Crystal S. Anderson, PhD
Anybody can ask some questions about your favorite K-pop group but scholarship involves a lot more. Enter the glamorous(?) world of K-pop fan research!
What is research?
That’s a good question. Most K-pop fans have taken polls asking for their opinion, but these are usually for market research or for fun. Academic research is different. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines research as “a systematic investigation, including research development, testing and evaluation, designed to develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge.” There is a method to the madness, so the first thing that research involves is knowing the method. Some people work with quantitative methods (i.e. statistics), but I use qualitative methods (examining text in the form of responses and interviews) to explain what K-pop fans think about K-pop. In either case, you need to know what you are doing, and while a degree isn’t required, it helps. But long before the questions go up, you need a healthy dose of curiosity.
The Bright Idea
Some people look at K-pop and think nothing of it. However, I, as a researcher, wonder: Why do fans like K-pop? How do they support their groups? What do they get out of being a fan? As K-pop becomes more popular, news media and online commentators talk more and more about it. They find the whole phenomenon strange and make assumptions. For example, outlets like CNN talk about the groups and fans that support them as if they are all the same.
As a K-pop fan, though, I know those observations do not match what I see among K-pop fans. From my experience, I know that the groups are different. SHINee and Shinhwa may both be male groups, but they are different. I know the fandoms are different. Shawols are not like Shinhwa Changjos.
In addition, these outlets never talk about fan culture. I know that fans of SS501 know why Park Jung Min and Kim Hyung Joon are called Tom and Jerry. Shinhwa fans know who Mama Bird and Baby Bird are in the group. SHinee fans know what Onew Sangtae is. K-pop fandoms are wonderfully complicated so I wanted to explore how the fandoms are different and how they interact with one another, since they are a central part of the global spread of fandom.
But first, I needed to find out what had already been written on K-pop fans.
What Others Say
Research differs from opinion polls in that part of its purpose is to contribute to new knowledge. There is no need to do a research project if it’s already been done. You don’t want to look like a boob saying something that’s already been said. I found that there were a few studies on K-pop fans, but they focused on K-pop fans in East Asian countries, and they didn’t address the unique nature of individual fandoms (see Sung Jung, Korean Masculinities and Transcultural Consumption: Yonsama, Rain, Oldboy, K-pop Idols). For example, Shu-han Chiou did research for a master’s thesis which identified fans as “devotee, insider, intermediate of devotee-insider, and low-consumption-and-self-centered.” No K-pop fan talks about themselves that way. You are a A+ (fan of MBLAQ) or a SONE (fan of SNSD). People also form online fan communities that support multiple groups, like DongBangBLAQ (fans of TVXQ and MBLAQ), f(snsd) (fans of f(x) and SNSD), TripleKISS (fans of SS501 and UKISS) and SuperGeneration (fans of Super Junior and SNSD).
Once I got the lay of the scholarly land, it was time to develop the study!
Just Do It!
The iFans project was born! I developed a series of surveys where fans could talk about their perspectives about being a fan and promoted them on the KPK site as well as social media such as Twitter and Facebook.
Then, I waited. In order to study the data, you have to collect the data and you need to collect enough data to form valid conclusions. You wait for people to share the survey with their friends (hint, hint). In this way, part of the research is beyond your control.
You also may have to tweak your survey instrument. Sometimes a link doesn’t work. Sometimes you see you can get information in a more effective way, like providing text boxes for answers rather than having respondents list answers in just one big text box.
At some point, you get enough data to work with. Analyzing the data is the most unglamorous part of research, but it’s also the most exciting. It means reading each and every response and finding patterns in what people say. For example, the iFans general Case Studies survey had over 300 respondents, but generated hundreds of statements to analyze.
By systematically analyzing the data, I get to see what K-pop fans think about themselves, other fandoms and the artists themselves. I can now say things based on evidence about K-pop fans. As a result of my research I know, for example, that no matter the fandom, fans are fans of groups because of the music. I know that fans of SS501 like the group because of the brotherhood they show, and that fans of SNSD like the group because they are cute and dorky.
So, this is why it takes so long! If you’ve taken one of the longer surveys, you’re probably wondering where your answers are. Some of them make up the infographics you’ve been seeing on the site. Other responses are in the research reports. Still others will be the basis of articles and chapters for academic journals and books. In all cases, analyzing and writing up the reports takes time because of the large amount of response involved.
So, I’ve created the SMS: Saturday Mini Survey. This two-question survey is based on current events in K-pop so that fans can get research on K-pop a little bit faster. Be on the lookout for it!
In the end, real research follows a plan and follows rules to provide a better understanding of K-pop and its global fans.
“Code of Federal Regulations.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. http://www.hhs.gov/ohrp/humansubjects/guidance/45cfr46.html
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