Soul in Seoul: African American Popular Music and K-pop (September 2020, University of Mississippi Press) is a scholarly book that examines the ways that Korean pop (“idols), R&B and mainstream hip-hop of the Hallyu (Korean wave) era incorporate elements of black popular music and how global fans understand that influence.
It talks about people you know. It covers K-pop as a 20-year-old music tradition with genres that have developed over time and significant musical acts. It recognizes the development of “idol” acts ranging from veterans to their successors as well as the Korean and African American music producers behind the music, including Yoo Young Jin, Teddy, Teddy Riley and Harvey Mason Jr. It explores Korean R&B singers and groups as well as mainstream Korean hip-hop artists. Musical acts covered include g.o.d., Shinhwa, 2PM, Wonder Girls, SHINee, TVXQ, Rain (Bi), Fly to the Sky, 4MEN, Brown Eyed Soul, Big Mama, Park Hyo Shin, Lyn, Zion T., Wheesung, Dynamic Duo, Epik High, Primary, Jay Park and Yoon Mirae.
What’s In It for Scholars
It critically engages K-pop through an interdisciplinary lens. Soul in Seoul draws on popular music studies, fan studies and transnational American studies to examine the intertextuality at the heart of K-pop music, an intertextuality that includes African American popular music and distinct Korean music strategies. This intertextuality sounds different through time, across genres and among artists because it draws from a variety of aspects of black popular music. At the same time, the book highlights the critical function of fans, who are responsible for its global spread and function as its music press. It places African American popular culture within a global context, thereby disrupting the homogenizing tendencies of globalization that obscure the impact of an African American popular culture with a complicated relationship to the West. The book is accessible to undergraduate and graduate students and suitable for courses in music and ethnomusicology, ethnic studies, Asian studies, African American studies, American studies, popular culture and media studies.
What’s In It for Everybody
Soul in Seoul is about the music, so it is for anyone who is curious about the ever-changing phenomenon that is K-pop. Look for the Soul in Seoul Playlist leading up to the book’s release in September 2020 on KPK: Kpop Kollective to hear what all the fuss is about.
As part of KPK’s decennial year, we are launching K-pop Commons, a repository of K-pop project ephemera – documents and artifacts that were not created for formal publication or commercial display (e.g., books, book chapters, galleries/exhibitions), but that are meaningful to the creators of the items and that reflect the impact of K-pop on those who know it best: fans.
Whether K-pop fans are praised political activists or denigrated as delusional enthusiasts, both characterizations reduce K-pop fans, especially Black fans, and fail to recognize their value beyond politics.
Up until recently, K-pop fans had a questionable reputation. On March 19, 2020, I did a search for K-pop fans, and these are the search terms Google offered:
This is what today’s search (June 24) for K-pop fan brings:
In the span of a few months, the perception of K-pop fans has changed, largely due to several events with political ramifications, including overwhelming the Dallas police iWatch Dallas app, taking over the #whitelivesmatter hashtag, and most recently, disrupting President Trump’s Oklahoma rally. Coverage by mainstream media outlets have praised these actions, suggesting that K-pop fans now have value because they are politically active.
However, others are pointing out that calling K-pop the newest wave of political activists is not as positive as it seems. Abby Ohlheiser does a really great job of explaining the complexity surrounding K-pop fandom and why the sudden characterization of K-pop fans as activists is problematic:
Some stans, and the academics who study them, say that while it’s great to see fans use these platforms for good, the rapid veneration is overshadowing the more complex dynamics underlying K-pop fandom. And, they say, the newfound reputation for anti-racist heroism largely ignores the voices of black K-pop fans, who have struggled with racism and harassment within the community.
The K-pop fan-as-activist is the other side of the K-pop-fan-as-crazy coin. Both are imposed by the media and narrowly construe K-pop fandom. K-pop fan activity did not suddenly become important or significant just because it intersects with the political arena or because major outlets say so. Fans were always important and significant, in and of themselves. K-pop fans’ ability to organize and mobilize for a cause can be seen as early as 2012, when fans of Seo Taiji, often credited with being the first major figure in K-pop, fundraised to create the “SeoTaiji Forest” in Brazil to support conservation. It’s the same organizing used to support groups when they promote. But it’s also scores of smaller, collaborative projects that collect information in informal archive projects. K-pop fans have always been proactive in producing culture around K-pop.
This has a particular impact for Black K-pop fans. While Black K-pop fans have been part of K-pop fandom since its early days, they are increasingly being brought to the fore solely within the context of K-pop activism around Black Lives Matter, or increasingly, to articulate their negative experiences within the fandom. While both are important in understanding the experiences of Black fans, they are not the only way to understand those experiences. Raising Black K-pop fan voices only to tell stories of racism and discrimination suggests that Black fans cannot talk about just being a fan, who they like and why. It excludes Black fans from having a voice on any other aspect of K-pop and silences them under the auspices of giving them a voice.
Black fans, and Black people in general, have a complex experience one that includes joy. Imani Perry recently wrote for The Atlantic: “My elders taught me that I belonged to a tradition of resilience, of music that resonates across the globe, of spoken and written language that sings. . . . The injustice is inescapable. So yes, I want the world to recognize our suffering. But I do not want pity from a single soul. Sin and shame are found in neither my body nor my identity. Blackness is an immense and defiant joy.” Calling on Black voices only confirm their negative experience with ignoring their opinion on everything else in the fandom excludes them from being fans in the truest sense of the word. If the only way the public sees Black fan is as a tragic victim, we reduce the Black fan.
K-pop fans in general, and Black K-pop fans in particular, are having characterizations imposed on them by entities that do not have the best track record on K-pop coverage. This narrative of activism is being generated by mainstream media outlets rather than the fans themselves. As a result, it continues the age-old tendency of the media reducing K-pop fans to the simplest of terms.
Welcome to Part 15 of my ongoing series of bibliographic entries about Hallyu. These entries are listed by year, not by author (TIP: If you know about a title or author and you want to see if it’s included in this listing, use the CTRL + F function).
Leonard, Sean. (2005). Progress against the Law: Anime and Fandom, and the Key to the Globalization of Culture. International Journal of Cultural Studies 8.3 (2005): 281-305.
Yuk Ming Lisa Leung. (2005). Virtualizing the ‘Korean Wave’: The Politics of (Transnational) Cyberfandom in 〈Daejangguem>. Asian Communication Research Volume 2 Number 2, 2005.9, page(s): 65-90. Abstract accessed 2 November 2011 http://www.dbpia.co.kr/view/ar_view.asp?arid=1030479&A=
Shim, Hyunjoo. (2005). Antifans and the internet: An ethnographic study of participatory drama fans in Korean websites. Thesis, Georgia State University.
Pease, Rowan. (2006). Internet, fandom and K-wave in China. In K. Howard (Ed.) Korean pop music: Riding the wave. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.
Hayashi, Kaori and Eun-Jeung Lee. (2007). The potential of fandom and the limits of soft power: Media representations on the popularity of a Korean melodrama in Japan. Social Science Japan Journal, 10(2): 197-216. doi: 10.1093/ssjj/jym049 (see also, Politics and Soft Power)
Siriyuvasak, Ubonrat & Hyunjoon Shin. (2007). Asianizing Kpop: production, consumption and identification patterns among Thai youth. Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, 8(1): 109-136.
Lee, Soojin, David Scott and Hyounggon Kim. (2008). Celebrity fan involvement and destination perceptions. Annals of Tourism Research, 35(3): 809-832.
Mori, Yoshitaka. (2008). Winter Sonata and cultural practices of active fans in Japan: Considering middle-aged women as cultural agents. In C.B. Huat and K. Iwabuchi (Eds.) East Asian Pop Culture: Analyzing the Korean Wave. pp. 127-X. Aberdeen: Hong Kong University Press.
Iwabuchi, Koichi. (2010). Undoing inter-national fandom in the age of brand nationalism. Mechademia, 5:87-96.
Lee, Seung Ah. (2012). Of the fans, by the fans, for the fans: The republic of JYJ. Presented at the Nam Center for Korean Studies’ Hallyu 2.0: The Korean Wave in the Age of Social Media Symposium. Accessed 8 April 2020 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BwBKXybAXJQ
Hubinette, Tobias. (2018). Who are the Swedish K-pop fans? Revisiting the reception and consumption of Hallyu in post-Gangnam Style Sweden with an emphasis on K-pop. Culture and Empathy, 1(1-4): 34-48. Accessed 7 April 2020 from http://www.tobiashubinette.se/korean_popculture_1.pdf
Sari, Dorottya. (2018). The rise of Hallyu in Hungary: An exploratory study about the motivation, behavior, and perception of Hungarian K-pop fans.
Swan, Anna Lee. (2018). Transnational identities and feeling in fandom: place and embodiment in K-pop fan reaction videos. Communication, Culture and Critique, 11(4): 548-565.
Sutton, R. Anderson. (2018). Tracking the Korean wave in transnational Asia: K-pop and K-pop fandom in Indonesia. Asian Musicology, 28: 9-39.
Capistrano, Erik, Paolo. (2019). Understanding Filipino Korean pop music fans. Asian Journal of Social Science, 47(1): 59-87.
Crow, Teahlyn Frances. (2019). K-pop, language, and online fandom: An exploration of Korean language use and performativity amongst international K-pop fans. Thesis, Northern Arizona University.
Cruz, Angela, Seo, Yuri, & Binay, Itir. (2019). Cultural globalization from the periphery: Translation practices of English-speaking K-pop fans. Journal of Consumer Culture, In press. (See Also, Language)
De Kosnik, A. & Carrington, A. (2019). Fans of color, fandoms of color. Transformative Works & Cultures, 29(1): 1.
Jansen, Kine Fjeld. (2019). Pop culturally motivated lexical borrowing: Use of Korean in an English-majority fan forum. Thesis, University of Bergen. Accessed 7 April 2020 from http://bora.uib.no/handle/1956/20363
Kang, Jiwon, Lee, Minsung, Park, Eunil et al. (2019). Alliance for my idol: Analyzing the K-pop fandom collaboration network. CHI EA ‘ 19: Extended Abstracts of the 2019 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. Pp. 1- 6.
Utami, Evi Farsiah. (2019). Social media, celebrity, and fans: A study of Indonesian K-pop fans. Thesis, Taylor’s University. (See Also, Internet and Social Media)
Veteran “idol” group g.o.d (Groove Overdose) is the first K-pop artist explored in-depth in Soul in Seoul: African American Popular Music and K-pop. When writing the book, I always knew that g.o.d formed the foundation of understanding the use of R&B rhythm and vocals for later “idol” groups. Their consistent use of funk rhythms and vocals, especially gospel-inflected vocals over their decades-long career allows for an exploration of their sound over time, which remains remarkably consistent. The group’s engagement with black popular music ranges from soul ballads to upbeat dance tracks. Below find a collection of the best examples of g.o.d’s engagement with black popular music. (*Tracks marked with an * are explored further in the book).
Observation, Chapter 1 (1999)* | 2. So You Can Come Back to Me, Chapter 1 (1999) | 3. With Little Men, Chapter 1 (1999) | 4. Promise, Chapter 1 (1999) | 5. Love and Remember, Chapter 2 (1999) | 6. Dance All Night, Chapter 2 (1999) | 7. Friday Night, Chapter 2 (1999) | 8. Five Men’s Story, Chapter 2 (1999) | 9. 21C Our Hope, Chapter 2 (1999) | 10. One Candle, Chapter 3 (2000)* | 11. Need You, Chapter 3 (2000) | 12. Lie, Chapter 3 (2000) | 13. Dance With Me, Chapter 3 (2000) | 14. Road, Chapter 4 (2001) | 15. The Place You Where You Should Be, Chapter 4 (2001) | 16. Let’s Go, Chapter 4 (2001) | 17. Report to the Dance Floor, Chapter 5: Letter (2002) | 18. Lately, Chapter 5: Letter (2002) | 19. The Reason Why Opposites Attract (Bandaega Kkeulrineun Iyu), Ordinary Day (2004) | 20. I Don’t Know Your Heart (Ni Mameul Molla), Into the Sky (2005) | 21. It’s Alright (ft. G-Soul), Into the Sky (2005) | 22. Crime (Mujoe), Into the Sky (2005) | 23. Change, Into the Sky (2005) | 24. Sky Blue Promise, Chapter 8 (2014)* | 25. Stand Up, Chapter 8 (2014) | 26. Saturday Night, Chapter 8 (2014)* | 27. G’swag, Chapter 8 (2014)
“Change” is from g.o.d’s (Groove Overdose) 2005 album Into the Sky. It combines rap with the distinct soul vocals of Kim Tae Woo. The track’s lyrics were written by Park Jin Young, the CEO of JYP Entertainment also known as The Asiansoul, while the composition and arrangement is credited to Mad Soul Child.
Welcome to Part 13 of my ongoing series of bibliographic entries about Hallyu. These entries are listed by year, not by author (TIP: If you know about a title or author and you want to see if it’s included in this listing, use the CTRL + F function).
This is a working post, so if you would like to submit items to this list or to the bibliography, please contact me directly email@example.com.
Jeong, SH. (2003). Strategy for increase of foreign tourists using the Korean wave in Jeju. Korean Journal of Tourism Management Research
Nakamura, Lisa. (2003). “Where do you want to go today?” Cybernetic tourism, the internet and transnationality. In G. Dines and J. M. Humez Gender, Race and Class in Media. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications. pp. 684-687.
Ya, E.S. (2005). A continuous improvement of Hallyu tourism as a new cultural tourism. Journal of Korean Tourism Policy, 11(3): 57-77.
Seo, Jin Wook and Cai, Xuejing. (2006). A study on the factors of Korean TV Drama to stimulate Chinese tourist visiting in Korea. International Tourism Conference on International Tourism Conference 2006 Winter Conference, international tourism trends and prospects; Trends and Prospects of International Tourism Industry.
Chae, Yebyeong. (2007). A study plan to attract more foriegn visitors through analysis of Chinese tourists to Korea. Korea Tourism Research, 2(3): 77-92.
Chan, Brenda. (2007). Film-induced tourism in Asia: A case study of Korean television drama and female viewers’ motivation to visit Korea. Tourism Culture & Communication, 7(3): 207-224.
Kim, Samuel Seongseop, Argusa, Jerome, Lee, Heesung & Chon, Kaye Chon. (2007). Effects of Korean television dramas on the flow of Japanese tourists. Tourism Management, 28(5): 1340 -1353.
Han, Hee Joo & Lee, Jae-Sub. (2008). A Study on the KBS drama Winter Sonata and its impact on Korea’s Hallyu tourism development. Journal of Travel & Tourism Marketing, 24 (2/3): 115-126.
Hirata, Yukie. (2008). Touring ‘Dramatic Korea’: Japanese women as viewers of Hanryu dramas and tourists on Hanyru tours. In C.B. Huat and K. Iwabuchi (Eds.) East Asian Pop Culture: Analyzing the Korean Wave. pp. 143 – 156.. Aberdeen: Hong Kong University Press.(see also, Korean Drama Viewership and Habits)
Lee, Soojin, Scott, David Scott & Kim, Hyounggon. (2008). Celebrity fan involvement and destination perceptions. Annals of Tourism Research, 35(3): 809-832.
Lin, Y.S. & Huang, J.Y. (2008). Analyzing the use of TV miniseries for Korea tourism marketing. Journal of Travel & Tourism Marketing, 24(2/3): 223-227.
Kim, Hyun Jeong, Chen, Ming-Hsiang, & Su, Hung Jen. (2009).The impact of Korean TV dramas on Taiwanese tourism demand for Korea. Tourism Economics, 15(4): 867-873.
Kim, Sangkyun, Long, & Robinson, Mike. (2009). Small screen, big tourism: the role of popular Korean television dramas in South Korean Tourism. Tourism Geographies, 11(3): 308-333.
Ryan, Chris, Yanning, Zhang, Gu, Huimin & Song, Ling. (2009). Tourism, a classic novel, and television. Journal of Travel Research, 48(1): 14-28.
Kim, Samuel, Lee, Heesung Lee, & Chon, Kye-song. (2010). Segmentation of different types of Hallyu tourists using a multinational model and its marketing implications. Journal of Hospitality & Tourism Research, 34(3): 341-363.
Kim, Sangkyun. (2010). Extraordinary experience: Re-enacting and photographing at screen tourism locations. Tourism and Hospitality Planning & Development, 7(1): 59-75.
Lee, SoJung & Bai, Billy. (2010). A qualitative analysis of the impact of popular culture on destination image: A case study of Korean wave from Japanese fans. ScholarWorks@UMass Amherst. Accessed 22 November 2011 fromhttp://bit.ly/1tu46Dk
Oh, Yongsoo. (2010). The changes in the Korean wave and the creation of competitiveness of tourism of Korean wave. Korea Tourism Policy, 42 (Winter). Korea Culture and Policy Researcher.
Choi, Jeong Gil, Tkachenko, Tamara, & Sil, Shomir. (2011). On the destination image of Korea by Russian tourists. Tourism Management, 32: 193-194.
Kim, Sangkyun. (2011). A cross-cultural study of the on-site film-tourism experiences among Chinese, Japanese, Taiwanese and Thai visitors to the Daejanggeum theme park, South Korea. Current Issues in Tourism, 15(8): 759-776.
Kim, Sangkyun and O’Connor, Noëlle. (2011). A cross-cultural study of screen-tourists’ profiles. Worldwide Hospitality and Tourism Themes, 3(2):141 – 158.
Lee, SoJung. (2011). The impact of soap opera on destination image: A multivariate repeated measures analysis. ScholarWorks@UMassAmherst. Accessed 7 April 2020 fromhttps://bit.ly/2JMME7N
Kim, Sangkyun. (2012). Audience involvement and film tourism experiences: Emotional places, emotional experiences. Tourism Management, 33(2): 387-396.
Kim, Sangkyun. (2012). The relationships of on-site film-tourism experiences, satisfaction, and behavioral intentions: The case of Asian audience’s responses to a Korean historical TV drama. Journal of Travel & Tourism Marketing, 29(5): 472-484.
Kim, Sangkyun and Wang, Hua. (2012). From television to the film set:Korean drama Daejanggeum drives Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese and Thai audiences to screen-tourism. International Communication Gazette, 74(5): 423-442.
Kim. Sangkyun and O’Connor, Noëlle. (2012). Film tourism locations and experiences: A popular Korean television drama production perspective. Tourism Review International, 15(3): 243-252.
Kim, Seongseop, Kim, Miju, Agrusa, Jerome,& Lee, Aejoo. (2012). Does a food-themed TV drama affect perceptions of national image and intention to visit a country? An empirical study of Korea TV drama. Journal of Travel & Tourism Marketing, 29(4): 313-326.
Kim, Andrew Eungi, Mayasari, Fitria Mayasari, & Oh, Ingyu. (2013). When tourist audiences encounter each other: Diverging learning behaviors of K-pop fans from Japan and Indonesia. Korea Journal, 53(4): 59-82.
Kim, Samuel Seongseop, Agrusa, Jerome, & Chon, Kaye. (2014). The influence of a TV Drama on visitors’ perception: A cross-cultural study. Journal of Travel & Tourism Marketing, 31(4): 536-562.
Rajaguru, Rajesh. (2014). Motion picture-induced visual, vocal and celebrity effects on tourism motivation: Stimulus organism response model. Asia Pacific Journal of Tourism Research, 19(4): 375-388.
Yoo, Jae-woong, Samsup Jo, and Jung, Jaemin. (2014). The effects of television viewing, cultural proximity, and ethnocentrism on country image. Social Behavior & Personality: an international journal, 42(1):89 – 96.
Kim, Sangkyun & Nam, Chanwoo. (2016). Hallyu revisited: Challenges and opportunities for the South Korea tourism. Asia Pacific Journal of Tourism Research, 21(5): 524-540.
Mah, Han Poh. (2016). Influences of Korean wave on the intention of visiting Korea in Generation Y Malaysia. Thesis, INTI International University. Accessed 7 April 2020 fromhttp://eprints.intimal.edu.my/914/
Yen, Chang-Hua & Croy, W. Glen. (2016). Film tourism: celebrity involvement, celebrity worship and destination image. Current Issues in Tourism, 19(10): 1027-1044.
Bae, Eun-song, Chang, Meehyang, Park, Eung-Suk, & Kim, Dae-cheol. (2017). The effect of Hallyu on tourism in Korea. Journal of Open Innovation: Technology, Market, and Complexity, 3(4). Accessed 8 April 2020 fromhttps://www.mdpi.com/2199-8531/3/4/22
Choi, H.S. Chris. (2017). Understanding the consumption experience of Chinese tourists: Assessing the effect of audience involvement, flow, and delight on electronic word-of-mouth. Thesis, University of Guelph. Accessed 8 April 2020 fromhttps://atrium.lib.uoguelph.ca/xmlui/handle/10214/10252
Botovalkina, A.V., Levina, V.S., & Kudinova, K.M. (2018). Economics of cultural tourism: The case of the Korean wave. In Gaol, Filimonova, and Maslennikov (Eds). Financial and Economic Tools Used in the World Hospitality Industry (pp. 203 – 207). London: Taylor & Francis Group.
Kim, Seongsap & Kim, Sangkyun. (2018). Perceived values of TV drama, audience involvement, and behavioral intention in film tourism. Journal of Travel & Tourism Marketing, 35(3): 259-272.
Hasegawa, Eiko. (n.d.). Re-orienting tourism: Japanese tourism in Korea and Asian cultural integration.
Welcome to Part 12 of my ongoing series of bibliographic entries about Hallyu. These entries are listed by year, not by author (TIP: If you know about a title or author and you want to see if it’s included in this listing, use the CTRL + F function).
This is a working post, so if you would like to submit items to this list or to the bibliography, please contact me directly firstname.lastname@example.org.
Morelli, S. (2001). “Who is a Dancing Hero?”: Rap, Hip-Hop, and Dance in Korean Popular Culture’, pp. 248–57 in T. Mitchell (ed.) Global Noise: Rap and Hip-Hop Outside the USA. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press.
Howard, K. (2002) ‘Exploding Ballads: The Transformation of Korean Pop Music’, pp. 80–95 in T.J. Craig and R. King (eds) Global Goes Local: Popular Culture in Asia. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.
Park, Gil-sung. 2013. Manufacturing creativity: Production, performance, and dissemination of K-pop. Korea Journal, 53(4): 14-33.
de Carvalho Lourenço, Patricia Portugal Marques. (2015). K-pop music digital marketing role in Brazil: Case study: Kim Hyun Joong. Dissertation, ISCEM. Accessed 7 April 2020 fromhttp://comum.rcaap.pt/handle/10400.26/22742
Tan, Marcus. (2015). K-contagion: Sound, speed, and space in “Gangnam Style.” The Drama Review, 59(1): 83-96. Accessed 16 June 2016 fromhttp://bit.ly/266cQ0T
Cho, Janice Kim. (2017). “Sure it’s foreign music, but it’s not foreign to me.” Understanding K-pop’s popularity in the U.S. using a Q sort. Thesis, Brigham Young University. Accessed 7 April 2020 fromhttps://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/etd/6612/
Ryu, Jungyop, Capistrano, Erik Paolo, & Lin, Hao-Chieh. (2018). Non-Korean consumers’ preferences on Korean popular music: A two-country study. International Journal of Market Research,62(2): 234-252.
Boman, Björn. (2019). Achievement in the South Korean music industry. International Journal of Music Business Research, 8(2): 6-26. Accessed 7 April 2020 fromhttps://bit.ly/2Vdss3U
Gardner, Hyneia. (2019). The impact of African-American musicianship on South Korean popular music: Adoption, hybridization, integration, or other? Thesis, Harvard Extension School. Accessed 7 April 2020 fromhttps://dash.harvard.edu/handle/1/42004187
Wheesung (Choi Wheesung) debuted with boy group A4 in 1999 and as a solo artist with YG Entertainment in 2000. Although his roots are in rock, he is known as a solid R&B artist. Wheesung also uses the stage name Realslow, and named his company such when he started it in 2017.
“Girls” is from Wheesung’s 2010 CD Vocolate (an almagam of the words “voice” and “chocolate”). This album also highlights the continuing hallmark of Korean music artists working with African-American music producers: Vocolate features collaborations withRodney “DarkChild” Jerkins and Ne-Yo. I was originally introduced to this song via Jonghyun (he was afan ofandworked withWheesung). “Girls” made a recent showing on my YouTube random play. Add it to your work-out list to keep you going through those next-to-last rotation squats or that final treadmill level-5 incline run.
Online platforms have been a major force propelling the spread of K-pop globally, but are shifts in how they are deployed contributing to a more insular fandom?
When you ask K-pop fans about their journey into K-pop, YouTube usually features prominently. Over the last few years, K-pop fans have been treated to content by companies and artists who recognize the platform as a significant way to get content to fans. However, Jeff Benjamin reports a new trend that sees companies shifting their focus from the easily accessed platforms like Youtube (depending on your country of residence) to more proprietary platforms that promise more direct interaction with K-pop artists and more profit for companies: “The apps will enable K-pop companies to retain all of the ad revenue generated by the content they post. YouTube’s revenue-sharing model only gives 55% to channel owners, which can get more complicated when international viewership is involved.”
While access to such proprietary platforms such as WeVerse and Lysn are free, revenue is generated from fees to access more premium content with artists. Fans could pay $30 for a global fan membership or $20 to view the individual fourth season of BTS’s Bon Voyage, while an individual membership for a subscription to SM Entertainment’s personalized message system “Dear U” costs $3.45 per month for an individual member, and a subscription for all 14 members of NCT could run about $40 (Benjamin 2020).
What are the implications for K-pop fandom, which for years was sustained by free content on platforms like YouTube? On one hand, this move could limit access for fans who choose to not pay for such services, and they may lose interest in K-pop. On the other hand, fans have been circulating artist-related material for decades, keeping interest going for K-pop long before the companies started to look to proprietary platforms for revenue.
There would be a particular dilemma for the multi-fan of groups who may end of on several different proprietary platforms. Moreover, it could contribute to the continued balkanization of K-pop fandom, with fans becoming even more territorial and defensive about their groups. Channeling fans to proprietary sites may translate to even less exposure to other K-pop groups as well as the larger K-pop industry.
Such a move could also make fandom less visible. Because of its ease of access, YouTube is not only a platform for artist content, but for fan content as well. This put fan activity on global display. If interaction between artists and fans move to more proprietary platforms, such fan activity becomes less visible. Which stricter rules on sharing, it could also have a negative impact on the visibility of fan-artist interaction, which began on very visible social media platforms in the first place.
Survey responses suggest that American female fans of K-pop girl groups simultaneously critique Korean society and music industry and recognize the impact of their position as foreign fans on their perceptions of representations of empowerment in K-pop. These are findings from the U Go Girl: The K-pop Girl Group Fan Study and are based on 129 responses from female fans who identified their country of residency as the United States.
Transcultural fandom, when fans admire something outside of their culture, often revolves around nationalism. Koichi Iwabuchi talks about “brand nationalism,” or a “nationalist strategy of disseminating culture for national interests” (90). However, brand nationalism focuses on the interests of the country creating the culture rather than how fans outside of the country make sense of it. The field of fan studies tends to focus on the way fans admire culture, but what about when they critique it? When asked about their attitudes towards concepts/images of K-pop girl groups in relation to empowerment and agency for women, some American female fans of K-pop girl groups articulate a critique of gender dynamics in Korean society, while others recognize the impact of their American identity on their perspectives of female empowerment in Korea. Both show how an American perspective can influences the discourses around K-pop.
Critique of Korea
Several respondents criticize Korean culture and society for a lack of representation of empowerment by K-pop girl groups. One respondent notes: “I think Korea has a huge issue with misogyny that is reflected in K-pop and that women are forced to be boxed in to one ‘type’ or another in order to appeal to men and to be socially acceptable to both men and women.” Another respondent says: “A lot of times they are held back due to Korea still holding sexist attitudes so I think there is more potential but it will all slowly become better.” How much do the respondents know about the history of Korean culture? Do they form such opinions based on Western media, which has been known to skew representations of foreign culture? Is “Korea’s issue with misogyny” or its “sexist attitudes” different than those within the United States?
Recognition of American Subjectivity
At the same time, other respondents recognize their perspective as American fans of a foreign popular culture. One respondent notes: “We have to remember as foreign fans, the concepts, images and sonic soundscapes that we hear/see in K-pop are coming from a unique place and culture. That means we are not always going to immediately understand it. . . . . We all have different experiences and thus different frameworks. Foreign Kpop fans need to remember this.” Another respondent notes: “This is a tricky question, because I’m a white American woman speaking on gender politics in Korea, a country I have no relation to and have never lived in. . . . At the end of the day, I’m not a defining voice on the subject, all I am is someone trying to find grey area in music and entertainment from a country that isn’t my own. I still am friends with quite a few Korean-Americans so I hear what they think on certain concepts, and that contributes a lot to my hesitancy to place my Western ideals on another country dismissively.” These fans recognize that their perceptions of Korean culture are filtered through their experiences as fans outside of the country. What kind of knowledge would a fan have to gain to make a valid critique of representations of empowerment? Do their perspectives not count because they are foreign fans? Do ideas about empowerment change as they cross national boundaries?
Such divergent responses suggest that perceptions by American fans may be influenced by American culture in general. The impact of nationalism has been explored in fan studies. Kyong Yoon’s study of K-pop fans in Vancouver included Canadians of East Asian descent, white Canadians and one Canadian of mixed race. Yoon noted: “Some fans of Asian descent engaged with K-pop in relation to their Asian Canadian subject positions, while White Canadian fans emphasized their individual and alternative cultural tastes that do not belong to mainstream culture” (185). Yoon suggests that a Canadian context informs the way these fans interact with K-pop.
The United States represents a unique context informed by a history of the interplay among gender, ethnicity and nationality. As a nation developed by a variety of immigrant groups and a major site for women’s rights, the United States also elides those very varied experiences in favor of one dominant narrative on empowerment, currently often represented as fierce, outspoken and brash. Images and concepts not in keeping with this narrative might be construed as not empowering. This suggests that a distinct and particular American cultural lens can have an impact on the way fans read empowerment in Korean girl groups.
Iwabuchi, Koichi.”Undoing Inter‐national Fandom in the Age of Brand Nationalism’. Mechademia 5 (2010): . 87‐96.
Yoon, Kyong. “Transnational Fandom in the Making: K-pop Fans in Vancouver.” the International Communication Gazette vol 81, no. 2 (2018): 176-192. DOI: 10.1177/1748048518802964.