Media & Entertainment

K-Pop Stans: The New Digital Social Justice Warriors

Keanaya discusses the realm of K-Pop stans, and how these fans have mobilised to support social justice causes and marginalised groups.

Despite the initial state of stagnancy that quarantine left me in, I can now say that I have been somewhat blessed during this pandemic. This is due to the abundance of time and yearning for entertainment products during this period that has led me to retrace my old love for Korean music, a cultural medium that I was obsessed with years ago, and yet had long neglected. However, along this rekindlement, I discovered that the identity surrounding what it means to be a K-Pop stan has changed tremendously compared to 7  years ago.  Nowadays, many K-Pop stans have extended their role from a mere idol supporter to a highly mobilised force of digital social justice defenders. This article will dive into what activism looks like amongst K-Pop stans, which issues are most salient amongst this group, and the motivation which drives such noble acts.

Twitter as an Arena 

It is a given that a large proportion of K-Pop stans are adept Twitter users. When the clock strikes twelve KST on their idol’s birthday, swift and devoted fans flood twitter with hashtags that go along the line of “#HappyNamjoonDay”, making it known to the Twitter universe that there is a specific label attached to the next 24 hours, as they top worldwide Twitter trends.

In a similar manner, K-Pop stans utilise Twitter as the most prominent medium upon supporting a certain social movement, weaponizing hashtags as they engage in what is known as “Hashtag Derailment”.  This refers to a trick of deviating attention towards a hashtag that is thought to be harmful, by saturating that particular hashtag with off-topic posts. A fairly recent example of this is when the problematic hashtag “#Whitelivesmatter” that was used by white supremacists to defame the Black Lives Matter protests, lost its relevance to a series of fancams-ridden posts, or K-Pop related memes attached to the hashtags. 

Having years of experience in being a K-Pop stan also means gaining practical skills that helps with quick mobilisation and organisation, as fans often have to scramble quickly to get tickets to their favorite group’s concert. Such a skill proves itself useful when hundreds of K-Pop stans trolled President Trump, by ordering tickets to his Tulsa rally without the intention of going, leading to a venue that looks awfully empty, and consequently negative media portrayal towards the 2020 presidential candidate. 

Virtue Driven Issues 

What is striking about this digital political participation of K-Pop Stans, is that they are not tied by a certain political party ideology when choosing which issue to hold up, instead they seem to be driven by the pure  virtue to empathize with those who are marginalized by the society. 

Notably, such an activism could also be seen in the realm of more domestic issues.

On a global scale, this was palpable during the Black Lives Matter protests. K-Pop stans – without receiving any initial command from their idols – organised digital strategies to support and protect BLM protestors. This includes crashing the Dallas Police app within hours that it was launched, protecting protestors from the risk of apprehension by instead flooding the app with a myriad of dazzling fancams of their K-Pop “bias”. Likewise, BTS’s Army (a name of their fandom) alone raised 1 Million USD as a donation to Black Lives Matter, in a mission to match their idols donation’s amount to the same organisation. 

Notably, such an activism could also be seen in the realm of more domestic issues. In my home country, Indonesia, we have witnessed several instances where female celebrities are defamed and criminalised after a sudden leak of their sextape made it viral on the internet, often putting an end to their career entirely. 

Not surprisingly, this incident repeated itself in early November of 2020, when a sex tape of a woman who shares a facial similarity to the single mother actress,  Gisel Anastasia, surfaced the internet. Hashtags surrounding the issue were trending in Indonesian Twitter,  and this inevitably led to heavy criticism directed against the actress, without any prior confirmation that it was indeed her in the video. And yet, once again, the local K-Pop stans took a clear stance against the asinine and highly inappropriate attitudes of Indonesian netizens by derailing the hashtag with more fancams and denouncing the act of sharing the video. The collective action was so effective that after several days, it is practically impossible to find the traces of the sex tape under the related hashtag. 

Motivation

Given the array of issues that these K-Pop Stans support, and their sensitivity to not only global but also domestic issues, I can’t help but to wonder whether these stans are driven solely by virtue? Or is there any other  underlying  background that fuels them to channel their time and effort  into such activism?

In an interview with Time Magazine, Billboard journalist specialising in International music Tamar Herman, provides an insight into this matter. Herman highlights that for “K-Pop fans who’re not Korean, it’s innately a sociopolitical thing” for them to be “engaging with K-Pop and Korean entertainment” because in doing so they have to showcase an innate willingness to work to understand another language and learn about another culture. Those qualities in return makes it almost second nature for them to empathize with what is considered as foreign, as marginalised.  

(…) the way in which they have shown the world that it is possible for a minority and often trivialised group, to rise into global popular culture, is in itself highly empowering.

At first, it may seem that there is little proximity between the idea of activism and stanning a group of mega talented, rainbow haired K-artists. Looking into the parallels between what it takes to be an activist and what it takes to be a devoted K-Pop stan, has proven me otherwise. 

More so,  reflecting on my own experience as a fan, it is becoming clear that although there may be little direct command from these idols to engage in activism, the way in which they have shown the world that it is possible for a minority and often trivialised group, to rise into global popular culture, is in itself highly empowering. And it is this state of empowerment that drives K-Pop stans to strive and uphold social justice, as passionately as how they wave their radiant fandom lightstick up in the air. 

Cover: Keanaya Chandrika 

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