Crystal S. Anderson, PhD
Associate Professor of English, Longwood University
While recent reports about arguments over K-pop fanclub colors may seem superficial, they reveal the value of branding for group promotion as well as the emotional relationship between K-pop groups and their fans.
The ire of fans of Shinhwa (one of the oldest K-pop groups and the longest-running K-pop group with original members) was raised when K-pop media outlets reported that iKON, a male K-pop group who just debuted in 2015, chose orange as its fanclub color. Shinhwa has been associated with orange since the group’s debut in 1998. K-pop idol groups frequently choose a color for the fanclub, which links the fans to the group and functions as part of the identity of the group. For example, during concerts, fans will fill stadiums in the fanclub color using lightsticks, creating “oceans” of color.
Fan color sparks strong passions from artists and fans alike because both play a role in the creation of a group’s culture. In “Hallyu versus Hallyuhwa: Cultural Phenomenon versus Institutional Campaign,” JungBong Choi argues that while “the Korean creative industry irrefutably remains the linchpin in the protean architecture of Hallyu,” the spread and maintenance of Hallyu, of which K-pop is a major part, “is profoundly dependent on the cultural masonry carried out by a legion of underrecognized ‘craftsmen,’ namely, overseas fans” (41). In other words, K-pop functions through cooperation between fans and artists, some argue, more so than in other forms of popular culture. For example, the controversy originated in Korean media, but was quickly mirrored by global fans of K-pop. Koreaboo based its story, “Shinhwa’s Leader Eric Speaks Against iKON Using the Same Fandom Color,” on a story from the Korean site, 10asia. Soompi‘s “Shinhwa’s Eric Asks Junior Groups to Avoid Orange as Fandom Color” was based on a story on Daum, another Korean site. The social media comments for both stories reflected a similar range of opinions as in the original stories in Korean media. In both cases, fans from different regions share similar opinions.
Why? In “Towards a Theory of Transcultural Fandom,” Bertha Chin and Lori Hitchcock Morimoto suggests that the concept of transcultural homology helps to explain why fans from different countries can be united in their perspective: “This concept frees fandom from the constraints of national belonging, reinforcing our contention that fans become fans of border-crossing texts or objects not necessarily because of where they are produced, but because they may recognise a subjective moment of affinity regardless of origin” (99). This concept is based on affinity that transcends national origins and explains fan dynamics, but can also shed light on the relationship between fans and artists.
In the case of Shinhwa and iKON, Korean and global fans were not the only ones to take to social media to express their opinions. The responses from Shinhwa members Eric and Dongwan show that K-pop artists use social media to communicate with their fandoms, which reveals a level of affinity between artists and fans. Eric’s initial response to iKON’s fandom color was expressed through a tweet and Dongwan’s subsequent comments appeared on his Facebook page. Both acknowledge the meaning of the color orange for their fandom. Eric’s tweet reassured fans that Shinhwa values the color, presumably because of how it symbolizes the relationship between fan and artist throughout their long career. Dongwan’s more lengthy Facebook post identified two reasons that motivated the group’s concern about iKON’s use of the color. One one hand, it is an economic issue. Orange is part of Shinhwa’s branding: “It is that next year, Shinhwa will be promoting. . . .Shinhwa’s promotion period won’t be long compared to that of the shining and energetic junior groups” (ilmare42). Unlike many of the younger groups, Shinhwa only engages in promotional activities once a year. Orange is the key identifier, and used in much of the promotional merchandise for the group. Orange is key to the group’s promotional strategies. As a result, the issue is not merely one of respect between older and younger groups; Shinhwa has a compelling economic reason to ask other groups to refrain from using the color.
However, Dongwan also draws on the emotional value of the color for the fandom: “Shinhwa and Shinhwa Changjo have to spend this short time together passionately and warmly. I sincerely hope that there won’t be any obstacles in the way of us spending this time together. . . . We are just hoping that a few of the things we have protected during our long time together will be respected. Those things are Shinhwa and Shinhwa Changjo, and the sea of orange lights that we see when we’re on stage” (ilmare42). Fans often use emotionally-based discourse to describe their relationship with their K-pop artists, but Dongwan has adopted that rhetoric in speaking about the group’s fans. Orange, therefore, represents an emotional investment for group members as well as fans.
Incidents like those that involve Shinhwa and iKON show that K-pop culture involves economic and emotional elements, both of which are key to its global appeal.
Chin, Bertha and Lori Hitchock Morimoto. “Towards a Theory of Transcultural Fandom.” Participations: Journal of Audience & Reception Studies. 10.1 (2013): 92-108.
Choi, JungBong. “Hallyu versus Hallyu-hwa Cultural Phenomenon versus Institutional Campaign.” Hallyu 2.0: The Korean Wave in the Age of Social Media. Ed. Sangjoon Lee and Abe Mark Nornes. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2015. 31-52.
ilmare42. “Shinhwa’s Kim Dong Wan Asks Other Fandoms to Respect Shinhwa and Fans by Not Using Orange.” Soompi. 19 Dec 2015. Evernote. https://www.evernote.com/shard/s213/sh/bc7376ab-a6da-420a-a910-45f4f21d8882/3cfd851c630d58cf9cd9331374453eab.
kiddy_days. “Shinhwa’s Eric Asks Junior Groups to Avoid Orange as Fandom Color.” Soompi. 18 Dec 2015. Evernote. https://www.evernote.com/shard/s213/sh/9e64605a-8f63-494b-aaeb-44005c962b06/9c52a061c082fe6b93eba5b865c54416.
“Shinhwa’s Leader Eric Speaks Against iKON Using the Same Fandom Color.” 18 Dec 2015. Koreaboo. Evernote. https://www.evernote.com/shard/s213/sh/5f8c128b-e447-4790-ac9a-6c51cb3ceba0/1d8d79730bbee43c8f1cfb58d1342a93
Colors and Consequences: Branding and Fandom in K-pop by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.