Distance no difference, K-pop popular on campus

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The South Korean band BLACKPINK poses at a red carpet in 2019. For senior Ashley Philip, it’s not always the culture of the content that drives fans to Korean pop cultures, but rather the culture surrounding the celebrities that first attracted her. “By being so open about personal details, bands like BTS, EXO, BLACKPINK, and others help to cultivate a connection that feels personal to fans, which is how K-pop companies market their idols. You feel like you have a chance with your celebrity crush,” Philip said.

By Urja Joshi, Liberty High School - TX

Nearly 7,000 miles from Texas and approximately 1/6th the size of the Lone Star state, Korean pop culture is popular throughout America, and here on campus it’s no different.

For many Redhawks, the interest began in middle school and has continued throughout high school. There are many different reasons for the popularity of Koren pop culture, but for senior Catherine Tong, it’s the ability of K-pop stars to bridge the distance by creating and cultivating a personal connection with fans.

“I think many teens like it because they always have a lot of different content (lives, albums, concerts, shows, etc.) to keep fans interested,” Tong said. “Another big factor is that they talk to fans like they are really close with them, which keeps fans feeling supported and loved. And K-pop merch is always on top too.”

Hollywood actors and singers are quite private in comparison to K-pop groups, who are very public,”

— senior Ashley Philip

But it’s not always the culture of the content that drives fans to Korean pop cultures. For senior Ashley Philip, it’s the culture surrounding the celebrities that first attracted her.

“Remember when One Direction was a big thing? The reason people loved One Direction is because they made their fans feel like they knew them. They were a group of attractive, funny boys. K-pop bands are similar to One Direction, but to a much larger extent. Lots of bands go on variety shows and have live videos, which let the fans get to know them better. That’s the appeal for K-pop,” she said. “Hollywood actors and singers are quite private in comparison to K-pop groups, who are very public. By being so open about personal details, bands like BTS, EXO, BLACKPINK, and others help to cultivate a connection that feels personal to fans, which is how K-pop companies market their idols. You feel like you have a chance with your celebrity crush.”

K-dramas have also become extremely popular, with over 100 shows on Netflix with the streaming service producing original Korean dramas.

“I’m not super big on K-dramas, but they are popular because they are very good,” Tong said. “Sometimes idols are casted in a drama or sing the original sound track, and fans like to watch it for their idol.”

On the other hand, K-pop is more about the culture and the idols rather than the content according to Philip.

“K-pop culture is a bit cultish. If you’re a K-pop fan, you’re into a lot of K-pop groups, and K-pop fans are extremely obsessive,” Philip said. “I got into K-pop in 7th grade. Actually, Catherine Tong showed me an EXO video, and I thought it was really interesting, so I started listening to their music.”

This isn’t the first time American teens have imported pop culture from other countries, but unlike the British Invasion of the 60s, South Korea is the only non-English speaking country to successfully export its pop culture to an international stage.

People define Korea just from what they know, which is Korean music and TV shows. While popular culture is a part of Korean culture, it is not all of it,”

— senior Karina Shin

“The popularity of Korean pop culture is great because it has really helped bring Korea to the world stage. The awareness of Korean culture has grown tremendously and it’s nice to have my culture celebrated internationally,” senior Karina Shin said. “However, I would say I hold a personal opinion that I believe is a bit unpopular. While I agree that the recognition of Korean culture which resulted from the popularity of K-pop and K-dramas, I believe that there is a downside to this craze.”

Korean people have mixed emotions about the fame of their culture and the extent to which its popularity has grown not only here, but around the world.

“People define Korea just from what they know, which is Korean music and TV shows. While popular culture is a part of Korean culture, it is not all of it,” Shin said.  “So, people feel like they know Korean culture when they only know just a segment of it. And sometimes, I do feel like K-pop and K-dramas do not accurately represent Korean culture as a whole, which is to be expected. But then, people believe that what they see and hear is what Korea is.”

This story was originally published on Wingspan on April 6, 2021.