“I just wanted to know their names…and now I know their whole history” would be how every fangirl or fanboy would start with their fandom story. In the past few years, the genre of Korean popular music or k-pop has been gaining traction around the world and during the past months of lockdown, more Malayalis have also started exploring this genre.
From “They all look the same!” to “They are my life” goes the journey of every old and new k-pop stan. The only hurdle that needs to be crossed is to get over that former aversion and then there is no coming back. There seems to be something that makes the world of k-pop new and addicting. What makes it so different?
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The first thing that would fascinate a new fan would be how new the Korean culture feels to them. Their different style of music combined with the bright colourful MVs (music videos) is definitely something most people aren’t used to. It’s always fun to explore something new and it’s like becoming a child again, with the same excitement as one goes on learning more.
The first question posed towards the fandom would be if they understand the language at all, to which they would happily say no. Fans are of the opinion that when they don’t understand the lyrics, the first thing that hits them is the beat and rhythm of the song, so they get to enjoy the real essence of the music instead of getting distracted by the words. And with the help of subtitles and Google, knowing the message of the song is claimed to be far more rewarding. The language barrier could in fact be considered a boon here because it gives space for the imagination of the listener when it comes to interpreting the lyrics.
“I can’t even talk properly while walking, and these idols dance and sing at the same time!” The concept of ‘idols’ is another part of the novelty that the genre of k-pop brings to the new fan. While we are used to either singers or dance groups, the Korean entertainment industry prefers both in one. Almost all idols would be equally good at singing and dancing, and the sight of them singing while effortlessly pulling off a series of dance moves leaves the fans in awe. The fashion and art enthusiasts also find their pleasure in admiring the idols’ outfits and artistic music videos.
The fun part when it comes to joining a k-pop fandom would be the struggles of being a non-native fan. A fan would be beyond ecstatic when they learn their first Korean word. Then “Hi” becomes “Annyeong!” and “Chetta” would be soon replaced by “Oppa”. Fringes would be their new preferred hairstyle, and their idols would be their fashion icons. The cravings for ‘ramen’ and ‘kimchi’ would get added to the list, with the struggle of learning how to use chopsticks. Experimenting with a new language and culture is indeed a fun activity and doing this as a large group just adds to the happiness.
This brings us to the next aspect, which is being part of a big and diverse group. For many people, this might be their very first experience, as they had been used to enjoying their music by themselves. When you become a part of a group you get the chance to meet new people and get more exposure. The same excitement that we associate with “Malayali aano?” is now felt in questions like “Army aano?”
Who wouldn’t love the chance to make new friends? It has become this huge global club, with discussions and activities of its own.
The activities of the k-pop fanbases are something to be commented upon. Apart from dancing to Korean songs and online concerts, there has been a rise of charity groups in the name of k-pop bands and idol birthdays as well.
Perhaps this is one of the ways how the fandom stands out. The audience feels more satisfied when they also get to act instead of passively receiving what they are being given by the entertainers. Henry Jenkins refers to this as participatory culture, where one feels no limits to artistic expression and civic engagement, feeling strong support for one’s own creations, and the degree of social connection with one another. Fandoms whether it be Army, Exo-l, Blink, or any other, are like a community where music becomes a collective enjoyment. Instead of being the passive audience, the fans get to contribute back. They get to express themselves and their skills equally, with a huge support system united in the love for their bands.
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K-pop has contributed a great deal in introducing the concept of gender fluidity into young minds. Even though it has been a topic often discussed, it is still a prevalent stereotype that a guy is supposed to behave and dress a certain way. The gender fluidity in Korean culture might be appalling to some, but once you become more open to it, then it’s a huge step towards bringing a change to gender stereotypes. Men are seen as wearing make-up, acting feminine, and more expressive of their emotions. Even in Malayali culture, femininity is looked down upon or considered inferior for a man, but then you see this new culture, where art, music, and dance present themselves as genderless and with no cultural boundaries.
As beautiful as it is, there are also some things that a fan must watch out for. Indeed, the idols are a visual treat, and their flawless choreography is something to admire. But there have been issues where idols are constantly sexualised and objectified either by their companies or the fans themselves. Excessive beauty standards along with blind and obsessive idol love are some other problems fans fall into. The idols are considered literal gods and the overly blind love can cause more harm if we do not understand our feelings well.
“They are so perfect, why am I not like them?” is a question that bothers most fans. One must keep in mind that these celebrities are just doing their job and nobody is perfect. They have their own flaws and problems which may not be relatable for the rest of us. One can admire them but must not compare themselves to these idols. We are all beautiful, skilled, and amazing people, and the idol craze should be a form of motivation to bring out the best in us and not to pull us down.
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Like any other thing in the world, Korean pop culture has its own dark side. The obsession, addiction, unrealistic beauty standards, and issues of sexualisation and objectification are all problems to watch out for. But if you are willing to be careful enough to not fall for it, then it’s always a good idea to experience something new, because then you’re left with learning to accept new cultures, new people, and of course a new perspective on gender norms. Always weigh your pros and cons!
All genres of music are rich, diverse, and exciting, whether it be our own Malayalam songs or any other genre. It is always okay to enjoy what you like, whether it is k-pop or any other genre and we should all respect each other’s personal tastes. One dominant taste or preference shouldn’t make your own personal likings seem any less good. And if you realise that you also have a taste for k-pop, then the doors are always open!