K-pop (an abbreviation of Korean pop)(Korean: 가요 kayo)is a musical genre and subculture originating in South Korea which comprises a wide spectrum of musical and visual elements. Although in a bigger scope K-pop may include any genre of South Korean popular music, outside of the country the term is more commonly used for songs sung by systematically trained K-Pop idols signed with management agencies such as SM Entertainment, YG Entertainment and JYP Entertainment.In 1992, dance and rap music was brought into the genre by Seo Taiji & Boys, whose experimentation with a different variety of musical sounds had ushered in the beginning of modern K-pop.Since the mid-2000s, the Korean Wave has driven a visible spread of K-pop across the Pacific Rim, before subsequently reaching out to the Americas, Eurasia, and North Africa. According to the news agency Reuters, the success of PSY’s single “Gangnam Style” has led to other K-pop artists positioning themselves for a similar breakthrough in the U.S. music industry, as Big Bang, G-Dragon and Girls’ Generation made their debut on the Billboard 200 albums’ chart and 2NE1‘s performance in New Jersey was selected by The New York Times as one of the “Best Concerts of 2012”.By tapping into social media networks, the ability of K-pop to reach a previously inaccessible audience via the Internet is driving a shift in the exposure and popularity of the genre.
The beginnings of Korean popular music
The history of Korean popular music can be traced back to 1885 when an American missionary, Henry Appenzeller started teaching American and British folk songs at a school. These songs were called changga in Korean, and they were typically based on a popular Western melody sung with Korean lyrics. The well-known song “Oh My Darling, Clementine” was for example known as “Simcheongga”.During the Japanese rule (1910–1945) popularity of changga songs rose as Koreans tried to express their feelings against Japanese oppression through music. One of the most popular songs was “Huimangga” (희망가, The Song of Hope). The Japanese confiscated the existing changga collections and published lyrics books of their own.The first known Korean pop album was “Yi Pungjin Sewol” (This Tumultuous Time) by Park Chae-seon and Lee Ryu-saek from 1925 and contained popular songs translated from Japanese. The first pop song written by a Korean composer is thought to be “Nakhwayusu” (낙화유수, Fallen Blossoms on Running Water) sung by Lee Jeong-suk in 1929.In the mid-1920s, Japanese composer Masao Koga mixed traditional Korean music with Gospel music that American Evangelists introduced in the 1870s. This type of music became known as Enka in Japan, and later in Korea as Trot (Korean: “트로트”).These songs became extremely popular.Later, in the 21st century K-pop singers rediscovered the genre of trot, for example singers like Daesung from Big Bang and several members of Super Junior produced trot singles.
1940s—1960s: American influence
After the Korean Peninsula was partitioned into North and South following its liberation from Japanese annexation in 1945, Western culture was introduced into South Korea on a small scale with a few Western style bars and clubs playing Western music. After the Korean War, which started on June 25, 1950 and lasted for 3 years, U.S. troops remained in South Korea for protection. With the continued presence of the U.S. military, American and world culture began to infiltrate South Korea. During this time, Western music became more accepted to a wider crowd of young adults.The United Service Organizations made it possible for several prominent figures of American entertainment, like Marilyn Monroe or Louis Armstrong to visit the soldiers stationed in Korea. These visits prompted attention from the Korean public. In 1957 the American Forces Korea Network radio started its broadcast, spreading the popularity of Western music. American music started influencing Korean music, as pentatony was gradually replaced by heptachords and popular songs started to be modeled after American ones.Improvements in the recording systems encouraged the production of LP records in the 1960s, which led to the pursuit of diverse voice tones.Many singers sang for the American troops in Korea at the time, usually in dedicated clubs, the number of which rose to 264. They performed various genres like country music, blues, jazz and rock & roll. Popular Korean singers earned a total of 1.2 million dollars a year which almost equaled the country’s export income at the time.In the 1960s, the South Korean economy started blooming and popular music followed the trend. The appearance of the first commercial radio stations played a significant part in spreading popular music, Korean cinema began to develop. Korean musicians and singers formerly only performing at American clubs started opening up to wider audiences. When The Beatles fever reached the shores of Korea, the first local rock bands appeared, the very first is said to be Add4,founded in 1962.The first talent contest for rock bands in Seoul was organized in 1968. Besides rock and pop, trot songs remained popular.Some of the Korean singers managed to gain international popularity. The Kim Sisters, Yoon Bok-hee and Patti Kim were the first singers to debut in such countries as Vietnam and United States. The Kim Sisters became the first Korean group to release an album in the United states, they performed various times in Las Vegas and appeared several times on Ed Sullivan‘s TV show.Han Myeong Suk’s 1961 song titled “The Boy in The Yellow Shirt” was covered by French singer Yvette Giraud and was also popular in Japan.
1970s: Korean hippie folk pop
At the end of the 1960s and beginning of the 1970s Korean pop music underwent another transformation. Musicians now tended to be university students or graduates and made music for fun and self entertainment unlike the earlier generations. These young musicians were heavily influenced by American culture and lifestyle, unlike their predecessors who had to experience war and Japanese oppression. This generational conflict was well reflected in the reception of the folk pop music of the ′70s. The audience consisted mostly of students following the American hippie style in fashion and music alike, with guitars and jeans becoming a symbol of youth.
These young people opposed the Vietnam war as much as American hippies did which resulted in the Korean government banning songs with more liberal lyrics. In spite of this, hippie folk pop remained popular among the youth so much so that the local television channel MBC organised a music contest for university students in 1977, which consequently led to the foundation of several modern music festivals.One of the leading figures of the era was Han Dae-soo, raised in the United States, influenced by Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and John Lennon. Han’s iconic song “Mul jom juso” (물 좀 주소, Give Me Water) became a hymn for young people in Korea, his daring performances and unique singing style often shocked the public and later he was banned from performing in Korea. Han moved to New York and pursued his musical career there, only returning to his home country in the 1990s.
Other notable singers of the period include Chang Sik Song, Young Nam Cho and Hee Eun Yang.
In the 1970s, DJs also started to become popular, deeply impacting teenage culture.
1980s: The era of ballads
The 1980s saw the rise of ballad singers, the genre became popular after the 1985 release of Lee Gwang-jo’s “You’re Too Far Away to Get Close to” (가까이 하기엔 너무 먼 당신, Gakkai Hagien Neomu Meon Dangsin). Lee’s album sold more than 300,000 copies. Other popular ballad singers included Lee Moon-se (이문세) and Byun Jin-seob (변진섭), nicknamed the “Prince of Ballads”. One of the most sought after ballad composers of the era was Lee Young-hoon (이영훈), whose songs were compiled into a modern musical in 2011 titled Gwanghwamun Yeonga (광화문 연가, Gwanghwamun’s Song).In 1980, the Asia Music Forum was launched. National singers from five different Asian countries competed in the event. Cho Yong-pil won first place and earned a high reputation as a Korean singer in Japan.His first album, Chang bakkui yeoja (창 밖의 여자, The Woman outside the Window) was a hit and he became the first Korean singer to take the stage at the Carnegie Hall in New York. He won nearly all relevant awards at major events, including best composer and best song awards. He was invited to perform in Japan and Hong Kong, among other countries. Cho’s musical repertoire included rock, dance, trot and folk pop.
1990s: The turning point
In the 1990s, early Korean pop musicians incorporated American popular music styles like rap, rock and techno in their music. In 1992 the emergence of Seo Taiji & Boys brought a true turning point in the history of K-pop.The trio debuted on MBC‘s talent show with their song “Nan Arayo” (난 알아요, I Know) and got the lowest rating from the jury.However, the song and the album with the same title became so successful that, according to MTV Iggy, “K-pop music would never be the same” again:“Its New Jack Swing-inspired beats, catchy rap lyrics and memorable choruses took Korean audiences by storm”.The lyrics of Seo Taiji & Boys dealt with the problems of Korean society, which other entertainers of the era failed to do.Their sound paved the way for the “success format” of K-pop songs,and their footsteps were followed by a wave of successful hip hop and R&B artists like Jinusean, Deux, 1TYM and Drunken Tiger.In 1995 Korean entrepreneur Lee Soo Man founded South Korea’s largest talent agency and record label, SM Entertainment.By the late 1990s, YG Entertainment, DSP Entertainment, JYP Entertainment, and FNC Music had burst onto the scene as well and were producing talent as quickly as the public could consume it.The success of Seo Taiji & Boys brought a new audience to K-pop: teenagers, which led to the emergence of so-called idol bands: young boy and girl bands.H.O.T. is considered as the first K-pop idol boy band, they debuted in 1995. They were followed by bands like Sechs Kies, S.E.S., Fin.K.L, NRG, Taesaja, Shinhwa or g.o.d.The 1997 Asian financial crisis prompted Korean entertainers to look for new markets: H.O.T. also released a Chinese language album.The 1990s were also a successful period for underground music clubs, punk rock bands like Pipi Band or Crying Nut managed to gain mainstream popularity.
21st century: The Hallyu wave
In the 2000s K-pop, as part of the global Korean wave, started expanding rapidly, mostly in Asia but also reaching the shores of the Americas and Europe. The first Korean singer to top the Oricon in Japan was BoA, whose albums were sold in the million.This was also the time when Rain started to gain popularity and China, he held a concert with 40,000 people in attendance in 2005 in Beijing.The decade saw the emergence of new generation idol bands like TVXQ, SS501, Big Bang, Super Junior, Girls’ Generation, Shinee, 2PM, Wonder Girls,2NE1, KARA and MBLAQ.These bands often collaborate with American and European producers, JYJ for example worked with Kanye West,Wonder Girls worked with Akon,2NE1 worked with will.i.am,Girls’ Generation worked with Snoop Dogg while Big Bang’s 2012 Alive Tour was directed by Laurieann Gibson.In the 21st century the expansion of K-pop is driven by the Internet. As traditional media records are losing popularity among consumers, the significance of digital records have risen. K-pop performers prefer the shorter EP or single formats released more often to full length albums. Artists therefore are forced to capture the audience in a shorter time period, which led to the widespread use of so-called ‘hooks’. Hook usually means the easy to memorize, catchy chorus.In 2012 K-pop made a breakthrough in Western mainstream media through Psy‘s “Gangnam Style” that went viral on the Internetand within a couple of months became the most viewed video of all time on YouTube.According to Mark James Russell from the global politics magazine Foreign Policy, K-Pop has now spread to the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and parts of South America. He acknowledges that Korean popular culture “may not (yet) turn heads in Los Angeles or London” and claims that “the West is actually late to the party”.However, according to USA Today this may soon change as K-Pop’s influence continues to spread, finding more fans in the West.
Since the late 2000s, several notable milestones have been attained by various K-pop bands and musicians:
- May 2007: With a solo concert in front of 40,000 fans at the Tokyo Dome, the South Korean entertainer Rain becomes K-pop’s first music artist to perform at Japan’s biggest concert hall.
- October 2009: The Wonder Girls enter the American Billboard Hot 100 music charts with their single “Nobody“, which was widely noted for its music video’s viral spread after having surpassed 50 million views on YouTube.
- September 2010: SM Town holds its first concert outside the Asian continent with its SMTown Live ’10 World Tour in Los Angeles.This precedes two sold-out concerts held a few months later at the Zenith de Paris in France.
- August 2011: Billboard launches the Korea K-Pop Hot 100 music chart, which only takes into account digital sales.
- November 2011: BIGBANG faces off competition from the American pop icon Britney Spears and the German singer Lena Meyer-Landrut to clinch the 2011 MTV Europe Music Award for Best Worldwide Act. Shortly after, Google announces that its subsidiary YouTube will launch its own K-pop channel.
- December 2011: The total number of YouTube views generated by K-Pop videos in 2011 surpasses the 1 billion mark. It had tripled from 800 million in the previous year to more than 2.3 billion, spurred on by huge growths in Europe and the Middle East.In the same month, the United Cube Concert was held in Sao Paolo, Brazil, making it the first K-pop concert in South America.
- March 2012: After becoming the first K-pop band to enter the American Billboard 200 music charts with their album “Alive“, BIGBANG kicks off the Alive Tour in 25 cities worldwide.
- November 2012: PSY’s Gangnam Style peaks at the top of more than 30 national music charts and becomes the most viewed YouTube video.It also competed against hit singles by Katy Perry and Lady Gaga to clinch the MTV Europe Music Award for Best Video.According to an article from Kevin Evers published on the Harvard Business Review, Gangnam Style’s widespread internet popularity had influenced Billboard’s ranking methodology of its music charts. Instead of only taking into account radio airplay and physical purchases, a heavier emphasis was placed on digital sales and online music streams
- 21 December 2012: PSY‘s “Gangnam Style” becomes the first online video to be viewed over a billion times on YouTube. In 2012, the total number of views generated by K-pop videos excluding “Gangnam Style” had doubled from 2.3 billion in the previous year to more than 4 billion, and the K-pop industry continued its double-digit growth by grossing US$3.4 billion in the first half of the year to become one of the top 10 largest digital music markets in the world.
According to a Rolling Stone author, “K-Pop… embraces genre fusion with both singing and rap, and emphasizes performance and strong visuals.” It is a mix of genres like pop, rock, hip hop, R&B and electronic music.
Dance is an integral part of K-pop. When combining multiple singers, the singers often switch their positions while singing and dancing by making prompt movements in synchrony. K-pop is also recognized for pretty-boys and girl groups that are young and considered attractive.
More than 60 boy and girl bands are produced each year in Korea, making way of labeling K-pop as a “star factory”. Many of these bands disappear after a few hits.K-pop is a fast paced and high-competition industry, according to the Korea Times it produces easily consumable and disposable one-time hit songs that the audience downloads and then deletes. The majority of K-pop songs spend only a short time on music charts and it is rare for a hit to lead the charts for several weeks. The basic format is usually built upon a catchy chorus part and a spectacular, easy to master dance to accompany the song – like “Sorry, Sorry” from Super Junior, “Gee” from Girls’ Generation or “Abracadabra” from Brown Eyed Girls. The songs are marketed for one or two months and then are usually forgotten as new ones take their place. Singer Insooni complained that “the songs that we sang back in the day are still sung today. But music these days – people perform for three months than [sic!] stop. Fans have lost a sense of responsibility.”
Visual experience is an integrated part of K-pop, which comprises the artist’s physical appearance and clothing as well as the sophisticated visuals of concerts and music videos. K-pop videos are often vivid, colourful, strident, extravagant and compared to traditional pop videos can even be shocking or incomprehensible.
K-pop songs are often written by experienced songwriters, some of them born or raised in the USA, like Teddy Park,but European and American songwriters and producers (such as will.i.am or Sean Garrett) also give songs to Korean performers.Some of the K-pop idols compose and write songs themselves, for example Rain, Tablo, G-Dragon, the members of CN Blue and Block B.
The promotional activities of a K-pop artist involve the so-called “comeback”, called as such even when the musician or group in question did not go on hiatus.
In order to make their new albums known to the public, K-pop artists participate in various promotional activities, such as appearing and performing on national television. Popular television programs in which bands and musicians usually make their comeback include the Music Bank TV series by the Korean Broadcasting System and The Music Trend by the Seoul Broadcasting System. The first performance by a K-Pop artist on a music program specifically for the promotion of their new album or single is also known as the “comeback” stage. In addition to stage performances, Teaser images and video clips are commonly released to the public as part of a “comeback”.These are released one after another, often within the space of a few days before the full release.
Rookie artists start out with a “debut stage” and their second promotional cycle will be called a “comeback”.
Dance is an integral part of K-pop. When combining multiple singers, the singers often switch their positions while singing and dancing by making prompt movements in synchrony. Since the debut of Seo Taiji & Boys, multiple singers began to switch their positions while singing and dancing, a strategy called “formation changing” (Korean: 자리 바꿈, Jari ba’ggum) and a turning point for the establishment K-pop choreography (Korean: 안무, Anmu).
K-pop also influences fashion, especially in Asia, where clothes and accessories worn by K-pop stars, as well as their hairstyles and the cosmetic brands they use are sought after by young listeners. Fashion brands release copies of clothing worn by idols.Some K-pop idols including G-Dragon from Big Bang have established themselves as a fashion icon by attracting the attention of Western fashion designers, most notably Jeremy Scott, who expressed his interest in working with singer CL from 2NE1.
In January 2012 Korean artists held a fashion show in Japan, which was attended by 33,000 people.In Thailand authorities worry over the fashion items popularized by Korean pop, as Thai teenagers are willing to wear items unfit for local weather conditions (e.g. leggings) and also use skin whitening products to look like Korean celebrities. In North Korea, despite strong governmental regulations, South Korean fashion is a topic of interest. K-pop popularized high-heel shoes, sleeveless tops and fashionable accessories, although such attire is forbidden in the country.
K-pop as an industry
The three biggest agencies in terms of revenue are S.M. Entertainment, YG Entertainment and JYP Entertainment,often referred to as the “Big Three”, whose stocks are traded at the Korea Exchange In K-pop these record labels also function as agencies for the artists.They started operating as such at the beginning of the 2000s. They are responsible for recruiting, financing, training, marketing and publishing new artists as well as managing their activities and public relations. In terms of market share the biggest agency is S.M. Entertainment. Their artists started the Hallyu wave in K-pop and managed to break into Japan. The “Big Three” occasionally cooperate, for example Se7en, managed by YG Entertainment received a song from JYP Entertainment founder Park Jin-young in 2012 and the representatives of the three agencies judged at the SBS reality talent show “K-pop Star” The “Big Three”, together with Star J Entertainment, AM Entertainment and Key East founded the United Asia Management (UAM),which aims to spread K-pop globally as well as facilitate the development of better artist recruitment and management processes.UAM auditions are global and not restricted to Korean talents. Besides musicians, UAM also manages actors, directors, stylists, hair and make-up artists.The merge was highly criticised as it might put pressure on content providers as well as further pressurize other Asian countries, like the Chinese market, which is unable to respond to and compete with the mass production of Korean entertainment companies.
Sales and market value
The Korean music industry grossed nearly $3.4 billion in the first half of 2012, which amounts to a 27.8% increase from the same period last year, according to Billboard. Before the digital market took hold, the South Korean music industry was nearly destroyed in the early 2000s by the large amount of illegal file sharing, a problem threatening other countries at the time as well. In 2006, however, South Korea’s digital music market surpassed the physical market,with more than half of revenue coming from digital sales. K-pop’s social media presence on Korean and English websites such as Facebook and Youtube have also had a major impact on the size of its global market. Viki, the video and music streaming website, has influenced global K-pop trends by providing translated subtitles for music videos.
In 2011, 1,100 albums were released in South Korea. The hip-hop genre had the most among them at two-thirds of the total albums.One-third of the albums were from other genres, including rock, modern folk, and crossover.This shows that there is a variety of genres in South Korea outside of what is produced by K-pop idols. Illegal downloads have pushed down prices significantly. In 2012, the average cost of obtaining a K-pop song in South Korea amounted to US$0.10 for a single download, or $0.002 when streamed online.
Cultural technology and trainee system
Cultural technology, or CT, is a concept popularized by Lee Soo-man, founder of the South Korean music label and talent agency S. M. Entertainment. It is a 3-step process of exporting K-pop overseas as part of the Korean wave and consist of a tightly controlled training system. Joseph L. Flatley from the American news network The Verge described it as one of the most “extreme” systems of pre-packaging K-pop bands,which are owned by a handful of entertainment agencies.According to The Wall Street Journal, South Korean entertainment companies such as S.M. Entertainment have created a process to train singers and dancers in its groups. In many cases, idols enter the system at age nine or ten and live together in a house under tight rules. They attend school during the day and take singing and choreography classes at night. Besides singing and dancing trainees are also taught foreign languages, most notably English, Japanese and Chinese According to the CEO of Universal Music‘s Southeast Asian branch, the Korean idol trainee system is unique in the world.
To guarantee the high probability of success of new talent, talent agencies fully subsidize and oversee the professional lives and careers of trainees, often spending in excess of $400,000 to train and launch a new artist.
Basic notions and conventions
K-pop uses a set of genre specific expressions. These include traditional Korean honorifics, used by both idols and fans. Besides this traditional social system, K-pop adds its own subculture. As much as age is important, the debut date and popularity of the artist also matters. Younger artists or those who debuted later are called hoobae (후배) and they must greet the older and earlier debuted colleagues (선배, sunbae, “senior”) with an insa (인사), the traditional deep bow. Failing to do this have met with strong criticism from the industry and the fans alike, for example in the case of girl group T-ara.
Boy and girl groups in Korea are referred to as idols or idol bands. Idol bands have a strict hierarchy. Every band has a leader, chosen by either the members or the managing company based on age, personality and leadership qualities. The leader is a representative of the band as well as responsible for group harmony. The youngest band member is called maknae (막내), which is a special position as it is traditionally regarded that the cuter the maknae the more potential a band has in terms of popularity.Idols are recruited and trained in a trainee system regarded as exceptional in the pop industry.
The Korean pop industry involves the so-called fan service, which is largely based on bromance of a non-sexual nature between band members of male idol groups. Fans pair their favourites into “OTPs” (one true pairing), who in turn reinforce the pairs by acting cute and brotherly with each other on television. The names of such bromantic pairs are contracted from the original stage names of the members, for example the G-Dragon–Seungri OTP is commonly referred to as “GRi”. OTP pairs are called “ships”, from the English term “relationship”, and fans of these “ships” are called “shippers”.
Frequently used expressions
|오빠||oppa||woman’s elder brother; Korean women call older male family members and friends as well as their lovers this way. Fans commonly refer to male idols as “oppa”.|
|형||hyung||man’s elder brother; Korean men call older male family members and friends this way. Younger members of idol groups call the older members “hyung” as well. Failing to do this is regarded rude and impolite.|
|언니||unni||woman’s elder sister; Korean women call older female family members and friends this way. Younger girl group members also refer to older members as “unni”.|
|누나||noona||man’s elder sister; Korean men refer to older women in their family as well as their friend circles this way.|
|동생||dongsaeng||younger sibling; regardless of sex, people in close relationship with the speaker are referred to as dongsaengs.|
|선배||sunbae||senior, someone with more experience in the respective field, regardless of age|
|후배||hoobae||junior; someone with less experience in the respective field, regardless of age.|
|Other frequent expressions|
|화이팅||hwaiting||Originated from the English “fighting”, this expression is widely used for encouragement and support.|
|대상||Daesang||At music awards several artists receive Bonsangs for their outstanding achievement in music, then one of the Bonsang winners is awarded with a Daesang, the “Grand Prize”.|
Perfect All-Kill (PK)
|They refer to chart positions. “AK” means that the song reached #1 on the charts of the seven biggest online music portals of South Korea the same day. “PK” songs also led the ringtone download charts.|
|mini album||A mini album in K-pop means that the record (physical or digital) contains no more than two or three songs and their remixes. It is usually longer than a single but shorter than an EP.|
|title track||Title track in K-pop means the leading track of the album, which has a music video released and is promoted on music shows like Inkigayo by live performances.|
|repackaged album||Repackaged album means that after the first promotions of the album are finished, the album is re-released with new design, containing one or two new tracks, out of which one is a “title track” with a new music video.|
|promotion||Promotion in K-pop refers to promoting the “title track” in several televised music shows like Inkigayo. Promotion on TV shows usually last one month, with a “debut stage” for newcomers, a “comeback stage” for regulars and a “goodbye stage” at the end of the cycle.|
Appeal and fan base
According to some opinions, the music itself is not the decisive factor in the popularity of K-pop. A publication in New York Magazine calls K-pop “catchy but derivative” and states that Girls’ Generation fans admit to liking the group for its members’ looks and their personality, radiating what the magazine calls “humility” and friendliness to each and one of the fans. A fan stated to the magazine that when Girls’ Generation performs on stage, you get the illusion of the girls sometimes looking right at you and interacting with you personally.
Many K-pop fans travel overseas to get the chance to see Korean bands. Tours from Japan and China bring fans to see K-pop concerts.A K-pop group tour from Japan had more than 7000 fans fly to Seoul to meet boy band JYJ.During JYJ’s concert in Barcelona, fans from many parts of the world camped overnight to gain entrance.
Korean fan clubs play an essential role in K-pop, their structure and operation is different from Western fan clubs.Each club has its own name and color, for example Girls’ Generation fans are called “SONEs” and their official color is “pastel rose pink”, while Super Junior‘s fan club is called “E.L.F.” and they use the color “Pearl sapphire blue”.Colors play an important role in fandoms, as fans express their unity and loyalty this way, especially in concerts where other artists also perform: fans from a certain fan club create their own sectors with the represented colors, usually with light sticks or official balloons and create a “Kpop Ocean”.If a color is already taken, fanclubs of new artists cannot choose them unless the color they want is taken by a soloist or a group of a different gender. As colors are limited some artists do not have an official color, Big Bang fans for example hold crown shaped yellow light sticks, while Se7en‘s fans are represented by the number 7.
Official fan clubs have subscription “waves” when fans need to register, usually after paying the club fee and then the fan receives a membership cards and other items such as light sticks and official balloons for an idol. Clubs are well organized, united in nature and frequently participate in charity events to support their idols.They purchase bags of fan rice as gifts to their favourite bands in order to show their love and support. According to Time Magazine, for BIGBANG’s first show in months, 12.7 tons of rice were donated from 50 fan clubs around the world and stacks of rice bags were lined up like shrines to the K-pop idols. There are businesses dedicated to shipping the rice from farmers to the venues.The rice bags are then donated to people in need. Another way for fan clubs to show devotion is sending lunch to the stars, and there are special catering companies in South Korea for this purpose. The trend started when fans picked up complaints that the stars do not eat properly due to their busy schedules.
A unique feature of K-pop fan clubs is the so-called organized “fan chant” during live performances when fans chant parts of the song lyrics or the names of the idols (in order of birth) at parts of the performance previously decided and organized by the club.There are various websites and video tutorials for fan chants of K-pop songs.
There is a recognized concern of K-pop fans turning to obsession and compulsive behaviors such as stalking and invasion of privacy. These fans are called sasaeng, or “private” fans. These fans are usually young females. Some sasaeng fans hire taxis to follow their idols. There are taxi services catering specifically for these fans that are willing to speed after the vans transporting idols. Korean public officials recognize this as a unique but serious concern.
During a press conference, the boy band JYJ confirmed they were victims of invasion of privacy and stalking. There were instances of breaking into their private households, where fans would take pictures of them in sleep or steal items.Junsu from JYJ told reporters that obsessive fans have even installed GPS trackers under his car to monitor his every move.Fans also resort to harassing artists by acquiring their phone numbers, hitting them or touching their private parts. Some sasaengs go as far as engaging in prostitution to earn the money necessary for following their idol’s every step. Some sasaeng fans have installed CCTV surveillance cameras near Park Yoochun’s home.In another incident, as KBS reports TVXQ member Yunho drank a beverage containing super glue given to him by an anti-fan and had to receive medical attention.
Many celebrities have expressed their concern over the sasaeng activities, in 2012 a member of JYJ, which has the most sasaeng fans among all K-pop idols was accused of resorting to violation and shouting when confronted by stalking fans on the street.Super Junior member Kim Heechul and popular singer-actor Jang Keun-suk have also reacted angrily at sasaeng moves.
Music artists and celebrities who are fans of K-pop include:
- Grimes: According to Grimes, K-pop has influenced her musical style “more visually than anything else”. The Canadian singer is also known to be an admirer of G-Dragon.
- Nelly Furtado: During an interview with the German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel, Furtado pointed out that there has been a “big K-Pop explosion” and that she has been closely following the development of K-pop over the past few years. She expressed an interest to collaborate with Big Bang‘s member T.O.P, and also admitted to being “obsessed” with the K-pop genre.