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.


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).


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.

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.

Continue reading “Caterpillars to Butterflies: The Progression of Veteran K-pop Artists”

ICYMI: iFans Case Studies Status Update

Infographic based on data collected by Crystal S. Anderson as part of the iFans research study

Originally published on KPK: Kpop Kollective by CeeFu

If you keep with research on K-pop, you may be aware of the iFans: Mapping Kpop’s International Fandom project.  The surveys that make up the qualitative studies seek to understand how the fandoms differ from one another and their relationship to the groups they support. K-pop fans know that the fandoms are unique. Because they have detailed knowledge of the groups they support, they provide a unique perspective on the appeal of their respective groups. Too often, commentators make assumptions about K-pop fans, while the iFans studies goes to the source: the fans.

Click here to read the rest!

Time For An Update: A Response to Kim Ji-Myung’s ‘Serious Turn for Hallyu 3.0’

Shinhwa, Cosmopolitan May 2012 – Source: http://asia247.wordpress.com/2012/04/24/shinhwa-cosmopolitan-may-2012/


As a person who regularly writes about Hallyu, I’m always excited when others write about it as well. We need as many voices as we can get. So it is in the spirit of dialogue that I respond to Kim Ji-myung‘s piece on HanCinema, “Serious Turn for ‘Hallyu 3.0.” I’d like to see those who write about Hallyu move beyond superficial critiques to more complex analyses.

I think the discourse around Hallyu would be made more meaningful if we treated it as a serious movement and engaged how it is practiced its participants.  Kim’s piece replicates some of the more common critiques about Hallyu in general, and Kpop in particular, critiques that I’ve written about here.

Kim assumes that Kpop only has relevance for the young.  She attributes the spread of Kpop to “a few young Korean pop groups.”  She finds it “surprising and also fun to see so many European and American youngsters dance and sing in unison with Korean tunes (in Korean!) on the streets and in parks.”

However, Seo Taiji and the Boys, often cited as the musical forerunner of Hallyu, debuted in 1992, 20 years ago.  The members of Shinhwa (pictured above), the oldest active male Kpop group are all in their 30s, and have just completed a successful comeback with their 14th album. Yes, THAT is Kpop “old school.”

Kpop in its second decade. Its progenitors did not die out with the dinosaurs. Before Jae Chong was a producer for Aziatix, the group who won the 2011 MNET Asian Music Award (MAMA) for Best New Group, he was a member of Solid, one of the first Korean R&B groups that emerged in the early 90s.  Just as there are younger groups, there are also older groups and older people in Kpop who play just as large a role. Kim and others need to see Hallyu as more than just a youth movement.

Kim also assumes that international  audiences of Hallyu do not care about the Korean culture.  She writes:  “Young fans of K-pop may be enjoying themselves without even knowing or caring much about the country of origin of the music.”  Here where it would be useful to actually talk to someone outside of Korea who listens to Kpop.  I’ve also written about this here.  Or, perhaps, look at the fan activity on the Internet.  Kpop fans like learning the snippets of Korean they get in Kpop songs. Why else would lyric sites list the romanization of Korean lyrics? How else can you sing along in the car?

And when you extend your consideration to Kdrama and Korean film, it’s hard to appreciate these cultural forms without caring about the country of origin.  In order to understand a sageuk (historical Kdrama) like Queen Seondeok or Jumong, you need to know about the geopolitics of the time.  A film like Shiri requires an understanding of the tensions between North Korea and South Korea.  2009: Lost Memories revolves around the colonial history between Korean and Japan.

Kim abhors the term Hallyu because “it connotes unilateral cultural dissemination” and ” does not carry the depth, subtlety and complexity involved in communicating and understanding cultures among people.”  However, her piece replicates that lack of complexity by not recognizing the inherent hybridity of Hallyu.  She is right when she says it is not unilateral, but she fails to elaborate.  Hallyu itself is a hybrid of Korean and other global cultures, even before it gets redeployed out on the global stage.  Shouldn’t we recognize these elements when we talk about it?

Articles like Kim’s continue to reduce Hallyu to a passing phase and a blip on the cultural radar:

A survey shows six out of 10 foreigners believe the popularity of Korean culture will cool down in the next few years. Sixty percent of 3,600 people in nine countries, including China, Japan, Thailand, the United States and France, were doubtful that hallyu will see lasting international success. Some 20 percent said they are becoming ‘tired of standardized content.’

Who are these “foreigners?” Do all “foreigners” see Hallyu in the same way?  Fans of Kpop in Malaysia may have different attitudes toward Kpop than fans in the Philippines.  And more importantly, are these survey participants people who actually engage in this cultural movement or random people off the street?

Here is my last point: it is virtually impossible to talk about Hallyu 3.0 without understanding how we got from Hally 1.0.  Her piece suggests that we either ignore Hallyu’s spread up until now, or embrace the more mature, “serious” version of the movement:  “If  ‘hallyu 1.0’ was unintentionally initiated by TV producers and a few singers, version 2.0 in the era of social media has been skillfully presented by a more sophisticated entertainment industry of Korea. Now we talk about hallyu 3.0, which may last in a wide spectrum of areas.”

You cannot talk about the history of a thing without talking about the thing itself. This means that even if Hallyu 1.0 was only initiated by TV producers and singers, you have to engage the televisions shows they produced and the songs they sang (I actually think more was involved here).  You know the old adage: those who ignore history…

So let’s all continue the dialogue about Hallyu, but let’s also move that dialogue along so that we aren’t talking about the same old thing all the time.  Reboot!


Kim Ki-myung.  “Serious Turn for ‘Hallyu 3.0.” HanCinema.

What I’m Listening To: Soulmate, Shinhwa

Source: http://mtvk.com/2012/02/27/details-about-shinhwas-comeback/

Ever so often, I like to share what’s on heavy rotation on my iPod. It isn’t always the newest thing, or the most popular thing, but for some reason this is the stuff that I’m grooving to.  I make no distinction between idol and non-idol Kpop, popular and obscure, mainstream and indie. It’s just what I like, and some info about it. Maybe you might like it too. With Minwoo’s release from military service, the mighty Shinhwa is now complete and poised on the brink of a legendary comeback in March.  It seemed only fitting to share one of my favorite Shinhwa songs.

What I’m Listening To

Who Does It

Shinhwa holds the distinction of being the oldest Kpop male group of the Hallyu era that has maintained its original lineup.  I think many people wrote them off as part of that first generation of Hallyu groups (i.e. H.O.T., SES, Fin.K.L.).  I might have agreed with you. Have you gone back to see “Resolver,” (1998) their first video?  Remember those shiny suits? That swinging pendulum? You know you thought that was hot. Ok, in some ways, I still think it’s hot.  However,  Shinhwa has stood the test of time, through ups and downs, even through having five of the six members undertake military service.

Shinhwa is made up of three rappers (Eric, Andy, Jun Jin) and three singers (Minwoo, Dongwan, Hye Sung).  Since debuting, they have produced their own music and starred in Kdramas.  One of the other things that distinguishes Shinhwa from other groups of their era is their legendary exit from SM Entertainment.  Rather than sign a contract without some group members, Shinhwa walked out, and later sued SME for the right to use their name (all Tina Turner-like) and one. They’ve tried just about every concept in the book and lived to tell the tale.

Their last Korean studio album was released in 2008, and at one of their last concerts, they promised their fans, called Changjos, that they would return. Some may have been skeptical, as military service has broken up many a male group.  However, even before the release of Andy and Jun Jin, rumors started flying about a reunion. In late 2011, members of Shinhwa began confirming plans for a comeback.  In May 2011, Eric and Minwoo formed Shinhwa Company, and by October 2011, Hye Sung confirmed a Shinhwa comeback during his Japanese concert.

Why I Like It

“Soulmate” is a single from Shinhwa’s 2002 album, Wedding, and in many ways, exemplifies the best of the group. Shinhwa features three rappers and three singers, and one might think that the singers would overshadow the rappers, or the rappers would steal the spotlight from the singers.  One of the things I like about Shinhwa is that they do a good job of balancing these talents, and “Soulmate” is a nice example of that.

The song begins fairly mellow with individual singers.  It features simple instrumentation throughout.  The tempo picks up, with harmonization by singers, followed by a brief,  rapid-fire rap, and then a return to the up-tempo pace.  This completely works for me.

Several customer reviews on YesAsia suggest that the album takes multiple listenings to really appreciate it. I concur. When I first listened to it, I completely disregarded “Soulmate,” but thanks to the sneaky iTunes shuffle feature, it popped up one day, and I was hooked.


Shin Hye Sung Confirms Comeback Date for Shinhwa, allkpop.com

Eric and Lee Minwoo form “Shinhwa Company” for Shinhwa’s 2012 Comeback, koreaboo.com

Customer Reviews for Shinhwa’s WeddingYesAsia

Polishing My Tiara, or What It’s Like Being An Orange Princess Today

Yeah, I know all the cool kids are into SNSD and Super Junior and BigBang and SHINee. I like them too. You get to see them doing stuff nearly every day.   But it takes commitment to be a Changjo, a fan of Shinhwa, an Orange Princess.

Cassies always keep the faith and all, but try being an Orange Princess. It is no secret that I LOVE Shinhwa. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways: Andy, Eric, Dongwan, Minwoo, Hyesung, Jun Jin:

While I love the individual members of Shinhwa, you know there is always your bias.  You hear that, Andy? It’s you and me, baby, YOU and ME! It’s true, I have a thing for the maknaes….

Read more at KPK: Kpop Kollective (Originially published on June 22, 2011)

The REAL SM Entertainment Conspiracy

People, you have been fooled! SM Entertainment has distracted you with multi-year contracts, lawsuits and tales of exploitation, but I know what the REAL conspiracy is.

Are you ready?

SM is CLONING idols!!! YES!  I am 84.7 % positive that SM has a team of scientists whose sole job is to clone idols. You haven’t noticed a slew of attractive Korean men who have cheeky cheeks and sing really well? Look!

Exhibit 1: Hye Sung of Shinhwa

Cheeky cheeks? Check! Pouty lips? Check! I suspect that Hye Sung is really the original, from which SM is taking genetic material for other idols. He is quiet and seems fairly sweet, and some have referred to him as a prince. These are things we will encounter with the clones. Oh, and let’s not forget about his singing ability!

Read more here at KPK: Kpop Kollective (originally published on July 1, 2011)

An Informal Review of Sun Jung’s Korean Masculinities: Part 2, Or, Why We’re Not Going to Talk about Bae Yong Joon

So, Nabi has given you a pretty good overview of the book and our general observations of it. Chapter 2 includes Sun Jung’s reading of the masculinity represented by Bae Yong Joon. We here at KPK have pretty strong opinions because most of the time, we are fairly confident in what we’re talking about.  This is the reason why I’m not going to talk about Sun Jung’s analysis of Bae Yong Joon. I haven’t seen Winter Sonata, so I can’t tell say anything about her reading of the way “middle-aged Japanese women” (her phrase) read Bae Yong Joon’s masculinity.

But that’s doesn’t mean I don’t have things to say about this chapter, because she talks about more than Bae Yong Joon…..

Read more here at KPK: Kpop Kollective.com (originally published on July 22, 2011)

Why I Do Kpop Even Though Chuckleheads Keep Giving Me The Side-Eye

Hey shorty…It’s me (Kpop)

I gotta tell you something

It’s about us

I’ve been seeing other people

Millions of other people, around the world

I really think this is gonna work out baby

I’m not sorry

–KPK’s Reimagining of Eric’s intro to Shinhwa’s Crazy

“You cannot understand Kpop unless you are Korean.”

Recently, I heard this statement, in more than one place, uttered by more than one person.  Not only is this perception narrow-minded and old-fashioned, it does not reflect the international reality of Kpop.

Continue reading “Why I Do Kpop Even Though Chuckleheads Keep Giving Me The Side-Eye”

Why I Do Kpop Even Though Chuckleheads Keep Giving Me The Side-Eye

Originally published on July 30, 2011 on KPK: Kpop Kollective by CeeFu


Hey shorty…It’s me (Kpop)

I gotta tell you something

It’s about us

I’ve been seeing other people

Millions of other people, around the world

I really think this is gonna work out baby

I’m not sorry

–KPK’s Reimagining of Eric’s intro to Shinhwa’s Crazy

“You cannot understand Kpop unless you are Korean.”

Recently, I heard this statement, in more than one place, uttered by more than one person.  Not only is this perception narrow-minded and old-fashioned, it does not reflect the international reality of Kpop.

Let me start by saying one thing: this is not personal. This is not about Koreans. This is about this STATEMENT and IDEA about Korean popular culture. The love is overflowing here at KPK for Koreans, all things Korean and fans of all things Korean. So it’s only out of love that I say this: when people say that you have to be Korean to understand Kpop, my darlings, you are wrong. In the spirit of full disclosure, I should say that I am not Korean (I know, shocking!).

I have heard that you have to be Korean in order to understand Kpop from people who should know better: Korean academics.  So part of this post has some big words and stuff,  but don’t worry: I’m going to break it down!

When Korean academics says you have to be Korean to understand Kpop, it does not mean that you need to know the Korean language to understand Korean lyrics in Korean popular music. It means that there is something basically Korean about Kpop that you cannot understand because you are not Korean. They are saying that it (Kpop) is a Korean thing, and you wouldn’t understand. This is troubling coming from academics because it is essentialist. What is essentialism?  According to the Sage Dictionary of Cultural Studies, essentialism:

Refers to the argument that there are fixed truths to be found about identity categories so that there exists an essence of, for example, women, Australians, the working class and Asians. Here words refer to fixed essences and thus identities are regarded as being stable entities. (61)

What this basically means is that when people say that all Asians are this way, or all women are that way, they are thinking that there is something basic about women or Asians that every woman or Asian has that makes them a woman or Asian.  You can only be Asian or a woman if you have these traits, and only these traits. But what if the traits are something that all members of the group do not have? Are they still part of the group? If you don’t have dark hair, does not exclude you from being Asian? (we know Asians have many different hair colors).  If you don’t have children, does this exclude you from being a woman? (we know lots of women who don’t have children). You see how this could become problematic, because essentialism basically lumps everyone together in ways that do not match the reality we see.

Ok, so why is essentialism bad? Christopher Warley answers this question this way:

Essentialism is bad because it is socially oppressive. It blindly stresses one side of a binary opposition (high not low; inside not outside; left not right); it naturalizes and universalizes the interests of a particular group (capitalists, men, The West, whatever) in order to dominate another group (workers, women, The East, whatever).

Ok, so let’s apply this to Kpop.  When people say that you have to be Korean to understand Kpop, they are an example of “inside not outside.” Koreans, because of their “Koreanness”, understand Kpop. If you are not Korean, you do not have this “Koreanness”, so sucks to be you. But remember that people are different, cultures are diverse, so how can there be this universal “Koreanness”? So what about Koreans who don’t know Kpop, or don’t like Kpop, or (gasp) don’t understand Kpop? That undermines the whole “all Koreans have this “Koreanness”/you have to be Korean to understand Kpop” argument.  Do you have to be Chinese to understand kung fu? Black to understand hip hop? Irish to understand Riverdance? You see how silly this gets, right?

So we know that there are millions of fans of Kpop around the world, who don’t speak Korean, who are not Korean, who understand Kpop. Because I think EVERYONE understands THIS:

You do not have to be Korean or know Korean to understand what Junsu is putting down in this video. Everyone understands the body roll.

Even more ironic is that so much of what makes up Hallyu Kpop comes from other cultures, especially American culture, ESPECIALLY African American culture.  For example, let’s look at TVXQ’s Keep Your Head Down (yeah, that’s right, ANOTHER TVXQ video, just sit down and watch):

And this, a marching band sequence from the 2002 movie Drumline (sorry about the sound, but this was the best video I could find):

See anything similar? Hear anything similar? I’m not one of those people who are saying that Kpop is imitating African American culture. What I am saying is that a good deal of Hallyu Kpop is a mixture of Korean and African American popular culture.  I NOT mad at that.  So it would follow that in order to understand Kpop, you really need to understand Korean and African American culture.  From what I’ve read from some of my Korean academic counterparts, this is not always the case. I’m not saying that they couldn’t form arguments based on some knowledge of African American culture. I’m saying that they tend not to. :\

Need more evidence?  Who is Yunho’s favorite singer?  Michael Jackson. Who does Onew count as one of his favorite singers? Stevie Wonder.  Who does Eunhyuk, Shindong and Donghae imitate in the Super Show? Beyonce.

And what about Big Mama?

Yes people, that’s some straight up GOSPEL they are putting down for you. My point is, that really to understand Kpop, it seems to me that you need to understand the things that go into Kpop.

I really thought that in this day and age, we all understood that no one owns cultures, that cultures travel, intermingle, make friends. Once your culture decides to go global, you can’t control that. It’s going to do what it do. And,  people who are not OF that culture can STUDY that culture. I really thought that what matters is what you KNOW when it comes to talking about a subject, not who you are. But in the two times I’ve heard the statement, there was no mention made of what others may know, just the assumption that if you are not Korean, you can’t know anything worth knowing. At least call non-Koreans out on whether or not they know all the members of Super Junior, know that Jay Park used to be in 2PM, know that Cheongdung of MBLAQ and Dara of 2NE1 are related, know the debut date of SS501. I don’t care about who you are, I care about what. you. know. And if you can take the time to learn about Kpop, then why can’t you speak about Kpop?

I am not Korean. I know as long as I live I will not know everything there is to know about Kpop.   I will never be able to tell you what Koreans think about Kpop like someone who has spent a large chunk of time in the culture or studying the culture (my research tends to focus on what international audiences think about Kpop). But what should matter is that whatever I say about Kpop has an argument that makes sense and that is well-supported by evidence. I know I know a little something something, and when I speak about my little something something, I’m fairly confident that I know what I’m talking about.  We can discuss it until the cows come home; reasonable people can reasonably disagree. But you just cannot dismiss out of hand people who aren’t Korean, who know their Kpop and like it. Last time I checked, Kpop was equal opportunity.

And this is not to say that ALL Koreans hold this opinion. I know there are lots of Koreans who throw their arms wide open for anyone who is down for Kpop.

So, if you think that only Koreans can “understand” Kpop, then YOU don’t understand Kpop.


Chris Barker, The Sage Dictionary of Cultural Studies.Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2004.

Christopher Warley, Patience: Still A Virtue, Arcade

Why Kpop NEEDS Shinhwa To Make A Comeback «



That’s what I saw one netizen post in response to the recent rumors of a Shinhwa comeback. For shame!  While I am ecstatic about the possibility of a Shinhwa comeback, there are skeptics, and worse, those who don’t even know about Shinhwa. Let me tell you something right now: a Shinhwa comeback is an earth-shattering event that would transform the Kpop world forever…….click on the link below to read more.

Why Kpop NEEDS Shinhwa To Make A Comeback «.

Published on hellokpop.com June 22, 2011.