Anyone who knows me knows that I love Korean pop music, popularly known as K-pop. It’s safe to say that K-pop is a global phenomenon–K-pop has managed to gain fans internationally through boy and girl groups singing catchy tunes in Korean with perfect dance moves. The global popularity of K-pop has shown us that music is truly universal—as put by The Guardian, English isn’t the default language of pop music anymore.
The proliferation of K-pop was no doubt assisted by the Internet. Fans globally consume K-pop through the internet, especially through social media like YouTube and Twitter. BTS, hailed as the world’s biggest boyband, credit their use of social media as one of the reasons for their success. The internet has diminished the importance of geographical proximity to one’s favourite stars. In Understanding Fandom, Mark Duffett says “online media have changed fans perceptions of the remoteness of stars.” Through the internet, fans feel closer to celebrities as they can access an almost endless stream of information despite being far away. International K-pop fans’ increased participation indicates Duffett’s idea of the internet globalising public fandom, and new media technology enabling fans to expand media consumption.
Fan practices unique to K-pop are fansites and fancams. Creating your own content about your favourite celebrity isn’t new, but technology has definitely allowed fans to take it to a new level. K-pop fansites and fancams are a bit different than your usual fan website/blog.
Fansites are usually dedicated to one K-pop idol/group. Here is an example of a fansite dedicated to Red Velvet’s Seulgi. The administrator(s), usually referred to as fansite masters, will attend as much of the idol’s schedule as possible, such as concerts and fan meetings, in order to take high-quality pictures and videos of their idol. These pictures are then disseminated on social media for other fans. Fansite masters are incredibly dedicated—they attend idols’ schedules around Korea and even overseas, photographing them with professional camera equipment. Some fansites make money to support their activities through selling merchandise from their photography (like this photobook by Red Velvet’s Joy fansite).
Photo by Bumbi Phung via Flickr.
Fancams are videos focused on a specific idol during public appearances (here is a fancam of BTS’ Jimin). Fancams are produced by fansites, and the videos are circulated on social media. These videos allow fans to observe each idol closely, as it can be difficult to see one idol during a group performance. Fancams aren’t only shot during performances—there are fancams of idols in fanmeetings, award shows and even at the airport. Seeing all these fan practices being driven by new media technology, we have to ask—what are the consequences of these practices?
Photo by Lau Anime X via Flickr.
On one hand, fansites are taking photos and videos of the idol during their public appearances, and not intruding on their private lives. We can say their activities are acceptable as they are documenting the idol’s work, not their private life. The content created by fansites is also a way for international fans to feel connected to K-pop idols regardless of proximity. It allows fans to be updated of the latest information about their idols’ without having to rely on official content from their management. According to Dal Yong Jin and Kyong Yoon, the global emergence of K-pop resulted from the social mediascape, where “the technology of social media and the sociality of global fans make [K-pop] spreadable”. Fansites add content to this social mediascape, which fans can consume and use as a basis to interact with other fans.
Additionally, fansites and fancams are basically free advertising—fansites are constantly releasing high quality idol-related content online, and they aren’t being paid to do so. Fansites are beneficial for idols as it increases media recognition; as Graeme Turner said in Understanding Celebrity, “since the celebrity will always need the visibility the media can provide, it is in their interests to be as cooperative as possible”. In fact, some idols have gained popularity though fancams. The most notable example is EXID’s Hani—the fancam of her performing the song ‘Up and Down’ went viral on social media and boosted EXID’s popularity overnight. If there is more content of an idol online, it’s more likely that others will discover it and become a fan. Thus, the relationship between K-pop idols and their fansites is symbiotic.
However, we have to question the consequences of these practices. Idols are constantly under surveillance, as fansites are always documenting their every move and reaction. What does it mean for idols to continuously be under the gaze of fansite cameras? Any celebrity can expect the erosion of privacy due to the public nature of their jobs—it’s almost certain that idols, as put by Mark Andrejevic in his article, are “neither fooled nor particularly troubled by the commodification of their private lives for mass consumption”. Fansites fuel the dependence of the online economy on the economic exploitation of surveillance, done through new media technology. For the idols, it’s necessary (or even beneficial) to share their personal lives and be under public surveillance, as it makes themselves look like authentic individuals. Andrejevic states that when one’s actions are recorded, we can confirm their realness; “the persistent gaze of the camera provides one way of guaranteeing that ‘realness’”. Thus, fans feel more emotionally connected to the idol’s public persona. Authenticating oneself through surveillance can lead to financial profit—in this case, idols could gain fans who are willing to spend money on them.
Moreover, the normalisation of fansites and fancams may encourage obsessive and toxic fan behaviour. Fansites may encourage celebrity worship, conceptualised by McCutcheon, Lange and Houran as a type of obsessive behaviour towards celebrities where the highest levels of celebrity worship involve over-identification and obsession on details of their life. As fansites play such a significant part in promoting the idols, they could feel entitled to dictate the idol’s life. For instance, dating is a taboo in the K-pop industry due to the immense backlash from fans—this was the case with Triple H’s Hyuna and Edawn, who ended up being kicked out from their management for revealing their relationship. Jenna Gibson from the University of Chicago states that “because fans put in so much effort to promote […] their idol, some of them [think] that they should have some say over the idol’s actions and personal life”. Fansites’ endless pursuit of documenting idols can lead to them just being plain rude to others, and even to the idols themselves. It’s common for idols to be swarmed by fansites at places like the airport—Girls’ Generation’s Taeyeon was sexually harassed by fans who touched her inappropriately in the crowd when she arrived in Jakarta.
Additionally, fancams invite the sexual objectification of idols, especially female ones—you’ll know what I mean when you watch the Hani fancam I previously mentioned. The fancams have obvious sexual undertones, deliberately focusing on idols performing provocative dances in minimal clothing. It’s clear that the these fancams are made for the viewing pleasure of men, catering to Laura Mulvey’s idea of male gaze. Sexual objectification in K-pop is a whole other issue, but fancams seem to exacerbate this by inviting viewers to watch idols performing provocatively at the closest angle possible.
Photo by HeyDay [CC BY 4.0] via Wikimedia Commons
K-pop’s global rise to fame could only have been possible with new media technologies. These technologies have resulted in the emergence of unique fan practices—without the existence of fansites and fancams, fans who are distant wouldn’t be able to get the lastest information of their activities and engage in the fandom. It’s a part of how I experience K-pop too. However, we need to remember that there are consequences, however invisible, behind these practices—not just to the idols, but to us as fans. Every celebrity has obsessive fans, but it’s worth investigating if these practices are making the extreme seem ‘normal’. Now that’s something to think about when you watch fancams during your favourite group’s comeback.
All images protected by fair use under exceptions to copyright.