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Is Blind Fandom Support Killing K-Pop?

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?

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28 thoughts on “Is Blind Fandom Support Killing K-Pop?

  1. TOTALLY agree. My opinions on the topic of blind fandom support lean more toward the topic of ignoring problematic aspects of artists and/or going to extreme lengths (fanwars) to support your faves, but I definitely agree with everything you’ve said here. I love Jackson a lot but… oof. I just can’t get behind his solo work.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Its kinda like sports where people are a tad bit too passionate about it and they like to hurl insults at each other and the team. Which is why I don’t like sports, and stan twt in general. I don’t think it will ever change. It always happens when there’s some semblance of competition going on, like with marvel & dc. Honestly, I think people just enjoy having arguments on the internet too much. Especially when it comes to fandoms, there’s always drama happening, especially the big and active ones.

    Altho I don’t really agree that the social media attention goes mainly towards charting and streams; reactions, jokes and memes (+ that theory culture) plays a much larger part on fandoms. Idk, sometimes one just need to follow the right people. For me, I do see people talk more frequently about the music in my timeline. Like people ranking which track is their favourite and their least liked (and their hatred of edm, lol). Altho its not exactly as deep as what you do

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    • You’re right that this type of competition has been around forever and surrounds many different forms of entertainment. I think the big shift has come with social media and the idea of “liking” and “trending.” It’s set up a new standard for success — one that doesn’t always focus on the best aspects of our nature!

      Fandom experience is also highly dependent on the outlets and people that you follow. I’m glad you’ve found a lot of solid discussion in your timeline!

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  3. I agree that some fans are blind enough to support their artist even if their work isn’t the best. I love Jackson, but I don’t really enjoy his solo work, and that’s what some fans don’t get. That it’s OK not to love everything your faves put out. However, I disagree that it leads to mediocrity, artists aren’t delusional about their fandoms and often know when they haven’t released a brilliant song. And as an ARMY, I agree that everyone is too obsessed with topping charts and breaking others’ records. Can’t we just sit back and enjoy the masterpiece that is their new album? I’m sure that’s what BTS and any artist would care about more- whether we like their work.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This, this, THIS! It’s getting annoying that recently a validity of a k-pop group must be determined upon their commercial success on market ONLY, rather than the music quality itself.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. There are certainly many fans that follow this toxic mindset however in the gigantic army fandom which I’m part of there’s always tons of talk about the music especially this comebak literally almost everyone loves the album which wasn’t the case for LY:Her. Their music and mainly lyrics after all is what has built this strong connection with fans. Even last year though, fans still tried their hardest to give bts good results cause they see it as a way to pay them back for all that they’re giving us believe it or not. The fans’ effort has been also a big part in their success. Idk about the other artists mentioned but for bts I can tell you it’s not ‘blind fandom support’ but support that has been built over the years and it’s certainly not making kpop worse but helping artists reach things they hadn’t even dared to dream and ‘pay us back’ with even better work.

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    • I’m glad you commented, because I hoped that this piece wouldn’t be misconstrued as an op-ed aimed at Army alone. BTS is an easy example because they’re currently the biggest group in K-Pop and have the support of a very notable fandom. With any large fandom, there’s bound to be a few bad apples in the bunch.

      I certainly don’t begrudge any fan for wanting the best for their idols. It’s been amazing to watch the Army fandom grow in an organic way. And I get the desire to pay the artists back. I just wish there was a little less importance placed on every little chart-related milestone.

      #1 album in America? Definitely worth every headline you can give it.
      Music video streams in some arbitrarily decided time period? It’s hard to really care.

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      • No, you are just asking some questions and not offending anyone! And it’s very logical to look things a certain way when you’re from /the outside/. For example re music video streams-some fans may want them to break a stupid record or something but the rest know that U.S. youtube streams count for hot100 and that getting a video to trend brings more exposure to the artist. So sometimes things that may seem irrelevant to a non-fan are actually part of a more organised effort!

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      • THETRUTHUNTOLD – Even if it’ll make me sound like a cranky grandpa, I heavily disagree that spending time pumping up MV views through mass streams (esp. the time-consuming manual methods) is a good way to support the artists you like and show positive feedback. I understand the sentiment of wanting to give them more exposure, but thinking about it, it rubs me the wrong way.

        If BTS for example are the good and sincere people they’re upheld as, they wouldn’t want fans sitting at their multiple devices for hours for the sake of clicking on an MV multiple times and going through the rigamarole of clearing caches in order to work around and manipulate Youtube’s view counter system.

        I imagine what sincere idols would ideally like is for their fans to enjoy their music while they’re going through their daily routine and hopefully find comfort/meaning in their work. And then spend their day doing diligent & earnest work at their job/occupation/craft or spend quality time with family and friends. Or even a slightly more productive hobby like reading a book.

        Even spending more time at work, to become more competent, to earn more money, & to be able to buy more albums (which can be used as gifts to organically spread the work of a group) is probably a lot more impactful than hours and hours spent pumping those MV views.

        Liked by 1 person

    • @SARH
      Sorry I have to reply here cause it won’t let me reply to you and yes you do sound like a cranky grandpa cause you’re being condescending, implying fans have no lives but refreshing youtube all day which is obviously not the case. You can enjoy the music, go to college/work AND stream when you feel like too- shocking…. Also BTS’ 100m views in record time are reflected in the literally millions of albums their recent cb has already sold and the arenas they’ve sold out worldwide, they’re obviously popular and a lot of people support them it’s not like ten people scamming youtube or whatever. I disagree with the mentality of being obsessed with records (bts does too) but what fans do in their free time shouldn’t be of such concern.

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      • I never mentioned or implied that actual people genuinely rewatching a video because they want to is manipulation. I also never implied that genuine views from increased interest is in any way a bad thing.

        But you and I both know it’s common sense that the majority of inflated views come from the people who are investing several hours to purposely utilizing the faster manual methods of getting view counts up on a latest MV, and posting about or even taking photos of their multi-device set-ups. They’re a minority of the overall fanbase but they do have a presence, and fans replaying a video a few times during lunch break will have a tiny fraction in total views contribution compared to the ones who invest dozens of hours into it.

        This isn’t an issue about just BTS’ fandom either, it’s propagating in pretty much any fandom that starts to get big enough and it’s talked about like it’s even a heroic kind of thing and perhaps even more important than buying more albums as financial support. They need to have a listen to BTS’ song about putting down the smartphone.

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      • also, just to clarify: by ‘inflated views’, I mean the views added on through the use of the steps outlined by fandom streaming guides or through the use of bots in order to increase the view counts as fast as possible. Not including views where people are watching the video for enjoyment.

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      • @SARH Like you said, they are a minority inside the gigantic fandom so I really don’t care about it unless you’re saying 100m views are a product of this method.

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      • I don’t think you’re seeing the implications of that minority’s presence, though. Youtube has recently revamped its view count system in 2018 (and are probably continuing to do work on making it smarter) to maintain advertisers’ faith in the integrity of their system, even if it means deleting millions of flagged views and losing a lot of money in the short term.

        When people become more aware that this kind of manipulation is becoming more prolific and even encouraged within fandoms, it shakes their faith in any view milestone like 20m, 50m, 100m, 200m, etc. and places a negative mark on the impression of how much reach that groups actually have since youtube views are much more visible and easy to see compared to something like album sales. It also waters down any chart accomplishment that takes youtube views into account.

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  6. I so agree with you. My Twitter is filled with fans talking about numbers- not one tweet was per the actual music. I would love for the big acts to experiment more. We need more f(x) or orange caramel type experimental music from girl bands. The biggest girl group right now is pretty much sticking to their winning formula. Not that there is anything wrong with it, but they are positioned to actually push the boundary. Yet they don’t. Same with most boy groups – will exo try to release a track like wolf again? I doubt it. It makes me miss the 1st and 2nd gen groups who weren’t afraid to think out of the box

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    • Yes I completely agree. I am an loyal ARMY too and also a Kpop fan. Their recent album has been diverse, risk taking trendy yet good. I too want people to appreciate their music, which some do but not in form of these statistics, charts, numbers as they will only make BTS overrated for no reason and I don’t want their image to be tarnished as they give good music till their limits.
      Today too, the members of BTS were happy yet humble that it is ARMY who bought the #1 and they will work hard so that the position means true to them. I guess even they understand ARMY.
      As an ARMY of course I would be happy but it is an alarming concern. Great you mentioned it.

      I don’t want people to hate BTS for no reason, also I know the hype around BBMAs though this time BTS were cool and used it as a platform to promote the album
      I hope we could be a fandom who will stay true and appreciate BTS music and respect other artists.

      It hurts when people call it a crazy and blind fandom but do you think this would put an end to hype😅

      Better me chillax and appreciate their music rather than putting BTS to unnecessary attention and hype (coz I know even they don’t expect that 😑)

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  7. I suggest you do a follow-up on this post. Maybe a “If all K-fans were more discerning with regards to music quality these groups would be on top”, or maybe something like that.

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    • That would be cool, but honestly I think it would only have the undesired effect of propagating fan wars. I am very anti fan-war and all the silliness that goes along with that side of k-pop fandom. Hopefully my daily reviews already give an insight into which groups I think should be more commercially successful than they are.

      That said, I am long overdue for a “most underrated k-pop groups” post update. Maybe sometime this summer when I have more time to think about it…

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  8. I agree so much with you. This has been something I’ve been thinking about also. Infact, my sister was talking to me the other day about a K-pop mv she was watching. She was looking at the comments. She said “why is every comment about the views & streams?”. I hadn’t really thought about it before. But she was right. Every comment on K-pop MVS nowadays is about the views and/or streaming. How massive they are, or how to achieve a massive amount of views/streams. And I used to think it was just fandoms trying to help their faves

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    • Which of course is great. To support your favourite artist like this is pretty cool.
      But it seems that’s the only thing people care about anymore, Popularity. Whether it be an actual good song or not. But more than that, always feeling the need to one up other groups/fandoms. It’s so ridiculous! Not to mention how insecure you must feel about your group to keep comparing them to other groups. Also, it makes you, your fandom & your group look bad. But, I digress. It would be nice to talk about our love for a song or group. Or even admit that this group’s comeback wasn’t very good. But I still like & support my group!

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  9. Well, I (we atkpopnow are with 3 people ^^) saw this trend when I was really into hiphop. Everytime people had beef, the reply would be: “but your album didn’t sell” or “people lie, numbers don’t”. So to me seeing this in K-pop is like saying: you can talk sh*t about us all day if you want, but end of the day, we are on top. For all that matters, BTS dropped baby music lol.

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  10. I leave this message after Kris Wu’s incident happened.

    Working in media for more than ten years has taught me one thing: Fans are the most volunteering victims. They are cultivated to indulge in certain growing pain stories, stage personalities, and illusional intimacy. One bad song is just one bad song, while the idols are their precious sons and daughters who need to shine on stage as much as possible. And anything you do for them can be justified by the name of this parental love. Kpop industry is especially good at making the fans babying their idols.

    Like

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