First of all, I apologize for the alarmist title. I don’t believe k-pop is anywhere near dying, nor do I think the concept of a fandom is a bad thing. I consider myself a massive k-pop fan, so much that I’ve written about it every day for the past two and a half years. I’d even consider myself part of a few fandoms, though I’m nowhere near as engaged as many.
Rabid fandom support has been a part of modern k-pop since its inception, and an integral part of pop music as a whole. But as k-pop continues to branch out from its Korean roots, I feel like we’re seeing a disturbing trend.
Take BTS, for example. They just released another solid album. I’d be lying if I said I loved every track on Love Yourself: Tear, or that I didn’t miss their older, less trend-driven sound — but by and large it’s a strong piece of work. There’s much to discuss and fawn over, yet so much of the social media attention the group has been getting this week has nothing to do with their actual music. It seems like all anyone wants to talk about are chart numbers, streams, and social media stats. And if we’re not talking about these metrics, we’re talking about how to increase them — how to play the video and song ten million times to inflate its standing and, inevitably, devalue its competitors.
Call me old fashioned, but does any of this stuff really matter? Has k-pop devolved into little more than a pissing contest?
I write this as two idols, Kris Wu (formerly of EXO) and Jackson Wang (of GOT7) sit comfortably atop the US itunes chart — a placement that has many accusing their respective fandoms of VPN-assisted manipulation. But whether this success is real or fabricated doesn’t really matter. I certainly wish the best for both artists. What bothers me most is that these songs are not topping charts because of their inherent musical quality.
I know that “musical quality” is a thorny topic, as its perception is in the eye of the beholder and very hard to quantify. But with Fendiman, at least, we’re talking about a two minute commercial for a clothing brand where the overarching hook is the word “Fendi” repeated over and over again. There’s no way this has suddenly gained massive appeal across America. It’s topping the charts because it’s Jackson, and we all love Jackson.
And that’s okay.
But I believe that truly loving something means pushing it to be the best it can be. Blind support, and blind adoration, only encourages mediocrity. Endless talk about charts and views and streams devalues the actual music. When the enjoyment of a comeback becomes secondary to the mission of chart dominance, was there really a point in having the comeback in the first place? Of course I want to see my favorite songs do well, but it’s better when this comes about organically. Blind declarations of “Yaaasss! It’s a bop! It’s lit!” only encourage trend-following and interchangeability. The movers and shakers within the industry are never going to commit to boundary-pushing, left-field material if they know they have an army of fans ready to push the repeat button regardless of what’s released.
The bottom line is, I wish we were more discerning as a k-pop audience. I wish we could support our favorites by raving about their music and sharing it with others, not simply buying bulk copies of albums or looping music videos. This only escalates the stakes for each comeback, and sucks so much of the oxygen out of the k-pop conversation. I don’t want these songs and artists to become weapons of war between fandoms intent on proving superiority. There’s enough room for everyone, and chart success doesn’t make something automatically better.
What are your thoughts? Has this issue gotten worse in recent years? Or, has it simply been a staple of the idol-driven k-pop world since the good old days of H.O.T vs Sechs Kies rivalries?