South Korea probably has the most established fandom culture in the world. The K-pop fans are no doubt the most dedicated, loyal, supportive, and sometimes, a wee bit crazy group of people, who are not afraid to show affection for their “idols.”
Unlike other countries, the K-pop idols and fans have a special connection between them. The celebrities hold various events to meet and greet their fans, who return the favors with gifts, letters, cute nicknames, and votes. In the past 20 years, the fandom culture grew and grew every day that without it, you can’t explain K-pop. So why and how did South Korea get to have the most established fandom culture in the world?
Tech-savvy, High Internet Speed Surroundings
As most of you know, South Korea is known for having the world’s fastest internet speed. In 1990’s, the South Korean government “set a priority that it would be a highly connected country with a high degree of Internet literacy,” and planned for a widespread adoption of Internet. Moreover, the government also deregulated internet service providers, letting them to compete by lowering prices and raising speed.
Ever since then, South Koreans became the world’s most tech-savvy people. In addition, most of them utilize public transportation to get anywhere, and what they do while transporting themselves, is being on their phones. This allows easy communication among K-pop fanatics, whether it’s watching their artists on V Live App, engaging in social network communities, or gathering/sharing cute zzals (Korean version of memes) of their idols.
South Koreans are also exposed to the fast-paced environment, which applies to the fandom culture, as well. You need to know the hot gossips and comeback updates/schedules for your artists as soon as you can. You need to able to stream and vote so that your star can remain and/or reach for the top, and you need to be able to have a quick access to various online contents featuring your artists.
It’s like being on a baby monitor 24/7, making sure your idols are on the right track to rise to the top. Because of the fast-paced, tech-savvy environment, Koreans simply have the advantage to do it easier than the international fans.
Sense of Uniformity Helps Establishing Identity
Belonging in a group often helps people to develop self-identity. Whether it’s a club they joined in school or religious acts, people tend to shape their lifestyles and formulate opinions based on communities they belong to. And one of these communities is the multiple K-pop fandoms. The fans invent and use unique group color(s), lightsticks, fan chants, and nicknames not only to distinguish themselves, but also sift outsiders.
When looking back at the history of K-pop, the word “fandom” first came in use in mid-1990’s, with H.O.T and Sechs Kies. With these two rising stars, the fans became more and more active. They bought uniformed raincoats to identify themselves – H.O.T in their white raincoats, and Sechs Kies in their Yellow raincoats. I’m sure everyone remembers the famous fight between the two fandoms, portrayed through 2012 tvN drama “Reply 1997.”
So why is it so important that Koreans feel a sense of belonging?
It’s because we are born into a society that emphasizes collectivism. In this collectivist society, people tend to value the needs of a group as a whole more than that of an individual. By standing on the common ground, people work together, maybe even sacrifice their individuality, to achieve one shared goal. And when that goal is achieved, people proudly put a label on themselves.
Fandom culture works the same. People gather to support their idols, making sure their paths to the top are smoothly as they can be. And when this goal is achieved and idols express gratitude towards the fandom, you and your work as an individual is recognized, because you identify yourself with the fandom.
Easy Access to Become Man with Authority
Fandom culture also allows an easy access to become a person with much authority. While the culture began as a group of teenage girls idolizing singers at first, it’s become quite more than that. Present day fans expect more from their artists, in return for the time, money, and effort they put in. It gives them the power to select and consume, which is the ultimate definition of “authority.”
Mnet’s survival program “Produce 101” is the exemplary outcome of these social demands. Last year, South Korean citizens went crazy and fanatically participated in voting for the program. This even included the “muggles,” who don’t normally show much affection towards the mainstream K-pop culture. The reason behind that is because the program gave them the authority to pick and choose the idols they wanted. Consequently, this allowed the public to have a domineering title for themselves – a “national producer.”
The youth community in Korea doesn’t get many opportunities to make their own decision.
The majority of them has a path already planned and polished by their parents, on which they can do nothing but walk. As a result, this passive lifestyle tends to make them to crave more power and free will. By allowing them to choose whom to support and how to do so, South Koreans finally have a channel in which they can exercise their authority.
It’s also no longer a vertical relationship; a mutual respect exists between a star and a fan because they know they can’t live without each other. However, it can sometimes let the fans to have too much power, and oversee the handshakes amiably offered by their celebrities.
by. Dasol Kim
Disclaimer: The opinions or views contained in this article may not represent the opinions or views of Kpoplove, The Korea Daily, its employees, agents or affiliates.