Won.” Beyond Hallyu. 22 May 2017. http://beyondhallyu.com/k-pop/why-do-bts-fans-care-so-much-about-that-billboard-award-of-course-they-won/ (9 Jun 2017).

Howe, Theo. “What Does BTS;s Billboard Music Award Mean for K-pop? Not Much.” Varsity. 5 June 2017.  https://www.varsity.co.uk/music/13129 (9 Jun 2017).

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Why The BTS Billboard Win Is Only One Half Of The K-pop Fan Story by CeeFu is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Fan Hierarchy and K-pop

chess-266811_1280

Fan hierarchy, which use criteria to declare some fans “better” than other fans, is not unique to K-pop.  Nevertheless, it distorts the realities of fan dynamics in K-pop.

It is no secret that Korean fans feel some type of way about global fans, and vice versa. For example, many global fans are multi-fandom, which means they are fans of multiple K-pop groups. This differs from Korean fans, who tend to support only one K-pop group. harmonicar suggests that domestic fans are justified in their approach to fan activity:  “Seeing idols and supporting their group is a normal part of daily life, and as it is, it[sic] many Korean fans feel like international fans don’t “support” their groups as much as domestic fans do; and it only makes matters worse if one is seen jumping group to group during active promotions. With the competition being so cutthroat, it’s understandable that domestic fans feel salty when they see temporary visitors spreading their loyalty so thin, but reaping all the benefits” (soompi).

While it seems that the writer is merely comparing two different approaches to fan activity, the comparison actually implies a fan hierarchy that places domestic fans at the top.  Kristina Busse argues that fan hierarchies are in part based on the idea “that one could fail to be a . . .  a good-enough representative to the outside” (73-4).  This type of hierarchy places emphasis on “their particular modes of engagement” (74). In the domestic vs. global fan comparison, the behavior of global fans is questioned because it does not conform to the behavior of domestic fans. The piece implies that the concerns of domestic fans are valid: Korean fans do more, so they are the better fans AND can dictate proper fan behavior. This suggests a degree of policing motivated by “a clear sense of protecting one’s own sense of fan community and ascribing positive values to it while trying to exclude others” (Busse, 75).

In the case of global fans and domestic fans, the issue of “support” is used in an exclusionary way. harmonicar implies that the kind of support that domestic fans render is “better”  than the support of global fans because it is directed towards only one group:

Domestic fans are expected to invest, both with time and money, heavily into their idols. A CD, concert, random festival, or musical announced? Fans buy or attend every single one. A member gets casted for a drama? Fans watch every single episode. A new album, title track, or OST is released? Fans stream nonstop. Your group is actively promoting on music shows? Fans wake up at 4 a.m. and stand in line for hours, just so someone will cheer for their group at recordings. Because of the level of active involvement required to properly [italics  mine] support one group, many fans don’t have resources to support more than one; and loyalty towards a single group is valued in fan culture.

I argue that fan support is used to exclude and police in this instance. Who expects fans to  “invest, both with time and money?”  I offer that it is fans themselves that have this expectations. More and more artists are asking fans to cut back on their material support of groups. JYP Entertainment recently limited fan gifts to “birthday and anniversary banners/ letters/ message books/ documentation of donation/ meals and snacks.”  EXO‘s Lay is quoted as saying: “We don’t care if you aren’t able to buy our albums, it’s not something you are forced to do. When you have money to spare, that’s when you can purchase them. Just because you don’t buy our albums doesn’t mean you are not our fan. If you like us, you’re our fan. Spending more money does not mean you love us more.” There are other ways to support a K-pop group.

In actually,  K-pop artists actually need both domestic and global fans to be successful. K-pop artists come from Korea, where they make the music. They are expected to do promotions in their own country, which domestic fans support. Global fans love to see their appearances on the music shows too. However, groups are increasingly making fan support available for global fans.   For example, Shinhwa recently promised a dance version if views on the MV “Touch” reached over 5 million views on YouTube. Many global fans have access to YouTube and could certainly view the video, as well as appreciate the dance version when made available. One only needs to look at the increased efforts by K-pop groups and solo artists to appeal to and develop fanbases in other countries. Groups are increasingly more international, featuring non-Korean members and having other members know other languages. They are making content available to more platforms accessed by global fans. They are performing in more global locations.

Realistically, K-pop, which is a form of popular music defined by its outreach to global audiences, cannot sustain itself solely by relying on the South Korean market, no matter how much fan support domestic fans give. Implying a fan hierarchy only plays into the stereotype of strife and conflict between K-pop fans and overlooks the realities of K-pop fan culture.

Sources

“EXO shared Sebooty Lord’s photo.” Facebook. 7 Jul 2016. https://www.facebook.com/EXOKandM/posts/1339783326036428, (16 Jan 2017).

“JYPE’s New Policy Regarding to Support Items.” 2PMEDIA. http://2pmedia.blogspot.com/2016/03/jypes-new-policy-regarding-to-support.html?m=1, (16 Jan 2017).

Kristina Busse. “Geek Hierarchies, Boundary Policing, and the Gendering of the Good Fan.” Participations: Journal of Audience and Reception Studies. 10.1 (2013): 73-91. http://www.participations.org/Volume%2010/Issue%201/6%20Busse%2010.1.pdf, (16 Jan 2017).

https://www.soompi.com/2016/08/11/6-things-no-one-tells-multifandom/

https://www.soompi.com/2015/12/02/why-there-can-only-be-one-multifandom-in-korea/

http://seoulrhythm.com/2014/06/editorial-thoughts-on-being-multifandom-in-korea/

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Fan Hierarchy and K-pop by CeeFu is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

What I’m Listening To. . . . UP10TION, “Just Like That”

UP10TION
UP10TION

UP10TION departs from their usual upbeat tracks for “Just Like That,” from their 2016 mini-album, Burst, which has a slower tempo, sparse instrumentation and focuses on vocals.

Image: 1

Kpop Dls. “[AUDIO/MP3/DL] UP10TION (업텐션) – JUST LIKE THAT [5th Mini Album – Burst].” YouTube. 20 Nov 2016. https://youtu.be/fP5cotQJ9d4, (26 Dec 2016).

My Favorite…Solo Male K-pop Artists!

I’m back with another installment of My Favorites! This time, it’s solo male K-pop artists, the Kangta and Wheesung Edition. Wait! Before you even ask, “Where is [insert Rain, Park Hyo Shin, your favorite male solo singer, your cousin], these are male artists that I like. They are also primarily solo artists, not current members of groups with solo projects (that’s another post–I see you, Taeyang and Heo Young Saeng!). #sorrynotsorry

Continue reading “My Favorite…Solo Male K-pop Artists!”

How to Diversify Your K-pop Roster

If you’ve been a K-pop fan for a while, you might run into this problem. Sure, you have mad love for your favorite K-pop groups, but we all know that K-pop promotions run in a cycle. What do you do when your favorite groups are MIA? FIND MOAR!

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Can’t We All Just Get Along?: Kangin and Super Junior

The minute somebody says something about getting Kangin to leave, the mud-slinging starts (i.e. “you’re not a true fan,” “you’re an ANTIFAN!”). This is not confined to K-pop fandoms, but still. Why can’t we disagree and refrain from calling each other names? We all know this is not Kangin’s first trip to the trouble rodeo. Fans aren’t wrong when they say that his behavior has a negative effect on the team. At the same time, K-pop fans are very forgiving, and want to give him a second chance. See what I did there? That’s looking at the issue from both sides. No fans were hurt in the making of this post.

EXO in LA!: A Report from Loge 10

EXO
EXO

As a K-pop fan in the United States, I’m always excited to see my beloved K-pop live. The EXO show in Los Angeles on February 14, 2016 was no exception. Having seen EXO “grow up” from those 23 teaser trailers to Sing for You, I was looking forward to the show very much! Let us never forget the epic backstory behind EXO’s concept, beginning when “the twelve forces reunite into one perfect root” to the current unknown EXO planet!

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My Favoritest Favorite. . . Songs By Bias K-pop Groups!

I like a lot of K-pop groups (a LOT…of K-pop groups), but I have four bias groups (SS501, Shinhwa, SHINee and Super Junior), my favoritest favorites. I looked at my iTunes to see which songs by my bias groups I played the most. I was surprised!

Continue reading “My Favoritest Favorite. . . Songs By Bias K-pop Groups!”

Caterpillars to Butterflies: The Progression of Veteran K-pop Artists

Despite the regular insistence that it is disposable and only for teenagers, K-pop has managed to have several groups and artists attain veteran status. Over time, these artists develop their image and sound in ways that also embrace their beginnings.

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Star Array: Dance and the Large K-pop Group

Super Junior
Super Junior

As we all know, dance is a central part of K-pop. I’ve written about choreography in K-pop in Dancing in the Street: Choreography in K-pop before. I’ve also created an exhibit in my K-pop history project, Hallyu Harmonyon choreography and the large K-pop group. Here’s a peek!

While the choreography is often a crucial part of the official music video, the dance versions and practice dance videos keep the focus on dance by stripping down, often eliminating distractions such as props and dynamic lighting. Super Junior’s “Devil” and APeace’s “Loverboy” are shot against stark, white backgrounds. . . .

To read more, go to Star Array: Dance and the Large K-pop Group!

Back In The Day: Nostalgia in K-pop

While K-pop remains a subculture in many places, it tends to attract a wide variety of fans.  One of the reasons for such appeal is that K-pop provides a sense of nostalgia on several levels, a feat not easily achieved in the pop music world.

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K-pocalypse 2014?: Contract Disputes, Unanswered Questions and EXO

Fans of K-pop have dubbed 2014 the year of Kpocalypse in light of a spate of  lawsuits by members from EXO.  While it’s hard to separate fact from speculation as a global K-pop fan, these lawsuits do say something about the role of nationality and the motives of the members who bring lawsuits.

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The Right Sound: K-drama OSTs

Boys Over Flowers OST Reissue
Boys Over Flowers OST Reissue

The tantalizing goodness of Korean dramas don’t just come from romantic angst, historical intrigue and heart-stopping action. The emotional highs and lows would not mean as much without an Original Sound Track, also known as the Official Sound Track, or OST.

OSTs can come from any genre, and often features artists performing in styles that differ from their usual ones. OSTs can feature collaborations as well as solo performances by individuals in groups. They may feature vocals or exist solely as instrumentals.Everyone has their favorites, but  here are a few examples to show how K-dramas make effective use of music in different ways.

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