By Joe Coscarelli
In some corners of the internet, the organizing power of K-pop fans – the typically young and diverse Korean pop music enthusiasts from around the world who congregate daily on social media – has long been considered legendary: Through coordinated group actions, the armies of supporters of bands like BTS and Blackpink ensure that their favorite idols top the charts and that their concerts sell out stadium locations from South Korea to New York.
Now this dispersed collective of digital warriors is trying to exert its influence in a new arena: the political arena.
K-pop “obsessed fans”, initially inspired by protests by the Black Lives Matter movement around the world, K-pop fans — collectively known as “stans” for Eminem’s song about a stalker obsessive – they became known outside of music circles recently when some took credit for helping to inflate attendance expectations for the President Donald Trump rally in Oklahoma by booking tickets they weren’t planning to use.
Although the Trump campaign denies the prank has affected attendance at the rally, the call to action in K-pop circles reveals a growing awareness that efficient tactics fans are using on social media to raise funds or go viral. A song can also be used for political activism.
In recent weeks, K-pop fans – who use Twitter as their hub, but proliferate on TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, and other platforms – disrupted a Dallas police app seeking information about protesters and inundated hashtags they allegedly supported white supremacists, while also announcing that they had matched a $ 1 million donation from the BTS group to organizations related to Black Lives Matter.
“It is not surprising that these young, open and socially progressive people who are really adept at using these online platforms – and who are trapped at home and spend even more time online by Covid-19 – are taking political action,” said CedarBough Saeji, a professor at Indiana University in Bloomington.
A Twitter spokesperson said K-pop was the most widely tweeted music genre globally, with more than 6.1 billion tweets in 2019, an increase of 15 percent compared to the previous year.
The recent turn toward political activism follows a coordinated effort by K-pop supporters to bring about mass positive change, in part in response to the groups’ reputation as shallow, absurd, and even threatening mobs.
K-pop fans have been accused of harassment for ganging up on their critics or rivals. In South Korea, they have also been considered overly flattering and even somewhat cult-like, coming together to buy gifts for their idols.
Black Lives Matter could have represented an urgent cause for K-pop fans because of the artists’ debt to hiphop culture and black music.
“The really important thing about all this is that young people are seeing the political power that they have, they are showing their strength and they are experiencing it,” added Saeji.
Taylor Lorenz and Choe Sang-Hun contributed reports.