Glimpse into K-pop cul­ture via fan­dom

The Korea Times - - FEATURE - By Mon­ami Go­goi (Hin­dus­tan Times/Tri­bune News)

On Aug. 5, as the clock struck mid­night in South Korea, an on­line game went live. Termed as the “Labyrinth Project,” the game in­volved solv­ing nine rid­dles, each cor­rect an­swer un­lock­ing the next stage, with the con­clud­ing one be­ing “EDEN OF EXO.”

The game was de­vel­oped by EXO.LAB, a fan group in South Korea of one of the most pop­u­lar K-pop groups, EXO.

It was avail­able only for 24 hours and the sole rea­son for its ex­is­tence was: to cel­e­brate the birth an­niver­sary of EXO-Ls, the “of­fi­cial” name for EXO’s fans.

This is a sneak peek into the hyp­notic world of K-pop fan­dom where within the cor­po­rate colon­nades of an in­tensely com­pet­i­tive en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try, a pris­tine bond has de­vel­oped be­tween fans and artists which makes K-pop fol­low­ers pull out all stops to ex­press their love and grat­i­tude to­wards their artists, who are re­ferred to as idols in South Korea.

K-pop or Korean pop­u­lar mu­sic is one of South Korea’s big­gest cul­tural ex­ports and has emerged into a $4.7 bil­lion in­dus­try, ac­cord­ing to a Bloomberg re­port.

A defin­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic of the K-pop en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try is the re­la­tion­ship that K-pop artists have with their fans.

The role of fan­dom is cru­cially tied to the suc­cess of a group and K-pop idols al­ways ac­knowl­edge their fans’ pres­ence in their jour­ney as an artist. Th­ese lead to K-pop fans, from all over the world, forg­ing strong ties with the their fa­vorite artists which go be­yond their love for mu­sic.

K-pop fan­bases: Elves who work round the clock

K-pop fans come to­gether to form groups and carry out projects of vary­ing mag­ni­tude and na­ture. Some are flashy like putting out dig­i­tal bill­board ad­ver­tise­ments of their idols in New York’s Times Square, one of the ma­jor tourist at­trac­tions of the world. Other times, fans mo­bi­lize money for phil­an­thropic causes.

For eg. SJ Char­i­ties, a fan­base of K-pop band Su­per Ju­nior and B.A.P’s Help­ing Hands, a fan­base of K-pop band B.A.P, have made do­na­tions to build many schools in Africa over the years.

Closer to home, fan­bases in In­dia reg­u­larly con­trib­ute to char­ity ef­forts like do­nat­ing to old-age homes and or­phan­ages and also an­i­mal shel­ters.

When not ex­e­cut­ing large-scale projects, the fan­bases work be­hind the scene to en­sure vic­tory for their fa­vorite group at Korean mu­sic shows which in­volve a lot of fan par­tic­i­pa­tion.

Fan­bases or­ga­nize mass stream­ing ses­sions of their artists’ songs, orga- nize fundrais­ers to buy phys­i­cal al­bums and hold mass vot­ing ses­sions dur­ing award show sea­son. They also rou­tinely an­nounce Twit­ter hash­tags to en­sure so­cial me­dia vis­i­bil­ity for their groups.

K-pop fan­site: For idols, be­cause of idols

Within the ecosys­tem of the K-pop fan­dom, there also ex­ists a cul­ture of fan­sites which mostly com­prise of a sin­gle per­son or a small group that fol­lows an artist to all their pub­lic events and chron­i­cles their life through pho­to­graphs.

Fan­sites fly across the world, fol­low­ing their idols to pub­lic events and un­like pa­parazzi, they don’t in­fringe on the pri­vacy. They also pro­vide high-qual­ity pic­tures and videos, host fundrais­ing drives and ex­hi­bi­tions of their pho­tos and use the money to carry out projects to pub­li­cize the idol or give them ex­trav­a­gant gifts.

Irides­cent Boy (IB), a fan­site that boasts of over 1 mil­lion fol­low­ers on Twit­ter has been cov­er­ing the ac­tiv­i­ties of EXO mem­ber, Oh Se­hun, since April 27, 2012 and in six years has at­tended all con­certs of the band ex­cept miss­ing out on six. This year, she also put up a dig­i­tal ad at Times Square to mark the birth­day of the idol.

“Se­hun is Irides­cent Boy’s rea­son for ex­is­tence. He is the only one that I have im­plicit trust in. The rea­son I did the Times Square ad was only be­cause I want to in­tro­duce him to the world and cel­e­brate his birth­day for a long time,” said IB, who didn’t wish to dis­close her real name.

Why K-pop fans go dis­tance

“Fan­bases and fan­sites have played a ma­jor role in K-pop since its ear­li­est days as a way of fan mo­bi­liz­ing to come to­gether and spread their love while bond­ing com­mu­nally,” says Ta­mar Her­man, a K-pop colum­nist for Bill­, in an email in­ter­view.

“I be­lieve it’s a mix­ture of love and the need to make a bet­ter com­mu­nity for one­self. You’re a more in­volved fan be­cause you want to bond with oth­ers as you sup­port an artist ... The ded­i­ca­tion that peo­ple have to show, whether by spend­ing a lot money or be­ing im­mensely ac­tive on so­cial me­dia, is an out­ward show of their love and ap­pre- cia­tion,” Her­man said.

“En­joy­ing EXO’s mu­sic it­self would be an ex­tremely sat­is­fy­ing fan ac­tiv­ity, but I want EXO and EXO-L to love and bond with each other for a longer time and to form a stronger re­la­tion­ship. If I can achieve this dream through tak­ing part in EXO.LAB, there is no rea­son for me not to par­tic­i­pate,” said one of the mem­bers of EXO.LAB, who didn’t wish to be named.

Thus, when EXO.LAB coined the fi­nal an­swer of the on­line game as EDEN OF EXO, it metaphor­i­cally meant EXO-Ls have en­tered par­adise which in this case is the K-pop band it­self.

This metaphor is not just con­fined to EXO but ex­tends to mil­lions of K-pop fans who ex­pe­ri­ence a bit of heaven dur­ing the jour­ney with their idol, ir­re­spec­tive of the spa­tial dif­fer­ence. Per­haps, this is what pro­pels the ded­i­cated pas­sion within them.

Cour­tesy of SM En­ter­tain­ment

EXO mem­bers pose for a photo dur­ing a press con­fer­ence to pro­mote their new al­bum "Don't Mess Up My Tempo" at COEX Ar­tium in Seoul, Thurs­day.

Korea Times file

Fans put up an ad at Times Square in New York for Jimin of BTS.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Korea, Republic

© PressReader. All rights reserved.