Fandom, Consumption and Culture

Fan studies represents a nexus where economy and culture intersect, especially when cultural production crosses national borders.  Some scholars seek to explain this phenomenon primarily using socio-economic lenses, while others stress the importance of understanding fans in ways that fans understand themselves.

In Understanding Fandom, Mark Duffett delineates two impulses related to consumption by fans:

The word ‘consumption’ indicates participation in a commercial process, but since ‘to consume’ means to digest and exhaust it also implies a kind of using up.  We can therefore separate two intricate meanings for the same word: to be part of ‘economic’ consumption means to participate in a financial transaction a a buyer, while to ‘culturally’ consume is to meaningfully examine a particular media product. (20)

Some scholars see fan activity primarily as economic consumption.  Duffett recognizes the link between fandom and commodification:  “Fandom does not escape or resist commodity culture. Instead consumption facilitates fans’ contact with media products. For some writers, this almost means, however, that fandom is primarily about consumption” (21). Koichi Iwabuchi extends this to the study of fans of cultural products that traverse national boundaries:  “Studies of fans should attend to how the persisting dominance of the neoliberal and (inter-)national framework has limited the development of transnational dialogues” (94).

However, scholars like Bertha Chin and Lori Hitchcock Morimoto view the emphasis on “the neoliberal and (inter-) national framework” as a de-emphasis on other, equally significant aspects of fandom:  “While arguably satisfying at the level of critique, and absolutely relevant in our understanding of the political implications of transnationally circulating media, the trans/national overdetermination of this perspective ultimately tells us little about what actually attracts and motivates fans; an understanding that, we argue, is absolutely critical to any nuanced discussion of how fandom works across borders”(97).  In fact, Duffett goes on to proffer a view of fans that goes beyond financial transactions:  “Fans are more than consumers because they have especially strong emotional attachments to their objects and they use them to create relationships with both their heroes and with each other. . . . Fans are networkers, collectors, tourists, archivists, curators, producers and more” (21).

What I find useful in placing Duffett, Iwabuchi and Chin and Hitchcock in conversation with one another is the possibility of developing a complex lens that recognizes both socio-economic and fan perspectives.  In my work on global K-pop fans, I seek to understand how fans see their own fan activity and how they make sense of the global culture that they consume.  Iwabuchi stresses that the consumption of popular culture must be read through a lens governed by social and political factors.  I would further suggest that this include looking at the socio-political context of producers, consumers and the cultural product itself.  In other words, how Japanese fans consume Korean popular music (or K-pop) differs from how their counterparts in the United States consume it. These sets of fans have different historical relationships to Korea and its culture, and thus make meaning in different ways.

At the same time, I find Chin and Hitchcock’s centralization of emotion and fandom, the ways that fans understand the object of appeal and the consideration of factors such as gender, useful.   The authors make the astute observation about the implications for women when emotion is shunted to the wayside in academic discourse:  “As both scholars and fans, we are hardly immune to the pleasures of the fan object, and yet there remains a level of shame attached to the notion of being a fan, particularly if one is female” (95-6). If this happens when the researchers are female, how much more so when the fandom is predominantly female.

Sources

Chin, Bertha and Lori Hitchcock Morimoto. “Towards a Theory of Transcultural Fandom.” Participations: Journal of Audience & Reception Studies 10.1 (2013): 92-108.

Duffett, Mark. Understanding Fandom: An Introduction to the Study of Media Fan Culture. New York: Bloomsbury, 2013.

Iwabuchi, Koichi. “Undoing Inter-national Fandom in the Age of Brand Nationalism.” Mechademia 5 (2010): 97-96.

 

 

 

 

iFans Update: Girls’ Generation (SNSD), Into the New World Remix Cover Dances

SNSD, Oh! Concept
SNSD, Oh! Concept

Originally published on KPK: Kpop Kollective on February 8, 2014

The iFans project rolls on with more cover dance!  The second section of the exhibit, Dance Like Everybody’s Watching: K-pop Cover Dances, features Girls’ Generation‘s “Into the New World Remix.”  Click HERE to view K-pop fans from around the world performing one of the most complicated dance routines by a girl group.

Image: 1

Hallyu Harmony Update: APeace

APeace
APeace

Originally published on KPK: Kpop Kollective on February 14, 2014

Hallyu Harmony: A Cultural History of Kpop is a digital humanities project that traces connections among the artists and groups across genres, generations and geographies through visuals, music and choreography.  The first exhibit, Seo Taiji: President of Culture, explores the reasons why Seo Taiji is considered the pioneer of contemporary K-pop.  The current exhibit under construction, Move the Crowd: Choreography and K-pop, explores an other key aspect of K-pop: dance. APeace is the first page in the first section of this exhibit, Star Array: Dance and the Large K-pop Group.  With 21 members, APeace is one of the largest K-pop groups. See how they use their numbers in choreography here.

Image: 1

Whose Generation? GIRLS’ GENERATION!: Gender, Audience and K-pop

Girls' Generation, Vogue Japan, 2011
Girls’ Generation, Vogue Japan, 2011

As the number of female groups increase in number in K-pop, commentators and scholars continue to focus on the meaning of the representations produced by these groups. While some argue that such representations are geared towards men, this ignores the way the majority female fanbases of these groups construct meaning of these representations.

Because female groups, like many male groups in K-pop, are put together by Korean agencies (rather than forming on their own, as is the norm in countries like the United States in the West), some argue that appeal to men plays a role in this process.  A guest contributor for seoulbeats asserted: “Like many other K-pop girl groups, SNSD [Girls’ Generation] was created to be ‘ogled’ over by their target audience–male fans.”  This sentiment was repeated by other online writers such as James Turnbull and Jessica Doyle.

Scholars not only argue that groups like SNSD were created for men, they also argue that images, music videos and performances by girl groups like SNSD are targeted to male, middle-aged audiences.  Through an examination of music videos and lyrics, Stephen Epstein with James Turnbull conclude that they all geared towards men rather than female empowerment, whether it is the “viewer. . . [who] is regularly constructed as male,”  a mode of femininity “that renders males helpless,” “a self-objectifying preoccupation with an external gaze” or the definition of “women in relation to men” (333).  In doing so, they challenge the notion that empowerment represented by girl groups “brings young women to a heightened sense of their own possibilities in the world” and conclude “that Korea’s pop culture commodification of sexuality has reached the point that for middle-aged men to focus on their gaze on underage performers becomes cause for rejoicing rather than embarrassment” (333).

However, several scholars have noted that the K-pop training model originally sought to ascertain the preferences of teenage girls.   In separate articles, Doobo Shim and Solee I. Shin and Lanu Kim reference Lee Soo Man‘s survey of teenage girls to discover what they wanted in their first-generation idols at SM Entertainment.  Since then, agencies continue to target audiences beyond middle-aged men. With the development of second-generation idols like SNSD, cross-generational appeal became the goal which includes audiences in addition to middle-aged men.  Kim Chang Nam observes that “fandom has expanded to include people in their twenties and thirties, and even into older generations. Newly coined terms, including ‘uncle fans,’ ‘aunt fan,’ and ‘older sister fan,’ have appeared” (111).  As a result, middle-aged men are one of a number of types of audiences for a group like SNSD.

Moreover, an interpretation of videos and lyrics overlooks how the majority female audience for girl groups like SNSD construct meaning about the images and performances they see. S. Craig Watkins and Rana Emerson draw on theories of media reception, which posit “that receivers of media are actively involved in the construction of meaning” (156).  In doing so, they reveal not only “the strategic ways girls and women use the media in their everyday lives” but also “the ways in which women appropriate the media as a site of meaning construction, actively engaging in and, occasionally, contesting images and themes of gender domination” (157).  As a result, they are not passive audiences, but actively create meaning for themselves based on what they see. Just because men may read such images in a way that does not empower women does not mean that female audiences read them in the same way.

This is not the first iteration of the girl group.  Even when such images are created by men, as Cynthia Cyrus notes for images of 1960s girl groups, women can still craft meaning independent of the intention of such images:

Still, to understand these images primarily as symbols of male desire is to miss the point. The teen standing in front of the record bin would not have primarily engaged with the picture through some displaced sexual desire. Rather, she would have evaluated these images as what they were, invitations to consumer participation. The girl group images offer affirmative messages about what it means to be female, messages about belonging, about possibilities for participation, about the possibility of success. . . . Ethnographic evidence suggests that viewers did, in fact, identify with the girl group image (190-191).

Rather than one way of rendering meaning from girl groups, even female fans do not make the same kinds of meaning out of girl groups.  The representations of femininity and female behavior are more complex than reducing them down to objects for men to look at. Such an approach silences the voices of the majority female fanbases who circulate, consume and make meaning of performances by girl groups.

Image: 1

Sources

Cyrus, Cynthia J. “Selling an Image: Girl Groups of the 1960s.” Popular Music 22.2 (2003): 173-193.

Epstein, Stephen with James Turnbull.  “Girls’ Generation? Gender, (Dis)Empowerment, and K-pop.” The Korean Popular Culture Reader. Ed. Kyung Hyun Kim and Youngmin Choe. Durham: Duke University Press, 2014. 314-336.

Guest, “Is SNSD Being Sexually Harassed?” seoulbeats. 2 Mar 2010. Web. 3 May 2014.

Kim, Chang Nam. K-pop: Roots and Blossoming of Korean Popular Music. Seoul: Hollym, 2012.

Shim, Doobo.  “Hybridity and the Rise of Korean Popular Culture in Asia.” Media, Culture & Society 28.1 (2006): 25-44.

Shin, Solee I and Lanu Kim. “Organizing K-pop: Emergence and Market Making of Large Korean Entertainment Houses, 1980-2010.” East Asia (2013): DOI 10.1007/s12140-013-9200-0.

Watkins, S. Craig and Rana A. Emerson.  “Feminist Media Criticism and Feminist Media Practices.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences. 571 (2000): 151-166.

Creative Commons License
Whose Generation? GIRLS’ GENERATION!: Gender, Audience and K-pop by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. Originally published on KPK: Kpop Kollective on May 3, 2014.

iFans Update: What Fans Think. . . . about 2NE1!

2NE1, Falling in Love Concept, 2013
2NE1, Falling in Love Concept, 2013

Originally published on KPK: Kpop Kollective May 20, 2014

As part of the ongoing project that is iFans: Mapping K-pop’s International Fandom, I have been working on the fan responses to Case Studies surveys. Click here to read about what 2NE1 fans think about the group’s significance in K-pop as well as an in-depth interview with a BlackJack!

Shine On: Glamour, Image and K-pop

HOT_PromoDressingRoom_kpopweekly
H.O.T

Visuals are an important part of K-pop, and understanding them is crucial to understanding the meaning of K-pop and its spread globally.

In addition to music videos, images that accompany promotions for music releases, photo shoots featured in magazines and endorsements for an array of products are seen, collected and exchanged by fans.  Not just important fan activity, such archiving in the lay sense is important to the preservation and memory-keeping of the visual narrative of K-pop.

In addition to the promotional function they perform, K-pop images also perform cultural work, constructing multifaceted representations of Korean identity.  Anne Anlin Cheng, professor of English and African American studies at Princeton University, sees “celebrity as a politics of recognition and glamour as a politics of personhood” (1023). This has special resonance for raced bodies:

Glamour’s imperviousness thus draws on a crisis of personhood that is inherently political and maybe even strangely liberating for a woman and a minority–liberating not in the simple sense of acquiring a compensatory or impenetrable beauty. . . but in the sense of temporary relief from the burdens of personhood and visibility.  It may seem counterintuitive or even dangerous to talk about the raced and sexualized body’s longing to be thinglike or to disappear into things, but it is the overcorporealized body that may find the most freedom in fantasies of corporeal dematerialization or, alternatively, of material self-extension (1032).

In other words, the highly stylized images that pepper K-pop represent a visual construction of Korean identities, visuals of how Koreans project themselves globally.  For ethnic people who have been constructed by others, such images are important because they do cultural work, deconstructing or altering images of Koreans and the ideas that accompany them.

I have started a new section in my digital humanities project, Hallyu Harmonyto document and curate images of K-pop groups and artists. In doing so, I hope to be able to make meaningful statements about the kinds of representations of Korean men and women that permeate K-pop, detecting patterns that become apparent when such images are collected together.

In the Visuals section of Hallyu Harmony, image galleries are organized into three broad categories:

  • Casual, images designed to appeal to everyone
  • Chic, images designed to represent more sophisticated styling attainable by most
  • Couture, images designed to capture more fantastic styling not designed for normal wear

Within these categories, images are further organized by concepts, magazine shoots and other promotional images. Concepts for music releases are placed in rough chronological order, allowing users to see how an artist or group’s image evolves over time.

The image gallery for Girls’ Generation, shows a greater variety of images than their reputation may suggest. A review of their concepts show that they are equally likely to promote a casual, chic or couture image. However, they are less likely to reflect a couture image in photo shoots for magazines. On the other hand, early observations of 2NE1’s image gallery (in progress) suggest that even though the group is known for its fierce reputation and image that many fans can relate to, the group reflect a chic image for many concepts.

 

Documenting such images presents challenges.  Many images gathered from the Internet are divorced from their original context as they are shared by fans and K-pop media. As a result, tracing an image’s origins is not always possible.  In some cases, the availability  of images within their context is related to the commitment of Korean agencies to preserve the context of images.  For example, the H.O.T image gallery (in progress) features many images, but few that can be placed in their original context. SM Entertainment‘s sites do not provide information for images on its H.O.T site.  On the other hand, many of  the concept images in S.E.S.’s image gallery can be associated with their original context due to the continued access to the group’s SM site.  Other sites, like DSP Media (formerly DSP Entertainment) only includes current artists on its website, so locating images for Fin.K.L‘s image gallery (in progress) will be challenging. Images will have to be obtained from other sources.  Moreover, it is easier to document 2nd and 3rd generation K-pop groups and artists like SNSD, while first generation groups like H.O.T and S.E.S prove more challenging because the groups are not active.

However, their fanbases are. Fan sites provide the bulk of the images documented, thus acting as valuable informal archives. As more image galleries are completed, I hope to write about the patterns that emerge from images from individuals and groups and compare them with other K-pop artists.

Images: 12 and 3and 5

Sources:

Cheng, Anne Anlin. “Shine: On Race, Glamour and the Modern.” PMLA 126.4 (2011): 1022-1041.

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Shine On: Glamour, Image and K-pop by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. Originally published on KPK: Kpop Kollective on June 21, 2014.

Don’t Call It A Comeback: Old School K-pop and Its Fans

Fly To The Sky
Fly To The Sky

Often believed to appeal only to teenagers, K-pop is experiencing a trend with old school groups making successful comebacks.

Some believe that K-pop has a short shelf life.  Several point to the “five-year curse,” a trend where male K-pop groups break up or disband, often in the face of mandatory military service in Korea. Others believe that K-pop is a fad that will run its course.  In 2011, Ree at seoulbeats declared:  “One thing people must note when discussing the popularity of K-Pop, is that to many people, whether they realize it or not, K-Pop has almost simply become a fad. Meaning that despite the fact it is at its peak of popularity, it will once again start heading on a downhill slope.”

However, successful comebacks of groups who debuted prior to 2000 challenge these notions.  Tickets for Shinhwa‘s Grand Tour 2012: The Return concert sold out in February, ahead of the release of the album The Return in March. Such success occurred after a four-year hiatus by group from the music scene.  Other first-generation K-pop groups, such as g.o.d and Fly To the Sky, have also announced comeback plans.

Who are the people who support groups who have been inactive for years and why do they continue to like such groups? I want to find out! If you are a fan of a group who debut before 2000, take this survey! It will ask you questions about old school K-pop groups such as H.O.TShinhwaS.E.SFin.K.LFly to the Skyg.o.d1TYMDeux and others.

Image: 1

Sources

Ree. “The K-pop Fad: When Will It End?” seoulbeats. 22 Nov 2011. Web. 25 May 2014.

“Don’t Call It a Comeback: Old School K-pop and Its Fans” by Crystal S. Anderson originally published on KPK: Kpop Kollective on May 25, 2014.

Hallyu Harmony Update: Super Junior, It’s You Dance Version

Super Junior
Super Junior

Originally published on KPK: Kpop Kollective June 30, 2014

The choreography for “It’s You” demonstrates several strategies that showcase the dance moves of the 11 members of Super Junior featured in this video. The video uses the large number of members, repeatedly breaking them up into smaller groups to perform choreography and punctuating the overall choreography with synchronized dancing and individualized performances. . . . Read more and see video at Hallyu Harmony.

Image:

“Super Junior, Don’t Don Concept (Kpop Hotline),” Hallyu Harmony, accessed July 14, 2014, http://kpop.omeka.net/items/show/115.

 

Like Vs. Love: Research Reveals Degrees of Attachment Among K-pop Fans

K-pop is well-known for the introduction of new groups, even while established groups continue to thrive. But are fans fickle in their K-pop choices? Do they abandon older groups for newer groups? Research suggests that while K-pop fans readily accept new groups, they have a deeper connection with veteran groups. These conclusions are based on data collected online through the Hallyu Korean Music Survey, part of a five-year study on international K-pop fans by Crystal S. Anderson.

The survey asks respondents to check all of the K-pop groups they like from a pre-determined list. This list emerged from earlier research that revealed a group of K-pop artists that global fans consistently identified as their favorites.  Out of 5099 responses from 282 respondents, the following groups represent the top 10:

  1. BigBang
  2. 2NE1
  3. SHINee
  4. Super Junior
  5. f(x)
  6. BEAST/B2ST
  7. MBLAQ
  8. B.A.P
  9. SNSD/Girls’ Generation
  10. TVXQ/DBSK

Respondents were then asked to name any group they liked not found in the predetermined list.  Out of 1229 responses from 237 respondents, the top 10 responses were:

  1. EXO
  2. Block B
  3. BTOB
  4. B1A4
  5. VIXX
  6. NU’EST
  7. Teen Top
  8. BTS
  9. SISTAR
  10. Secret

Respondents were then asked to list their three favorite K-pop groups. Out of 788 responses from 268 respondents, the top 10 responses were:

  1. BigBang
  2. SHINee
  3. EXO
  4. Super Junior
  5. Infinite
  6. 2NE1
  7. SNSD/Girls’ Generation
  8. JYJ
  9. MBLAQ
  10. TVXQ

This data suggests that K-pop fans are receptive to newer K-pop male groups. Nearly all of the groups not included in the predetermined list are groups that debuted after 2010. Female groups continue to lag behind, probably due to the fact that most K-pop groups that debut are male. However, established K-pop groups dominate when fans are asked to identify their favorite K-pop groups.  This list mirrors the predetermined list, which suggests that the longer the group has been active, more connected fans feel to the group.  Infinite has become a group that fans consistently say they like, replacing a group like BEAST/B2ST, which may have been out of the spotlight for a period of time. The notable exception is EXO, who fans identify as a group that they live and a favorite group. EXO debuted in 2011, and has managed to create a level of fan loyalty equal to more established K-pop groups.

So, what does this mean? It seems to suggest that fans of K-pop make choices about the degree of their fan loyalty based on the longevity of the group. K-pop group longevity (or how long a group has been active) makes a difference to fans. This has long-term implications for how K-pop continues to be promoted. Agencies who focus on churning out new groups without cultivating the fandom may see less of an impact than agencies who take time to establish a long-term fan relationship between artists and fans. Such activities may include creating the fan name so that fans can identify with a particular group, creating behind-the-scene shows where fans can see artists when they are not performing, and creating other opportunities for artists to remain in the public eye, such as endorsements and television appearances.

Images:

“BigBang, Love Song (Korea.com),” Hallyu Harmony, accessed July 14, 2014, http://kpop.omeka.net/items/show/347.

“EXO, Promo Dark Sky (seoulbeats),” Hallyu Harmony, accessed July 14, 2014, http://kpop.omeka.net/items/show/369.

Creative Commons License
Like Vs. Love: Research Reveals Degrees of Attachment Among K-pop Fans by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. Originally published on KPK: Kpop Kollective on July 10, 2014.