It is presumed that there are 89 million fans of the K-Pop genre across 113 countries. South Korean music has become a worldwide phenomenon that has transcended the language and cultural barrier. What is the secret behind the success of K-Pop worldwide? Keep reading and find out all the details.
What is K-pop for South Korea?
The K-pop sensation has been such a great showcase of Korean culture to the world, that the government has seen a possibility of exercising what we call "soft power."
With soft power, we refer to the image that the country projects internationally in terms of commercial relations and product exchanges with other countries.
Not to mention the many universities around the world that began teaching Korean to students who demanded to learn the language of their idols.
Without going any further, Australia has recently added a BA major in Korean in 5 of its most prestigious Universities.
This Korean influence in not only Asian but Western countries grew so big that the government increased its budget for the production of idols in specialized training schools by 250% between 2011 and 2012.
Trainees in such schools spend years preparing to be presented to their potential fans as "ideal beings."
People who are the portrait of the best version that one can be.
This is why large entertainment companies exercise so much pressure on the image and behavior of their professionals.
It is forbidden to display tattoos in television presentations and social media is tightly controlled by companies to avoid public scandals that could jeopardize the idols' perfect personal image.
In addition, young people are trained in the art of relating to their fans.
Companies create a public image of the singer through social media that encourages what in sociology is called a "Parasocial relationship".
This is a one-sided bond that is developed by fans under the illusion that they maintain an intimate friendship or family relationship with the music professional.
Just as important as the talent of idols is the size of their fandom.
Fan associations are responsible for the vast majority of achievements in terms of album sales and popularity awards that groups like BTS, Twice, Blackpink, or EXO get. In fact, these are the K-Pop groups that have the biggest and most influential fandoms.
So much can the action of the fans influence, that the new groups that debut have almost no chances of success if they are not properly sponsored to achieve a large fandom of their own, before debut.
What is a fandom?
The term "fans" was invented in the United States at the end of the 19th century to refer to sports supporters.
The associations of K-Pop fans who are admirers of the same group have the characteristic that they use original names,
always linked to the name of the band such as EXO-L (for love) and ONCE in counterpart to Twice or Blinks as an abbreviation of Blackpink.
It is also usually identified with colors or symbols linked to its favorite artists, which are provided by the entertainment companies at the time of the group's debut.
The K-Pop bands cited before have the three biggest and most influential fandoms of their generation right after BTS' Army which is literally an army of supporters that have taken the Bagtan Boys to the top of the worlds charts.
What is the role of fandom in the group's success?
Fans not only limit themselves to admiring and listening to their favorite artist but also actively participate in their success.
It may be in return to the idol for the entertainment provided or by the fantasy of becoming recognized by them or their company and getting a position with the organization so that they can work closely with the admired artist.
However, there are three types of fans who actively participate to bring their favorite group to the top.
In all cases, the work of fans is not paid for by entertainment companies or artists.
These fans carry out creative tasks.
Within this category, we have the "Hommas" (short for Home Masters).
Homes are the sites that are in charge of following certain groups or specific artists.
Those who manage these sites are the home masters and they are in charge of creating and posting the content.
They travel to all concerts, autograph signings, and any idol performance for the purpose of getting exclusive images.
The "Hommas" use professional equipment to capture the images as they will then be uploaded to their sites so that the fans of the group can enjoy them.
At the same time, they will use these photos for the creation of original merchandise that will be sold and distributed among the fandom.
It might seem that the "Hommas" go against the profits of the big companies and the artists themselves, but the truth is that they activate the exchange of merchandise of the groups and in many occasions,
they make up for the lack of quality in certified products, released by the agencies, for the fans.
It is for this reason that companies maintain an ambiguous attitude towards their counterparts and declare that the independent activities of individuals cannot really be controlled.
The work of these fans lies in the effort to maintain and improve the image of their idols in front of society.
On many occasions, they do charitable acts to contribute to the public image of their favorite artists.
For example, in 2020 BTS donated $1 million to the Black Lives Matter movement and Army decided to start their own fundraising for the same cause, getting even more than idols and making $1.2 million more.
Another common practice is the gathering of funds to together put a billboard of the group or the bias of a certain sector of the fandom, on the occasion of their birthday or the premiere of a new musical work.
In 2019, 2 GOT7 fans carried out all the necessary logistics to display a 20-second video created by themselves 100 times a day for two days in one of the most important areas of Seoul, investing in this $2,950, on the occasion of their bias' birthday.
Other members are in charge of organizing fan meetings in different local cafés, either to celebrate the birthday of the group members or to celebrate some special group event.
These meetings are often synchronized in several cities or even countries.
The logistics of the cheer meeting involve negotiation skills to get the premises, a lot of logistical work to start up the integral organization of the event, and in all cases, a significant monetary investment.
Well, the host will bear the cost of the gifts to the attendants, called "freebies".
However, not everyone can attend, much less receive their souvenir.
In order to qualify as a true fan of the band, you must prove that you are not a "baipiaos".
This type of fan limits itself to enjoying the content of idols but do not invest time or money in their favorite artist.
If you want to be part of a fandom, you must actively participate in the group's success.
What is most looked at in these instances is the monetary investment in the group, such as the purchase of physical copies of albums (it will not be enough with just one)
or the purchase of official merchandise of the artist.
This is by far the hardest work of the fans.
To take groups like Twice or BTS to the top of the charts it is necessary to watch and listen to their music videos over and over again.
BTS has a record 9 billion views on YouTube, which is largely due to the work of streamers.
For reproduction to count as a view on the platforms, we have to watch the complete video without pauses and also clear the cache every time we play it again, otherwise, it does not count as a new view.
Some members of fandoms have two smartphones, one for the day to day and others for the reproductions and online voting for certain awards, which will add more fans and popularity of the subject artist.
There are also those who are in charge of translating not only the lyrics of the songs but also all the public appearances of their favorite idols, as well as the "doramas" they star in.
This is also a hard task since it takes many hours and at least five to six people involved.
Belonging to a fan club is defined by sociology as the desire to belong to a group of peers where the conversational resource or excuse is the artist chosen as the object of admiration for all the members.
While the first professionals to address the issue, such as Jenson in 1992 and Hills in 2020, saw fans as a negative group by their own fanatic nature, the truth is that these organizations have evolved into a form of catapult for artists.
Currently and especially in K-pop culture, artists also worship their fans, as they see them as allies for their success and are therefore the object of their appreciation and gratitude.
We are at a balance point between entertainment companies, idols, and fans who actively work towards the same goal: to reach as many audiences as possible.