The K-pop fandom landscape has changed in the past few years. Data suggests that the general K-pop “idol” fandom is more divided than it was less than 10 years ago and challenges some widely held notions about the preferences of global K-pop fans. Read more at KPK: Kpop Kollective…..
Sun Jung and Yukie Hirata use the experience of the female K-pop group Girls’ Generation (SNSD) in Japan as a case study to examine how K-pop represents a different kind of transcultural flows and consumption. . . Read more at Public Circulation!
Eun-Young Jung examines how the visuals of Korean music videos by BoA, Wonder Girls and Rain play on “racialized notions of sexuality” and “sexualized notions of racial identity.” . . . . Read more at Public Circulation!
Ingyu Oh challenges approaches to Korean popular music based on cultural hybridity by arguing that the globalization of K-pop involves modifying musical content from Europe and other locations into Korean content and redistributing it to global audiences. In doing to, it occupies a void between Western and East Asian music industries. . . . read more at Public Circulation!
Scholars can take very different approaches to K-pop. Doing so simultaneously contributes to the overall knowledge about the subject and shows significant gaps in scholarly examinations. Some focus on K-pop as a music industry propelled by fandom, while others examine its historical roots.
The fandom for Hallyu-era Korean popular music (K-pop) is overwhelmingly female. However, a portion of it does involve men, both as participants and critics. How does that impact the way we may view the fandom?
In “Girls’ Generation: Gender, (Dis)Empowerment, and K-pop,” Stephen Epstein and James Turnbull challenge what they call “the triumphant discourse of the cultural industries,” or the recurrent idea that the rise of K-pop translates into an overall positive phenomenon for female artists, their audiences, and the South Korean government (317). As a result of their analysis of over 100 videos by top K-pop female groups, they suggest that the target of the performance of K-pop girl groups are men, because “the viewer in such videos is regularly constructed as male” (318). The essay concludes that K-pop girl groups do not empower girls and women. Instead, such performances shows “that Korea’s pop culture commodification of sexuality has reached the point that for middle-aged men to focus their gaze on underage’ performers becomes cause for rejoicing rather than embarrassment” (333). In other words, female K-pop groups’ primary impact is on middle-aged men rather than the largely female fanbase they claim to target.
Conversely, Jarryn Ha examines the motives of male K-pop fans in Korea in “Uncles’ Generation: Adult Male Fans and Alternative Masculinities in South Korean Popular Music.” Ha contextualizes the behavior of male Korean fans in their 20s within Korean cultural expectations: “The ajossi type influences not only the outward appearance expected of men but also their behaviour, their consumption pattern and the ideology that constructs and perpetuates a particular kind of masculinity long prevalent in the Korean society. Both the persistent Confucian patriarchal values and the ideal of hard-working men. . . contributed to the conventional ajossi masculinity” (47). While such male fandom can be viewed as an extension of the male gaze, Ha suggests that such behavior can actually challenges restrictive societal expectations: “Rather than a diversion and distraction from having a one-track mind devoted solely to the work and family life, pursuing well-rounded knowledge in the humanities, political activism and other interests stands for overcoming the closed, uncommunicative and authoritarian world-view that the previous generations of Korean men have established” (54).
While Ha examines possible motivations for male fans in Korea, Ingyu Oh and Choong-Mook Lee look at the role of male protesters of Hallyu in Japan. Oh and Lee acknowledge the central role that female fans play in Korean popular culture in Japan: “The feminine domination of the Hallyu movement in Japan is a natural outcome of persistent postcolonial gender inequality. . . . [which] later developed into the multinational or transnational cultural experiences that comprise non-Western and even Korean pop culture in recent years” (286). Men come into the picture, not as fans, but as protesters of this female activity. Oh and Lee cite data that suggests men are at the forefront of protest activity around Hallyu in Japan: “The recent Internet-based anti-Hallyu movements are connected to Japanese male chauvinism, which is closely linked to Abe’s second cabinet, anti-Hallyu protests, and anti-Hallyu comic books” (294).
K-pop fandom is overwhelmingly female, so why talk about men at all? Male fans may be small in number, but they form a subculture within the subculture and scholars view their impact in different ways. Both Ha and Oh and Lee speculate on the impact of actual male participants within specific cultural contexts, which gives insight on the motivations for male fans. Ha reads Korean male behavior as a response to shifting societal conditions following Korea’s financial crisis, while . Oh and Lee link male protests to specific political dynamics in Japan that are linked to Japan’s colonization of Korea. However, Epstein and Turnbull address a potential male viewer of K-pop female groups. They also assert that K-pop girl groups cater to male desires to the detriment of the agency of female fans. In making this argument, do they shift the focus to male concerns rather than contextualizing male participation within a female-dominated fan activity? In other words, we end up talking about men to the exclusion of women in a female-dominated fandom. On the other hand, Oh and Lee acknowledge the dominance of female K-pop fans in Japan, and characterize their fan activity as resistance to male protests.
Through few in number, there are various ways that men impact the female-dominated fandom of K-pop.
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.
Ha, Jarryn. “Uncles’ Generation: Adult Male Fans and Alternative Masculinities in South Korean Popular Music.” Journal of Fandom Studies 3.1 (2015): 43-58. [Disclosure: I co-edited this special issue on K-pop and K-drama Fandoms for the journal]
Oh, Ingyu and Choong-Mook Lee. “A League of Their Own: Female Supporters of Hallyu and Korea-Japan Relations.” Pacific Focus: Inha Journal of International Studies 29.2 (2014): 284-302.
Boys in a Girls’ World: Men, Fandom and K-pop by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
When I go to conferences, I often end up answering questions from members of the audience after the presentation. Or, I’ll have random conversation with students from other institutions about my work. I’m happy to give others the benefit of my 18+ experience in academia as an active researcher of cultural studies. But why wait for a conference? If you are an undergraduate or graduate student, ask me your questions here, and I’ll tell you what I know! I won’t post your name, but if I can answer your question, I’ll post the question and answer. You can ask me about my work (see the site!), the research process and the college experience!
In “So Contagious: Hybridity and Subcultural Exchange in Hip-Hop’s Use of Indian Samples,” Sarah Hankins explores the sonic meaning of music from South Asia in African American music, specifically hip-hop. This made me wonder about the implications for K-pop, in light of its own practices in relation to hip-hop and its own cultural exchange with South Asian sounds.
Hankins frames the discussion between two poles. On one hand, the use of Indian samples in hip-hop recordings could signal “what Sunania Maira and others call new Orientalism—a cross-cultural appropriation of commodities encompassing such trends as the emergence of ‘Indo-chic’ within Western fashion” (194). In other words, such sampling could be seen as taking from a culture (as a Westerner) without acknowleding the original context (which happens to be in the East), what some may identify as misappropriation. On the other hand, the positioning of African Americans in relation to Western power dynamics complicates this explanation for Indian samples in hip-hop: “African Americans are a minority group and, in a broad sense, a diasporic one; in this light, their creative production is distinct from that of a hegemonic Western popular culture” (194). Hankins resolves this by asserting an argument where hip-hop’s use of Indian samples “is better understood as part of a subcultural exchange of commodities, one result of which is the creation of hybridity as a means to negotiate a relationship between both parties, as well as to a dominant culture” (195).
This strategy may help to explain the use of Indian musical soundscape in K-pop, which is not limited to hip-hop groups. Listeners can identify Indian music in a variety of K-pop songs. It can be heard in the back half of the chorus for 2NE1’s “I Am the Best”:
f(x) also uses it throughout the single “첫 사랑니(Rum Pum Pum Pum)”:
Most recently, MFBTY incorporated similar sounds into “Bang Diggy Bang Bang”:
As Hankins suggests, K-pop’s use of Indian sounds signals more hybridity and less new Orientalism. Like African Americans, South Koreans occupy a subject position that is not hegemonic in relationship to South Asia. If anything, they may be located on the same side of the Orientalist divide as a small economic power in East Asia dwarfed by China and Japan. At the same time, the use of Indian sounds relates more to the hybridity that defines K-pop. As the music videos by 2NE1, f(x) and MFBTY show, they cite Indian sounds but do not uncritically invoke the culture in the visuals. Instead, these videos follow the expectations of the respective K-pop groups. “I Am the Best” continues 2NE1’s representation of a hip-hop-inflected futuristic vision, with lots of eclectic outfits, shiny surfaces and attitude. The only visual in the video that invokes the East may be the large black pyramid near the middle of the video. f(x)’s video features their characteristic quirky style and bright colors along with choreographed dance. MFBTY invokes their signature hip-hop style with a bit of humor in its video.
Hankins’ article does provide new insight in thinking about how other cultures use Indian sounds in pop music.
Image: “A Sarod.” Wikipedia. N.d. Web. 15 Apr 2015
Hankins, Sarah. “So Contagious: Hybridity and Subcultural Exchange in Hip-Hop’s Use of Indian Samples.” Black Music Research Journal 31.2 (2011): 193-208.
New Orientalism or Old Hybridity?: Indian Music in K-pop by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
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!