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.
New and Veteran Groups
While one might assume that veteran fans would gravitate toward older groups, these results reveal a nix of new and older groups. Several respondents indicated that Shinhwa, the oldest K-pop group with original members, as their favorite group. One respondent noted, “Their music has evolved over the years to stay current.Their choreography shows their strengths and skills. I love when they all sing as a chorus; I wish they would do that more.They are gorgeous grown men, not boys.” Another cited TVXQ, who debuted in 2003: “They are the masters of adult performance of R&B, and they have persevered through unlikely membership changes.” This suggests that longtime fans tend to stick with the groups that introduced them to K-pop. However, the responses also indicate a number of newer K-pop groups that longtime fans indicate as their favorite. Groups that debuted in the last three years that make appearances in the survey results include Astro, Blackpink, Day6, Got7,KNK,Mamamoo, Seventeen, Twice and Winner.
Vocals and Choreography
Music continues to factor into the appeal of K-pop to fans, but these survey results go further, specifying vocals and choreography in relation to certain groups and artists. Specifically, respondents identified the harmonies of Akdong Musician, BEAST, TVXQ, EXO, and SHINee as reasons for the appeal of these artists. In addition, they also cited individuals in groups with vocal talent, including Hongki of FT Island, and G-Dragon and Taeyang of BigBang. Moreover, they cited a larger number of solo artists with vocal talent as compared to other surveys, including Dean, Roy Kim, IU, Park Hyo Shin, Kim Lim, Lee Moon Sae, K.Will and Rain. Similarly, choreography was identified as a key factor in the appeal of groups like BTS, EXO, Infinite, SHINee, Super Junior, and Teen Top.
The fact that longtime fans identify both veteran and newer groups as their favorite suggests that these fans remain active K-pop fans, keeping up with the changing K-pop scene. They do not just stick with the group that may have introduced them to K-pop. This may help to explain the broad appeal of certain newer groups, that they need both fans newer to K-pop and more established fans to sustain their popularity. The uptick in vocals and choreography may be linked to increase in popularity of vocal and dance competition shows, such as Immortal Songs, King of Mask Singer and Hit the Stage that showcase these talents of groups and artists in different ways. At the same time, the kinds of vocals vary, from R&B to pop, which suggests that longtime fans are drawn to vocal talent regardless of genre.
Survey results suggest that BABYs, fans of the male K-pop group B. A.P, like the group because of its uniqueness, music and the extramusical activities of the members. These results come from the FAVORITE ARTIST: KARTIST3YR DATASET, part of the 3Year Korean Popular Music Survey. This data note is based on a small sample of 11 respondents.
Respondents point to the way that B.A.P differs from other K-pop “idol” groups. One noted that “they have a different feeling to the Kpop industry” and another stated that “they don’t just have a pretty-boy sound.” This can be seen from their debut song, “Warrior.”
Respondents also referred to the group’s musical ability. One stated, “They have a wide variety of types of songs (‘Coffee Shop’ is mellow, ‘Hurricane’ is dance and ‘Badman’ is just hard).” Another stated, “They clearly have a passion for music and the music they make, even sometimes getting involved with its creation.”
Several respondents noted the activities of the members beyond music making. One respondent noted, “They’re having a concert because of their charity works. They have the heart of helping others despite . . . their busy schedules.” Another stated, “The leader participates in helping children and the fans also participate in actions [by] UNICEF.”
Annalyn Constantine is a junior at the University of San Francisco, majoring in International Studies (focusing on Peace and Conflict) and minoring in Asian Studies and Philosophy. All throughout my life I’ve been keenly interested in Asian pop culture and traditions, from anime to K-pop and Japanese and Korean dramas; and now more recently, Asian philosophy, political philosophy and racial formation. It’s both my guilty pleasure and passion but I want to blend those two together and examine my biases (and all that crazy fan/fandom logic from an academic lens…hence I’m here at KPK!) There’s so much to explore about Korea and K-pop and its connection with ethics politics, sociology, and race, just from the Hallyu wave that you’d be pretty surprised! My ultimate favorite group is BTS (Suga stan if you need to know) and I also love SHINee, Monsta X and Oh My Girl. I’m a cynical and sarcastic fan, but I hope you’ll find my edits and profiles interesting despite my weird taste in humor.
Ashley Lin studies Advertising & Asian Pacific American Studies at University of San Francisco. She is interested in the role of branding for groups, specifically how essential it has become to build a strong marketable image that allows them to build connections with their fans. She discovered K-pop in 2008 and likes to reminisce about “the good ol’ days when this-or-that group were just rookies.” After a 3 year break, she realized that it was impossible to leave K-pop. Now she’s returned as a fully devoted Starlight, and spends her free time blogging and following her biases on SNS. Her current bias groups include VIXX(!!), Seventeen, B1A4, BTOB, and BTS.
Damon Young is a graduate student in Asia Pacific Studies at the University of San Francisco (USF), a TA for the Interdisciplinary Research Methods in Asia Pacific Studies course, and a Peer Mentor/Tutor for the MAPS program. I am spending this summer as an intern working on the Camp Digital Archive Project for the National Japanese American Historical Society and as a Research Assistant at USF exploring assimilation theory and the Korean immigrant experience in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco. My personal history with music from Korea began with waking up on the weekends to my parents playing songs by such artists as Yun Sooil, Cho Yongpil, or Lee Sunhee from our big home stereo system. These days I’m either grooving to Zion.T or Crush or bouncing to Keith Ape and the whole Cohort gang. But when I want to get down and get my “girl crush concept” on, I turn it up to Red Velvet (as I wait for Black Pink to debut!).
The ‘Essentials” series is part of my digital humanities project, KPopCulture, which curates the music, visual culture, choreography, promotions, media and fan culture of K-pop that support this global cultural production. “Essentials” items tell you about a group through playlists of key music videos, performances, choreography … Continue reading Shinhwa Essentials
Finally, the first fandom case study is complete on KPopCulture! Girls’ Generation (SNSD) Fandom Case Study contains an introduction to the discourse surrounding the group, which captures the difference between the way fans view the female group and the way commentators view the group: Nevertheless, the … Continue reading Fandom Case Study: Girls’ Generation (SNSD)
Often believed to appeal only to teenagers, K-pop is experiencing a trend with old school groups making successful comebacks.
Some believe that K-pop has a short shelf life. Several point to the “five-year curse,” a trend where male K-pop groups break up or disband, often in the face of mandatory military service in Korea. Others believe that K-pop is a fad that will run its course. In 2011, Ree at seoulbeats declared: “One thing people must note when discussing the popularity of K-Pop, is that to many people, whether they realize it or not, K-Pop has almost simply become a fad. Meaning that despite the fact it is at its peak of popularity, it will once again start heading on a downhill slope.”
However, successful comebacks of groups who debuted prior to 2000 challenge these notions. Tickets for Shinhwa‘s Grand Tour 2012: The Return concert sold out in February, ahead of the release of the album The Return in March. Such success occurred after a four-year hiatus by group from the music scene. Other first-generation K-pop groups, such as g.o.d and Fly To the Sky, have also announced comeback plans.
Who are the people who support groups who have been inactive for years and why do they continue to like such groups? I want to find out! If you are a fan of a group who debut before 2000, take this survey! It will ask you questions about old school K-pop groups such as H.O.T, Shinhwa, S.E.S, Fin.K.L, Fly to the Sky, g.o.d, 1TYM, Deux and others.
Some people think that male K-pop groups are all the same. However, research suggests that fans differ in their attitudes towards individual male K-pop groups. Responses collected from fans of Super Junior and BigBang reveal that they also hold different opinions on their music and group dynamic. Such responses suggest that while some do not distinguish between male K-pop groups, fans do.
Media Representations of Male K-pop Groups
Because many male K-pop groups are idol groups, they tend to be painted with the same broad, generalized brush. Sometimes, they are described as being too similar to each other. An editorial in The Korea Times, suggests that people “seem fed up with similar ‘idol’ dance groups cropping up like mushroom[s].”
Other times, they are seen as promoting the same musical style or image. Part of this is attributed to the training program Korean agencies use for idols. Solee I. Shin and Lanu Kim argue that “constant monitoring of the tastes and preferences of the consumers and factoring the successful elements back into the products. . . [make] successful products increasingly predictable and. . . homogenizes the entire domestic music scene.” Nabeela at seoulbeats echoes the concern about groups being the same by speculating about “how much of the content in K-entertainment is standardized and recycled.”
However, a comparison of the responses from fans of Super Junior and BigBang reveals that fans like the groups for different reasons. This data represents a convenience sample collected via an online survey between December 8, 2012 and May 1, 2013. Respondents were asked to explain why they considered themselves a fan of the respective groups. 80 respondents identified themselves as fans of Super Junior, and 119 respondents identified themselves as fans of BigBang. Of these 199 respondents, 95.7% were women and 4.3% were men. Participants were: Asian (42.3%), White (41.2%), Latino (8.4%) and Black (7.9%). They largely hail from the United States, Hungary, United Kingdom, Philippines and Australia. Respondents range in age: 32.6% were 16-18, 31.6% were 18-21, 12.8% were 22-25, 14.4% were 25-30 and 8.6% were 30 and over. This data was analyzed using phenomenological methods.
Both fandoms cite music as a major factor in the appeal of the groups, but Super Junior fans liked the upbeat nature of the music, while BigBang fans valued the edgy and unique nature of the group’s music.
Super Junior fans like the cheerful nature of the music. One respondent noted: “I can listen to their songs any time even if I sad or depressed” (Anderson). Another stated: “Their music always makes me smile no matter how depressed I am” (Anderson). Super Junior fans also cited the pop-oriented style that the group reflects, as well as a range of styles. One respondent wrote: “Their music has gone from happy, bubbly pop to funky dance tracks” (Anderson).
Reviews of Super Junior albums reveal that the group is generally known for pop-oriented fare that also ranges across genres. Jung Bae describes their 2012 release, Mr. Simple, as “cleanly divided into club/dance and pop ballad(s),” where singles like “Opera” are “a standout, paced by an intoxicating stutter beat and a sublime sense of kinetic energy throughout.” Emily Wu references the “Super Junior Funky Style” in her review of the album: “It contains a catchy and addicting tune and melody that is sure to grab your attention from the get-go.”
BigBang fans focused more on the unique nature of the music. Some cited the specific genre of hip-hop as a major reason for the appeal of the group. One respondent noted: “Their style of music is what I enjoy most in American music, even if I don’t listen to American music as much anymore. Hip hop and R&B were genres that I grew up on but then it started changing too much for me. But Big Bang has a style to them that makes me love the genre all over again” (Anderson). Such opinions dovetail into another theme that emerged from the responses, namely, the unique nature of the group in respect to BigBang’s music. One respondent noted: “Their music caught me when I first listened to it and it is nice to listen to whenever I want to something different then the usual Kpop” (Anderson). Another noted: “Their music is distinguishable and stands out amist all of Kpop” (Anderson). BigBang has a reputation for being more adventurous in terms of their music.
Ashleigh Gregory describes the 2011 album Alive as partaking in a range of genres: “This album combines a variety of safe, pop style songs and pairs them up with slightly more experimental electro sounding tracks that create a great mix and leaves you wanting to replay the album as soon as it’s done.” Such eclecticism makes its way into their live shows as well. Jon Caramanica writes: “The band wove an interpolation of the signature guitar crunch of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” into a song. Multiple members of the group beatbox, a technique that’s hardly, if ever, used in mainstream American hip-hop, its birthplace, but is a routine part of the K-pop star arsenal.”
Both fandoms cite group dynamic as another major factor in the appeal of the groups, but Super Junior fans describe that dynamic in terms of cooperation and a close-knit bond, while BigBang fans focus on the individual members’ contribution to the group.
Despite the large number of members, Super Junior fans described the group as close-knit. Some respondents focused on how they act as one or a team. One respondent noted: “They have their own personality but still can be one” (Anderson). Another wrote: “Not typical boyband material. They have a strong bond despite being a huge group” (Anderson). Other respondents focused on the close bond between members and several used the metaphor of family. One wrote: “Watching their bond as a group really influenced me. Seeing how they trust each other. I can feel and see their brotherly love, how they care about each other” (Anderson). Another wrote: “Super Junior are a big group because they have lots of members but despite that they all get along like a family” (Anderson). Another responded: “What I really like from them is their close relationship with each other. They are truly like a family, they’re like brothers” (Anderson).
This may be related to fans watching Super Junior’s participation in extra-musical activities in the form of television and radio appearances. Members of Super Junior hosted and/or starred in the Korean variety show Strong Heart from 2009-2012 and the radio show Kiss the Radio from 2006 to the present. In these spaces, fans develop opinions about the dynamic between the members. One respondent wrote: “I understand and love that they’re an entertainment group with members doing radio shows, acting, variety shows and hosting! This has given me the chance to get to know them through many mediums and it’s reassuring to know that at least a few members are still active during their non-promotional period!” (Anderson). In addition to scripted shows, Super Junior also appears on variety shows, which are often based on improvisation and require more participation. One respondent noted: “I didn’t actually like Super Junior much at first, but I kept watching them on variety shows that I liked and the SJ members were always making me laugh so much” (Anderson).
While fans of BigBang cite group dynamic as part of the appeal of the group, they focus on the individual members within the group. Most respondents focused on the unique nature of the individual members. One wrote: “I also like how distinct the members are from each other” (Anderson). Another said: “Each member has their own talents and strengths when it comes to vocally and lyric writing and Big Bang along with YG utilizes that talent extremely well” (Anderson). Still another wrote: “Each of the members have very different but equally interesting styles from their style of singing to the dancing” (Anderson). Others cited individual members as part of their reason for liking the group. Of these responses, the largest number cited G-Dragon as their reason for liking the group. One respondent noted: “G-Dragon has also been very successful on his own drawing me into the group as a whole” (Anderson). Another noted: “G-Dragon is probably one of the reasons why I like Big Bang so much. I like the music he produces and I appreciate that a lot since not all groups produce their own music. The fact that someone from the group produces their own music is pretty awesome” (Anderson).
What Does It Mean?
Fans of Super Junior like the group because they are traditional idol group. They like the pop nature of their music. They value the camaraderie they see within the group as a result of television and radio appearances. In contrast, fans of BigBang like the group because they challenge this notion of a traditional idol group. Despite being the product of the same kind of training system that produced Super Junior, they see the group as more innovative and creative in their music. They perceive the group as a collection of individuals rather than a cohesive unit. Because of the fewer number of television appearances, their fans may not develop the same kind of sense of camaraderie among the group.
Fans of Super Junior and BigBang represent just two individual K-pop fandoms, but this comparison suggests that fans do not view male K-pop groups in the same way.
Last week, I wrote a piece, Who Can Speak For K-pop, for my public blog, High Yellow and received a huge response. As I suspected, there are a variety of fans in the United States whose voices are not being heard in the larger discussions of K-pop. In order to capture those opinions, my iFans project has added a new survey! U.S. K-pop Fan Study seeks to understand the attitudes and opinions of all K-pop fans in the United States, but especially African American, Asian American and U.S. Latino fans. In other words, it is the first academic survey that wants to understand the K-pop experience of U.S. fans of color. To take the survey, click here. Tell your friends!
If you keep with research on K-pop, you may be aware of the iFans: Mapping Kpop’s International Fandom project. The surveys that make up the qualitative studies seek to understand how the fandoms differ from one another and their relationship to the groups they support. K-pop fans know that the fandoms are unique. Because they have detailed knowledge of the groups they support, they provide a unique perspective on the appeal of their respective groups. Too often, commentators make assumptions about K-pop fans, while the iFans studies goes to the source: the fans.
As the chart above shows, fans of 2NE1 and BigBang have participated the most in the surveys, while fans of Shinhwa and Aziatix have participated the least. Other groups with high participation rates include SHINee and TVXQ, while other groups with low participation rates include Epik High and f(x).
These participation rates are interesting, because groups like Super Junior and Girls’ Generation have very active global fandoms, yet those numbers are not reflected in participation rates. Rates may not reflect all fans, just fans who are likely to take (and complete) a survey. Participation rates may be affected by the activity of the groups.