‘Kpop stan’ is a term that, according to Urban Dictionary
, refers to “a person who has a slight obsession with Kpop and will reference it at any time anywhere”. Although correct, such description is not exhaustive: in recent times, the fandom has indeed evolved from mere devotees of Korean idols to budding political activists
, channeling the same passion and enthusiasm typically employed to help their favourite singers topping the music charts to address current political and social issues. Kpop stans are thus rising as a new political force
, as young defenders of justice armed with a keyboard and backed up by a powerful network of passionate fellow fans.
It is however important to point out how the online activism performed by Kpop stans can take the most various forms, analogue or at times contrasting to the kind of political activism taking place in the US. In this regard, it is necessary to take into consideration the global reach of such social movement, as Kpop fandoms are not confined to specific geographical borders and, consequently, their activities are not limited to a specific social and political context. Therefore, instead of considering Kpop stans as a uniform group of fans, one should rather analyze such a community as a conglomerate of people of very different backgrounds; bearing in mind their specific geographical and social context.
Along these lines, in order to understand, for instance, how and why the BLM movement gained such resonance among the Kpop fans in North America, it is indispensable to look at the American fandom itself. In this respect, very interesting is the tweet of Michelle Cho
(researcher and professor at the University of Toronto specialised in Korean pop culture), in which the scholar brilliantly epitomizes the Kpop community as predominately composed by people of colour, “significantly queer and extremely online”.
On one side, this description clearly shows how the belonging to racial and cultural minorities influences the political stance of these fans, thus justifying their awareness and sensitivity towards the related issues. On the other side, it also shows how North American Kpop stans embody the tenacity and the determination of the digitally literate youngest generations to fight for social changes and equal rights, fully representing a much wider phenomenon that during the past few years has primarily taken over Western countries and is leading thousands of young people to voice their will for change, both online and offline – the Friday for Future movement being one prime example. The North American fandom likewise proves to be critical to the existing institutions and the ruling government, as evidenced by the above-mentioned boycott of Tulsa rally.
Overt political opposition was likewise voiced in Chile, where the Ministry of the Interior accused Kpop stans of fueling the protests
which took place in the Latin American country between October 2019 and March 2020. According to the report, the fans engaged in an intense online activity which raised awareness of the violation of human rights at the hands of the Chilean government and armed forces, as well as criticized the silence of media and the censorship of social networks. A piece of news that not only impresses the audience for reporting the first case of governmental recognition of Kpop stans’ militancy, but that also shows how effective and influential the political activity of this community can become.
However, criticism and opposition among American fans shall not be mistaken as a distinctive trait of Kpop stans’ political activity in general. As a matter of fact, in China, we observe a diametrically opposed phenomenon, where the local fandom turns out to be a precious ally of Beijing
. In the past few months, the Chinese Kpop stans have indeed flooded social networks of messages, slogans and hashtags going against Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement
, acting as passionate partisans of the “One-China policy”
. For instance, the Chinese fans took up the cudgels for the Chinese Kpop idols
who voiced their support to the Chinese government on their official social media, attacked by the Western community and the pro-Hong Kong activists. Kpop stans also strongly criticized the Korean singer Choi Siwon
for liking a tweet about the pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong, pushing the star to public apologies.
As explained by the sociologist and specialist of contemporary China Lun Zhang, these young fans are powered by a strong nationalist sentiment “which finds its roots in the collapse of the Great Empire and the numerous humiliations at the hands of the Western powers”, leading them to act as proud defenders of the Chinese nation, and consequently of the Chinese regime. It is also interesting to note that if on one side the Chinese kpop stans differ from the Western counterpart in their expressed nationalism (the only guiding force of their political activism); on the other side they share the same mode of action in their online activity, giving further evidence of how the Kpop community is based on a strong and united network of passionate fans.