Why is kpop so addicting?

K-pop fans get political - their stars don't

K-pop fans seem to have surprises in store even for die-hard connoisseurs of this Korean-speaking music style: only recently they led the US president to believe that his rally in the state of Oklahoma on June 20 would be so well attended that a second stage would be added had to be built. Their tactic was to flood the attendance list with fake names. When Trump gave his speech in an almost half empty stadium - the outdoor stage had meanwhile been quickly dismantled - it became clear how much K-Pop fans can exert political influence via Twitter and the video-sharing app TikTok.

Worldwide, the media reported on the so-called K-pop vigilantism after the violent killing of the unarmed African American George Floyd by the police. The fans, who teamed up behind Korean pop superstars like the boy band BTS, also known as the Bangtan Boys, not only donated millions of euros to Black Lives Matter (BLM) in early June, but have also had police apps that deal with Fancams directed against BLM protesters or hijacked racist hashtags like #WhiteLivesMatter.

So far, media coverage has been limited to the tough competitive conditions within the K-Pop scene. The reason was the suicides of some of their stars at the end of 2019. One reason for this was the online bullying by some fans.

  • You should know these K-Pop groups

    Blackpink

    The four women from Blackpink are not only going through the roof with their music in their home country Korea, but are currently the most sought-after girl band in the world. Her single "Kill This Love" broke a YouTube record: it was clicked almost 60 million times within 24 hours. When marketing the group, the YG Entertainment label clearly follows the motto "sex sells".

  • You should know these K-Pop groups

    BTS (Bangtan Boys)

    The BTS group is currently the undisputed leader in the K-pop cosmos. In the "Social 50" ranking of the US weekly Billboard, which measures the worldwide popularity of artists in social networks, they have been number 1 for years; They broke records on YouTube and TikTok. The internationally successful band recently took a break - to recharge their batteries.

  • You should know these K-Pop groups

    EXO

    EXO landed just behind BTS in Billboard's "Social 50" ranking. They are divided into EXO-M (Mandarin) for the Chinese market and EXO-K for the Korean market. In 2014, two band members filed a lawsuit. Kris Wu and Luhan accused SM Entertainment of treating them unfairly and causing them health problems with their methods. The label rejected that.

  • You should know these K-Pop groups

    Cha In Ha

    The music from South Korea has millions of fans worldwide and is one of the country's biggest export hits. For the many bands that means tough competition. At the end of 2019, the K-pop singers Goo Hara from the girl band Kara and Sulli from f (x) were found dead. With the death of actor and singer Cha In Ha (picture), K-Pop was shaken again.

  • You should know these K-Pop groups

    GOT7

    Big crowd favorites in K-Pop heaven are also GOT7. In 2014 the seven-piece boy band took the charts by storm and landed with their first album "Got It?" even ranked # 1 on the Billboard World Albums Chart; further top placements followed. Both on the stages of the world and in social networks, the boys know how to inspire their - especially female - fans.

  • You should know these K-Pop groups

    Stray kids

    Stray Kids were cast in a reality show of the same name in 2017 and have long been at the top of the K-Pop business. On their European tour in the summer, they also performed in front of thousands of spectators in Berlin. At the end of October it became known that band member Woojin was leaving the group for "personal reasons". Management apologized to fans for "any inconvenience."

  • You should know these K-Pop groups

    MONSTA X

    MONSTA X were also cast on television at an elimination show and have already shrunk by one member since they were founded in 2015. According to media reports, Wonho is said to be in debt. The Starship Entertainement label announced that there would be six of the band from now on so that the latest events would not distract from "all the exciting things" that MONSTA X is experiencing.

  • You should know these K-Pop groups

    NCT

    NCT (Neo Culture Technology) consist of 21 members who are divided into four subgroups - a common practice in K-Pop to target the various Asian music markets in a more targeted manner. NCT 127 are currently particularly successful. This year they were the first K-Pop group to appear in the famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (picture) in New York.

  • You should know these K-Pop groups

    Seventeen

    The 13-member boy band Seventeen has three subgroups, each specializing in rap and hip-hop, singing and choreography. What is extraordinary is that they are heavily involved in the production of music and dances. Just recently, Seventeen announced that member S. Coups is on pause for the time being. They spoke of health problems and anxiety and asked the fans for understanding.

  • You should know these K-Pop groups

    Big bang

    In 2012 Big Bang, one of the most successful K-Pop bands of all, were still five on stage (picture). In the meantime, this group has also shrunk by one member: Lee Seung-hyun, better known under the stage name Seungri, has been investigated since March for allegedly part of a prostitution ring. Then he ended his career. The trial is still pending.

    Author: Bettina Baumann


Multicultural and multiethnic

In the current hype surrounding K-pop activism, some generally report supporters who - at least in South Korea - tend to stay away from politics. They are called "stans", a combination of "stalker" and "fan".

According to Hye Jin Lee, communications researcher at the University of Southern California, most recent political interventions have come largely from American K-pop fans. That they fought for Black Lives Matter and against white nationalism doesn't come as a surprise, says Lee. "There is a great overlap between the demographic characteristics of the BLM movement and the American K-Pop Fantum," she said in an interview with DW. "Both are multiethnic, multicultural and cross-generational," she explains. And both are mainly worn by young people.

American K-pop fans identify with a pop culture that differs largely from the dominated mainstream of whites. "They are more open to cultural differences and have progressive values," says Lee.

In an effort to "protect and promote" an Asian pop subculture that remains marginalized due to "imperialist, racist and sexist ideologies", K-pop fanaticism already has a long history of political activism online, explains Lee. These commitments ranged from petitions and organizing charity events to fighting journalists who misrepresented K-pop stars to buying advertising space in the media to support their idols.

Ongoing struggle by Black Lives Matter and other movements

It would be a mistake to assume that these fans were motivated by bands like BTS, says Lee. BTS donated a million dollars to BLM before their fan "Army" more than made up for the amount through their #MatchAMillion campaign.

"The current political mobilization of K-pop fans can be seen as an extension of their struggle against orientalism, racism, sexism and homophobia," said the communications researcher. "To make K-pop acceptable and popular in the US."

BTS is the biggest act in K-pop, topping the charts in the US and Europe. The band is considered more tweet-worthy than Donald Trump - DW reported. While BTS spoke out on some social issues such as mental health and economic inequality, they "did not use their platforms to press their fans to become politically active or to fight against white supremacy," says Lee. She believes BTS 'statement in support of BLM is "not political at all".

In addition, the band and their "Army" have sponsored philanthropic campaigns since 2017, including UNICEF's #ENDviolence, and they support Syrian refugees.

There are good reasons for K-Pop's political reluctance. "If K-pop is charged too politically, many fans will turn away or get less support in their fan existence from their parents," says Roald Maliangkay, associate professor at the "College of Asia and the Pacific" at the Australian National University in Canberra .

Economy before politics

What he calls a "smooth, entrepreneurial" and "highly industrialized" K-Pop business, ultimately acts in the interests of maximizing profits. "Of course, K-pop artists don't control how their work is interpreted politically, but the more that is the case, the more likely it is that ticket prices will fall," Maliangkay told DW. "Because K-Pop is heavily dependent on live performances and for-profit sponsorship, the artists and their agents have to act conservatively."

In fact, according to a Reuters report, BTS fans in South Korea have warned colleagues not to interfere too much in US politics. The current K-Pop activism points to a unique phenomenon, guided by a large and powerful fan base, which is differently motivated: a response to racism, but also simply the "joy of a number of like-minded people and their assets, as a unit to perform, "says Maliangkay.

But without the outspoken support of its idols, this fan-led movement will lose its drive. "You will avoid politicizing your work too much," says Maliangkay of the stars. "And I suppose that your agencies and many of your fans didn't want that from you anyway."

Many K-pop "stans" are crazy about their idols - and ready to do something for them.

In the USA at least another kind of "K-Pop-Stans" has appeared. They are spurred on by their own ongoing struggle against orientalism and white supremacy. That could be a thorn in Trump's side as he prepares for the presidential race in November.