Bravery is not the first word one thinks of when they think of a superfan.
Korean pop or K-pop is a musical genre that is starting to take hold in the United States. With carefully executed choreography, to consistent releases, it’s difficult not to see the appeal. Musical artists like BTS, Jay Park, EXO and many others have a significant fan base within the United States. From Instagram to Twitter, these fans are everywhere. They execute ingenious strategies to help their favorites succeed, often taking over trending hashtags for a while. Artists in turn work extremely hard to ensure perfection and success.
What should we know about K-Pop?
K-pop, as we know it in the modern era, had it’s most significant impact with 2003 group TVXQ. Their massive success paved the way for more groups to debut, and create their own unique brand. There is controversy surrounding the intense training many groups are subjected to, and the infamous “slave contracts” do leave a mark on the genre. Many management companies are known for pushing trainees too hard. As with everything though, there is a good and bad, nothing is without controversy when it comes to media.
The genre itself is usually categorized by the unique mix of audiovisual performance. Carefully choreographed songs are performed on stages with a theme-often called a “concept”. The music itself can be a blend of genres the most common being pop, and electronic music. Marketing can also be very intense. New groups are shown off by an agency in a debut showcase. All of these aspects have caused K-pop to contribute significantly to the “Korean Wave”, a term used to describe the global popularity of Korean culture/media.
The amount of effort shown by groups, mixed with local, and in special cases global reach often attracts many dedicated fans, or and many on twitter call them: “stans”. Usually, the imagery associated with a stan is one of rabid screaming, social posts in caps lock, and an obsessiveness that verges on unhealthy.
Yet, despite the negative stigma, many fans continue to do what they do. Specifically, Black K-pop fans stand out. They fit the main requirement of bravery: Courage. It takes courage to persevere in a world that won’t allow your joy.
Already isolated and often ridiculed for their enjoyment of a different subset of music within their own communities, Black K-pop fans receive harassment from within the community as well. Many are called slurs and are sent threatening anonymous messages. CuriousCat, a popular anonymous Q&A app used mainly within the fandom is the main form of harassment. A common trend seen on twitter is the harsh attacks against Black fans for speaking out against a potentially racially insensitive thing an artist has done. This can push fans into silence. Yet many continue to proudly and loudly support their favorite creators. Despite the hate and the threats, they continue to do what they love.
Within the black community, many are already skeptical of the genre. Common criticisms are that Korean Pop is a “repackaged” form of many Hip-Hop, Rn’B, and Rap staples seen in the United States. To complicate things further, cultural appropriation and blackface are not uncommon in South Korea.
Many Idols have participated in racist actions. For fans, this can add on to the isolation. Knowing that artists perceive them as stereotypes can be a big blow. This causes the question to form: Can black fans ever truly enjoy K-pop without having so much weight attached to it?
Navigating the complex dynamics of the fandom can seem challenging. Despite that, so many black fans dominate their respective fandoms. Black fans create #1 trending hashtags. Black fans help drive the fandom. In the face of an adversity that may not seem as serious to others, black fans prosper and create their own communities and safe spaces.