Global impact of K-pop culture: Fans, trends, and accessibility

Global impact of K-pop culture: Fans, trends, and accessibility

Global Hallyu wave sweeps individuals worldwide into adopting Korean culture through K-pop and K-dramas, transforming their lifestyle

By Sumeyye Dilara Dincer

ANKARA (AA) – Individuals around the world who embrace cultural products such as Korean music and dramas unwittingly get caught up in the Korean Wave, or Hallyu, and shape their lifestyle accordingly.

In the fourth and final part of Anadolu's series on the Korean Wave, the admiration for idols in the K-pop sector, which is part of Hallyu, was compiled through expert opinions and interviews with fans.

Those caught in the Hallyu trend unknowingly embrace the lifestyle, influenced by Korea's series, films, music, cosmetics, and culinary culture. Immersed in its visual and auditory offerings, they transform into both enthusiasts and ambassadors, experts say.

Elements like K-pop and K-drama, without exerting pressure, transform cultural hegemony into a global lifestyle, emerging as one of the most influential instruments in the transformation of young people's way of life.

The widespread use of social media has facilitated access to South Korean culture and accelerated its spread. With these developments, fan culture has expanded its influence beyond South Korea as well.

Samuel Richard, an award-winning sociologist at Penn State University in the US, told Anadolu that the majority of K-pop listeners are young, but there is also a broad audience from different age groups.

Richard also said that fans not only share their views about K-pop and K-drama with those around them but also with people from the other side of the world on online platforms.

- Paying fortunes to albums, relocating homes to South Korea

Individuals with a strong interest in Korean dramas, music, and cuisine are using social media to connect with fans who share similar interests, even if they are miles apart.

They can organize activities and even engage in systematic actions like supporting their favorite idols or criticizing those they dislike.

Richard opined that people from various age groups around the world are influenced by Korea. "… They're (people in his age) not so much into K-pop, but they're into other parts of Korean culture. And I think that's what's quite fascinating about Korea and this soft power that Korea wields."

Fans from different countries strive to emulate the idealized South Korean lifestyle even while residing elsewhere. While watching K-dramas, they savor Korean dishes, dress and do makeup like their beloved K-pop idols for events, attend concerts across continents, invest in albums with mini posters through online auctions, and some even relocate to South Korea.

Some fans celebrate their favorite idols' birthdays by displaying congratulatory messages on city billboards and throwing virtual birthday parties in cafes.

Richard also said that in the past, people used to "idolize" their favorite celebrities in peculiar ways, and he expressed his bewilderment at young people celebrating their favorite idols' birthdays in city squares, unable to fully comprehend the phenomenon.

Some fans also travel to South Korea and explore areas where K-pop idols might have been, living with the dream of catching a glimpse of the person they admire.

- Language that only K-pop fans can understand

K-pop groups' fan bases always have a specific name; supporters of BTS are called "ARMY," EXO fans are referred to as "EXO-L," and those who support the ASTRO group are known as "AROHA."

The largest K-pop group fanbase in the world belongs to the BTS group with their "ARMY" community, numbering 20 million.

Tran Thu Phuong, a 34-year-old Vietnamese woman who identifies herself as ARMY, is also among the fans.

Speaking to Anadolu, Phuong, married with a son, said her first encounter with K-pop was through the group "Super Junior" when she was a student.

She became familiar with K-pop during high school and her interest continued until she entered the workforce.

Years later, Phuong watched K-dramas with her son and found out that an actor she liked was in Astro. She closed the gap from her past K-pop break by watching all related videos in three months.

Phuong described the moment she first encountered BTS's songs, saying: "I fell in love with BTS. From that moment on, K-pop became a part of my life. I clicked on BTS's Blood, Sweat and Tears, and ever since then, for over four years, I've enjoyed listening to them. Among K-pop groups, I love BTS the most. I'm an ARMY."

Having attended BTS concerts three times and purchased all of the group's albums, Phuong organizes exhibitions with other fans she has met on social media.

She makes donations to disaster victims and endangered animals, purchases stars in the sky for her favorite idol, and celebrates her idol's birthday on billboards in her area.

- Idol trainee process without 'human conditions'

Phuong, who also translates books related to K-pop, mentioned that the books discuss the idol trainee process that lacks "human conditions."

Like some fans, Phuong also considers it normal for trainee idols to undergo a rigorous training system and abide by the rules set by the agency they are affiliated with.

Taznua Tasnim, a 19-year-old high school student from Bangladesh, told Anadolu that she has been listening to K-pop since 2020.

Tasnim, who expressed her admiration for idols' dances and appearances, identifies herself as AROHA, similar to other Astro fans.

She has multiple fan accounts dedicated to the Astro group on social media and uses these accounts to communicate with other fans. She is frustrated by the high tax fees on albums imported from abroad.

Young individuals who adopt Korean culture in their respective countries and strive to live as if they were in Korea are learning the Korean language.

Some even learn the language through watching K-dramas. Engaging in translation work, they translate K-dramas and K-pop song lyrics found on social media platforms.

She also said that she started learning Korean after watching dramas and listening to K-pop songs.

- Unique trait of K-pop fans compared to others: 'Accessibility'

According to Alptekin Keskin, a sociologist who works in the field of K-culture, particularly on adolescents aged 12-18 who follow K-pop groups, desire to have a group where they can at least engage in parasocial interaction when facing issues in their surroundings.

Keskin emphasized that the BTS group has effectively utilized this strategy, referencing statements from the founder of the group.

"The instillation of hope, conveying the message that they are with the youth, is crucial at this point. One of the statements from the founder of BTS about the group is as follows: 'We formed the BTS group not as a group that looks down on the youth from above, but as a group that they can lean on'," he said.

Keskin also mentioned that one of the significant factors that distinguishes K-pop fans from others is "accessibility."

Citing the K-pop group BTS as an example, which has the largest number of fans worldwide, Keskin said: "The messages expressed by an idol or a group with millions of followers around the world are invaluable."

He added: "When compared to the West, there is a huge gap between Western celebrities and their fans. You can't reach the artist through social media or their concerts. However, the Asian or Korean style of fan-celebrity relationship is different. You can somehow reach them through platforms, convey messages.

"Accessibility is very important in this regard," he said.

*Writing by Alperen Aktas from Istanbul

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