Throughout the past two years there has been a growing interest and adoption of the Korean pop, more commonly referred to as Kpop, music industry by Western culture. Although Kpop has been prevalent in Western culture since its beginnings, it seems that the Korean entertainment industry continues to globalize itself with events such as K-Con in Los Angeles and New York City, gripping K-drama television shows premiering on Netflix, and, of course, record breaking kpop groups like BTS. So why has there been this sudden interest in the Korean entertainment industry. A lot of people would argue that this rise in popularity occurs mostly within the Gen-Z audience, inadvertently demeaning this social phenomenon to young women only being interested in attractive boys who sing and grind to their music. As someone who has personally found themselves recently engulfed by this industry and its community, I can argue against such simplicities. While it may be easy to compare the kpop community to the likes of what occurred during the infamous One Direction era, R.I.P., it is actually quite difficult to support this statement due to the kpop community being ten times larger and ten times more intense. As older Gen-Z’s would understand, the kpop community may be made up of ex-Directioners and ex-5sos-ers, but it is so much more than that. The rise of kpop in western culture is simultaneously occurring at the same exact time as a generational social movement, where “kids” these days are more aware of their social, political, and environmental responsibility. I think it goes hand in hand that the reason kpop has been able to successfully become a global phenomenon, because it has also brought about a new community of fans who are more open-minded towards different cultures, languages, and races. The new generation finds comfort in discomfort, which in turn, has created a beautiful community of young fans around the world coming together to support an entire industry of music that would have been ignored in western culture a few years ago due to the general fear of embracing something foreign that people used to have.
How Kpop Fans Utilize Their Community to Change the World
As I stated above, I am a recent kpop stan. A general interest in living abroad led me down a dark rabbit hole of Korean culture, Youtube videos, and, of course, music. Similarly to the One Direction years, I was brought into the kpop community a little late. Like most western fans just getting into the industry, my first group that I fell in love with was BTS, which have become record breaking artists in not only the Korean music industry but also in the Western music industry. To quickly sum it up, BTS is a group made up of seven young men who all of a sudden began to blow up around the world due to their amazing music that breaks language barriers and their humble beginnings that have seemed to keep them grounded throughout their intense careers. Although BTS just celebrated their seventh anniversary as a group, the western interest in the group began to accumulate in 2016 and has just grown ever since then. Now in 2020, BTS has taken America by storm. The group has since been on almost every single American talk show, sells out their stadium tours, and even has fans sitting outside of the venue enjoying their performances without even getting a ticket or being able to see the stage. While there are many other incredibly popular kpop groups that have been able to globalize themselves, it is easily argued that BTS has single handedly grew the western interest in Korean entertainment, making the industry what it is today.
From an outsider's perspective, this interest in kpop just seems like young women and men screaming over boy bands, but with the power of social media this community of young trailblazers has become much more than just simping over your faves and fainting every time a kpop boy flashes his six pack. If you frequent Twitter, you may have noticed fancams of kpop girl groups and boy groups under every single viral tweet involving politics or social movements. That’s because the kpop community is entirely made up of young individuals working together to try and change the world. While there may be petty arguments between BTS Army and Charlie Puth or fandom wars, at the end of the day, all of the fans come together to call out racism within the industry, gather thousands upon thousands of signatures for petitions for the Black Lives Matter movement, and even sell out President Trump’s horribly timed convention, so that nobody showed up during a pandemic.
It is commonly joked on “local” Twitter, which is just non-kpop Twitter, that k-pop fans “shouldn’t be messed with” and that’s the truth. Not only have I witnessed an entire convention falsely being sold out just to go against its timely placement, but I have also seen the Kpop industry itself changing for the better due to international fans calling out it’s old ways. For those who are unaware, the Korean music industry adopts a lot of influence from Black culture, but due to Korea being an incredibly homogenous society, there has not been room for much education on what is considered socially acceptable and what is just plain old cultural appropriation. As of late, Korean artists and labels have been quickly called out whenever a music video appropriates a culture, aka Blackpink’s ‘How You Like That’ music video being the most recent, and for individual idols, or members, within these groups who have committed racist actions in the past and still haven’t apologised. Now these occasions of cultural appropriation in the industry are quickly reprimanded by the labels and then they issue a statement of apology as soon as possible, because the fans’ backlash can literally be career breaking.
While the term “career breaking” may seem unrealistic and comical, due to this community being made up of young people, the fact of the matter is that it has proven to be true time and time again.
Gen-Z and Kpop Are The Future
Although these actions may seem extreme, kpop fans are literally always helping to change the world for the better. Topics and examples such as these are issues that have been prevalent for an incredibly long time, and even though kpop stans are easily made fun of, it is apparent that a lot of the social change we have seen today has been associated with this community. There may be petty moments within the community that give it a bad name, but those are only a few thousand people out of billions. While it may just be a bunch of young people screaming over famous people, the Korean entertainment industry has provided a space where everyone is welcome, because of its fans. We may be ex-Directioners who spend way too much money on albums and lightsticks, but at the end of the day we have all provided a home for someone who feels like they don’t belong and we have helped create some real, tangible social and political change in our world. Not only is Kpop only going to continue to grow around the world and become even bigger and better, but Generation Z itself is the future. With the influence of the Kpop community and Gen-Z itself, I can already see a brighter and more open-minded future for our world and that’s pretty “Dope”. (Stream “Dope” by BTS on all streaming platforms)