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.

 

 

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What I’m Listening To: “The Manual,” Eddy Kim

Eddy Kim

“The Manual” is from Eddy Kim’s 2014 EP, The Manual.

Image: “Eddy Kim Profile.” KPopMusic. http://www.kpopmusic.com/artist/eddy-kim-profile (14 Jun 2017).

Video: 1theK (원더케이). “[MV] Eddy Kim(에디킴) _ The Manual(너 사용법).” YouTube. 7 Apr 2014. https://youtu.be/Y4mH2KvzUQ0 (14 Jun 2017).

What I’m Listening To: “Tripping,” Hyun Seong

Boyfriend

“Tripping” is Hyun Seong’s solo from the Boyfriend’s 2012 album Janus.

Image: Jeff Benjamin. “Boyfriend to Bring K-pop to Middle America for Chicago & Dallas Shows.” billboard. 3 Jan 2014. http://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/k-town/5820050/boyfriend-to-bring-k-pop-to-middle-america-for-chicago-dallas-shows  (9 Jun 2017).

Video: KookieCane13. “Shim Hyunseong – 이랬다 저랬다 (Trippin’) [Han & Eng].” YouTube. https://youtu.be/fsESKprKK1I  (9 Jun 2017).

 

What I’m Listening To: “Carnival,” B.A.P

B.A.P

 

“Carnival” is from B.A.P’s 2016 EP Carnival.

 

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Tamar Herman. “B.A.P Brings Party Baby Tour Stateside, Talks ‘Wake Me Up”: ‘We Are Part of the Current Generation.” billboard. 10 May 2017. http://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/k-town/7752638/bap-interview-party-baby-tour-wake-me-up (9 Jun 2017).

Video

MBCkpop. “박정아의 달빛낙원] B.A.P – Carnival, 비에이피 – 카니발 [박정아의 달빛낙원] 20160320.” YouTube. https://youtu.be/CIA2h-dAEO8  (9 Jun 2017).

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.

What I’m Listening To. . . Niel, “그런 날 [Disappear]”

niel_kpopmusic
Niel

“그런 날 [Disappear]” is from Niel‘s second solo album, Love Affair (2016). A member of Teen Top, Niel showcases his vocals on this track. Who knew Niel could get down like that?

Source: YJzKP. “NIEL(니엘) – 그런 날(On that day)[LOVE AFFAIR…](MP3).” YouTube. 15 Jan 2017. https://youtu.be/ccAuU783NKI, (21 Jan 2017).

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……Trax, “아직은 나 [I Can Change]”

TRAX
TRAX

TRAX (Typhoon of the Rose Attack on X-mas), known for its more driving tracks, slows it down for “아직은 나 [I Can Change],” from their mini-album, Cold Hearted Man (2010).

Image: 1

littlestarzeo. “TRAX_04-아직은 나 (I Can Change).” YouTube. 19 Nov 2012. https://youtu.be/POXY0nc0aec, (27 Dec 2016).

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).

What I’m Listening To: Seventeen, “Love & Letter” (Repackage)

Seventeen
Seventeen

I’ve slipped into the shining diamond life with Seventeen and their repackaged album, Love & Letter! The group’s strategy is to not only use the power of the numbers, but also their unique sub-units, divided into the vocal team, the hip-hop team and the performance team.  The repackage provides some delightful versions of Seventeen’s songs.

Upbeat title tracks, “아주 Nice” and “Shining Diamond” make for good material for the performance team. I really like the use of the horns on “Nice” and the pop sound of “Shining Diamond.” On the repackage album, though, other tracks showcase the vocal and hip-hop teams, including rearranged versions of previous songs so cleverly done, I didn’t even recognize the originals. The hip-hop team version of  “만.세[Mansae]” has a completely different beat than the original. The vocal team’s version slow jam-y of “아낀다[Adore U]” sounds nothing like the original, and that’s not a bad thing.

 

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!”

EXO’s Lucky One. . . . Is On My Mind!

EXO
EXO

“Lucky One” is one of two comeback tracks for EXO’s EX’ACT album. You know I am down for this disco-infused extravaganza! I also like the video (which opens with a shot that takes advantage of D.O.’s natural lack-of-expression) and gestures back to previous EXO concepts, including the superpowers, the EXO-planet and the team jerseys, which lends a sense of continuity. I’m not sure if the video matches the song, but I like the song and I like the video so I’m calling it a WIN!

Image: 1

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!

Continue reading “How to Diversify Your K-pop Roster”