While it may seem that the current norm in K-pop is single-fandom (the tendency to support just one artist), data suggests that older K-pop fans started and continue to be multi-fandom. This may be another way the overall K-pop fandom has shifted in the past few years.
With the rise of K-pop groups, their individual fandoms have also garnered more attention, leading some to focus on using a single fandom to define K-pop fandom in general. However, 316 responses collected between April 29, 2011 and March 4, 2015 suggest that K-pop fans of that era exhibited very different behaviors and attitudes. Respondents were asked the open-ended question, “How did you become interested in K-pop?”
Many respondents related their entrance into K-pop with specific groups, and overwhelmingly with one group in particular: SHINee. Other high recurring groups include BigBang, Super Junior and TVXQ. Rain was the most-cited solo artist. What is interesting is that these groups all debuted between 2003 and 2009. The first responses collected in 2011, so none of these groups were brand new to the K-pop scene at the time that respondents encountered them. For this generation of K-pop fan, the appeal of K-pop was asynchronous, meaning that individuals became fans, not as a result of debut promotion or marketing, but by other means.
More importantly, respondents routinely noted that once they discovered one K-pop group, they were motivated to look for additional groups. One noted, “My friend showed me SHINee’s Lucifer video, and I was immediately addicted to them. So then I started looking up other groups too.” Another responded wrote: “I started listening to more BigBang, and then other groups such as 2NE1 and SHINee, and then read a ton of Wikipedia pages about different groups and record labels and learned about the training system that K-pop stars go through before debuting. I also started watching variety shows that K-pop idols appear on, and find that whole concept really interesting too.” I call this phenomenon branching.
Some respondents go through a great deal of effort to expand to additional K-pop groups. One respondent explained how a search to find one K-pop song led to more: “However, the obsession didn’t just stop with that song. During the many hours that I spent trying to find the name of that song, I discovered many other catchy tunes and fell in love with a new genre of music that I had never heard of before.” Several respondents use the term “research” to describe the activity of looking for more K-pop groups: “I became interested in K-pop when I accidentally happened upon a Super Junior song on YouTube about 3-4 years ago. I don’t remember what song it was. But after I heard it I was thinking… Wow. This is good stuff. I want more. I wanna hear more. I researched, found more groups I absolutely fell in love with. Then 2-3 years ago, I found Big Bang, followed by 2NE1. And now all of the other amazing groups I love.”
For some, the quest for more K-pop groups takes them to other forms of Korean entertainment. K-drama and K-pop are linked, as members of K-pop groups often star in Korean television dramas and perform on soundtracks for the shows. One respondent noted: “I happened across Kdramas and liked an actor in it. I found out he was a singer and then discovered other singers, groups, bands, etc.” Another explained: “Hulu.com recommended a Kdrama to me called “Boys over Flowers” and as I became more interested in the characters and the OST for the show, I started to look up various actors/singers on YouTube.”
And while “idols” may be the way many are introduced to K-pop, the phenomenon of branching may take fans far afield. One respondent wrote: “I think, what’s 2pm? I think my friend had mentioned groups named 2pm and 2am to me before, and I thought they were silly names. But I really liked Jason in Dream High, so I decided to look up this Wooyoung on YouTube. That day I discovered my love for K-pop. I became a hardcore Hottest, and expanded the groups and genres I listened to little by little until I was listening to anything from rap to pop to ballads to indie. All in a language I can’t completely understand.”
One respondent summed up the branching phenomenon with this formula:
JPop = discovered Tohoshinki = wiki = O.O = OMG! = google other kpop artists
Such findings suggest earlier generations of K-pop fans tend to develop more broad interests in K-pop that go beyond one group, while more contemporary fans seem to be more devoted to single groups. By only focusing exclusively on one group, they may be less knowledgeable about the larger K-pop and as a result may have distorted perceptions of it. These findings also support earlier findings that point to a more diverse general K-pop fandom, one that at the very least, is made up of those who support individual K-pop groups and those who support K-pop in general. Both may be needed for the continued viability of K-pop. Such findings reveal fan behavior that suggests that the appeal of K-pop is more complicated. The K-pop landscape continues to change.
Into the New World: Research Suggests Multi-fandom the Norm for Veteran K-pop Fans by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.