The Quantification of K-pop

The Quantification of K-pop
Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

Numerical data dominates the discourse around K-pop. In order to get a fuller view, we need to contextualize those numbers with other kinds of information in order to understand K-pop’s worldwide appeal.

With the focus on awards, streams, views and tweets, numbers lead the way we talk about K-pop. 2020 has seen K-pop venture into new territory, with high appearances on Billboard charts, high-profile performances and unprecedented winning of awards. K-pop fans urge others to view and stream to increase the visibility of their favorite groups. Scholars also use numerical data to study the use of social media and understand the spread of K-pop globally. Some see research based on numerical data as the gold standard: “Quantitative research is more preferred over qualitative research because it is more scientific, objective, fast, focused and acceptable” (Formplus Blog).

However, the hyperfocus on numerical data can skew our understanding of K-pop. Numbers are not as objective as many think.  Data can be manipulated and misrepresented. Even when the data is valid, it only presents part of the story. Harry Gough notes: “Sometimes we are so hypnotized by data, we gaze past our own humanity. To get the whole picture, you need the story behind the data – the ‘so what?’, otherwise all you have is data. Which is why qualitative data can be so valuable.”

Twitter data featured in Tamar Herman‘s “10 Years On, Twitter is Shaping the Spread of K-pop,” shows the strengths of numerical data, but also the need for  additional perspectives to understand the whole story of K-pop’s global spread through social media.  Twitter Korea “tracked  data from the past year between July 1, 2019 and June 30, 2020” and “added it to its analysis of the past decade’s growth,” which includes data from Twitter usage from 2010-2020 (Herman). The long-term Twitter usage data reveals a pattern of increase in Twitter conversations related to K-pop.  Such conversations show the domination of boy groups, the increase of usage of Twitter by K-pop artists and the prominence of  certain artists  in certain countries (Herman).

At the same time, the data has limits, meaning there are things it does not take into account. This data covers only Twitter. While it is a major social media platform, there are many K-pop fans on Twitter who never participate in conversations. Other K-pop fans intentionally avoid Twitter in favor of other social media platforms, such as Instagram, YouTube, Tumblr and private Facebook groups.  These K-pop fans are not captured in this data, so what it tells us pertains only to a certain segment of K-pop fans. If we take its conclusions as representative of most or all K-pop fans, we could be misrepresenting the data and what it actually tells us.

Moreover, this data does not tell us why boy groups dominate or why certain artists are popular in certain countries. We need non-numerical data, which could add to the numerical data by understanding “underlying reasons, opinions and motivations” (Gough).  Mentions are just that: mentions. They do not tell us why something is being mentioned.  Asking individuals about the motivations behind their actions, their attitudes and opinions may not be generalizable, but it helps to explain the numbers.

With the rise of research in K-pop, we need multiple methods to comprehensively understand it.

Source

Formplus Blog. “15 Reasons to Choose Quantitative over Qualitative Research.” Formplus Blog. 25 Jun. https://www.formpl.us/blog/quantitative-qualitative-research#:~:text=Quantitative%20research%20is%20more%20preferred,and%20approach%20to%20the%20problem (Accessed 23 Sept 2020).

Harry Gough. “Qualitative vs Quantitative Research: What Is It and When Should You Use It?” qualtrics. 16 Apr 2020. https://www.qualtrics.com/blog/qualitative-research/ (Accessed 23 Sept 2020).

Tamar Herman. “10 Years On, Twitter is Shaping the Spread of K-pop.” Forbes. 21 Sept 2020. https://www.forbes.com/sites/tamarherman/2020/09/21/10-years-on-twitter-is-shaping-the-spread-of-k-pop/#5795c78399a7 (23 Sept 2020).

 

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The Quantification of K-pop by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

New K-pop Stans, Here’s What You Missed: Fan Favorites, 2012-2015

Source: Pixabay

The K-pop fandom landscape has changed in the past few years. Data suggests that the general K-pop “idol” fandom is more divided than it was less than 10 years ago and challenges some widely held notions about the preferences of global K-pop fans.

With the expansion of K-pop globally has come increased division among the general fandom. An article on seoulwave bemoans the increase of tensions among fan groups:  “The K-pop fan community is suffering from a plague right now. Fandoms everywhere are wrought with fan wars sparked by the most minor things. The source of this illness is, ironically, loyalty. As Korean entertainment companies keep pumping out new artists and K-pop continues its plan for world domination, fandoms begin to feel an almost desperate need to keep their favorite groups on top.”  Fans argue over whether it is better to be multi-fandom (a fan of multiple K-pop artists) or single fandom (a fan of one K-pop artist). Fans exchange insults on social media when they feel their artist has been disrespected. Newer K-pop fans seek to impose standards on the “correct” way to talk about artists.

However, survey data suggests that the general K-pop fandom was not always this divisive. This data, from my 3 Year Korean Popular Music Survey asked respondents to list their three favorite K-pop groups or artists. 362 responses were collected between April 19, 2012 and March 25, 2015. Respondents hailed from the United States  (116),  the Philippines, (42), Australia (22), Indonesia (17), the United Kingdom (15), Germany (14), Malaysia (13), Canada (12) and other countries.

Only 2% of respondents identified only one group in answer to the survey question. Most of the rest of the respondents had no problem identifying three distinct groups as their favorite. This suggests that being multi-fandom was the norm for global K-pop fans between 2012 and 2015.

Survey data also suggests that most respondents were not agency-stans, or K-pop fans who exclusively support one Korean entertainment agency. Only 8.1% identified three groups that were all represented by the same agency. 40% of respondents identified three groups from three different agencies. Only 2.8% identified all-girl groups and only 3.6% identified groups that tended to be largely aligned with hip-hop. Many respondent grouped artists that represent vastly different musical styles. For example, one respondent listed 2NE1, a female “idol” group that draws heavily on hip-hop, Super Junior, an “idol” group that frequently produces electronic music and Boyfriend, a newer “idol” group with a more pop-y sound. Another listed B.A.P, a hip-hop leaning male “idol” group, Girls’ Generation, one of the oldest and most popular girl groups and EXO, a male “idol” group with strong ties to R&B and electronic dance music.

Other respondents joined groups whose fandoms experience tension today. For example, jubilantj reports on a BTS fan’s apology letter to the fans of SHINee, BEAST, Winner, EXO, BigBang and VIXX in response to recent tensions among the fandoms. However, respondents frequently listed BTS with these very groups as their favorite between 2012 and 2015. One respondent listed BTS, Infinite and BigBang. Another listed BEAST, BTS and 2NE1. There were several who listed EXO, BTS and GOT7.

Other results point to a different kind of diversity among global K-pop fans that challenges widely-held notions. K-pop tends to be populated by groups, but 10% of the respondents identified a solo artist from a range of genres as one of their three favorites, including Beenzino, G-Dragon, IU, Ailee, Kim Hyun Joong and Junsu (Xia). While K-pop has more male groups than female groups and many complain about the cutesy image of many of the female groups, 28% of respondents identified at least one girl group as one of their favorite three. In addition, several respondents (8%) listed a K-pop artist that debuted in 2003 or earlier as one of their three favorites. Such older artists included H.O.T, the first successful “idol” group, Rain (Bi), the well-known solo artist, BoA, the very successful female artist, old-school hip-hop group 1TYM and veteran hip-hop group Epik High. While many describe K-pop as trendy, these responses point to the continued impact of K-pop on fans.

Asking K-pop fans to list their favorite groups revealed patterns in fan preferences and suggests that the attitudes and behavior of general K-pop fandom has shifted over time.

 

Sources

jubilantj. “BTS fan uploads lengthy, apologetic letters to various fandoms on behalf of all the ARMYs.” allkpop. 9 May 2016. https://www.allkpop.com/article/2016/05/bts-fan-uploads-lengthy-apologetic-letters-to-various-fandoms-on-behalf-of-all-the-armys (18 May 2018).

Staff. “How To Be a Better K-pop Fan.” seoulwave. 11 Dec 2017. http://www.seoulwave.com/2017/12/11/how-to-be-a-better-k-pop-fan/ (18 May 2018).

Creative Commons License
New K-pop Stans, Here’s What You Missed: Fan Favorites, 2012-2015 by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Data Drop: Preliminary Results for Study on Longtime and Adult K-pop Fans

Image: Pixabay
Image: Pixabay

Crystal S. Anderson, PhD
Associate Professor of English, Longwood University

Preliminary results from an academic study on individuals who have been fans of K-pop five years or longer reveals the appeal of both new and veteran groups and a focus on vocals and choreography. 192 responses collected between September 9, 2016 and November 7, 2016 are in response to the  query, “Please list your bias (i.e. favorite) K-pop groups and solo artists and briefly explain why you like them.” The entire dataset can be accessed here.

Continue reading “Data Drop: Preliminary Results for Study on Longtime and Adult K-pop Fans”