One source of the success of K-Pop idols and groups, in Korea as well as abroad, can be found in their exceptionally active and dedicated fans. For many of them, being a fan goes beyond just listening their idols’ music; it also means buying and collecting merchandise, attending fan events and live recordings, or even translating appearances of their idols for global fans. These are costly endeavors, both in terms of money and time, yet they have become a hallmark of K-Pop’s fan culture.
To learn more about the relationship between K-Pop idols and their fans, we spoke to Dr. Stephanie Choi. She told us about how fans act as both promoters as well as regulators of their idols’ activities, and about the role that intimacy plays in this relationship. We also discussed the origins of fan groups in Korea and their evolution over the decades; the kinds of labor fans engage in to ensure the success of their idol; the rules dictating fans-idol interactions; and the services that idols provide in return to their fans.
Stephanie Choi is Adjunct Assistant Professor in East Asian Studies at New York University. She earned her Ph.D. in Ethnomusicology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. She also holds an M.A. in Ethnomusicology from Wesleyan University and a degree in Korean Music from Seoul National University. Interviews with Stephanie Choi have been featured in the New Yorker, NBC News, the Korea Herald, and the Korea Times, among others.
After the early 2000s, the K-Pop companies started to incorporate the fan club management into the company, meaning that the company staff started to manage the fan club, meaning that there was no longer a hierarchy between fans… […] So, the more you pay, the more access you can get to get closer to your star; it has nothing to do with you becoming a fan club executive to meet your idol.
This episode was produced in cooperation and with the support of the East Asian Studies Center at The Ohio State University and its Title VI National Resource Center grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The interview was recorded on March 10th, 2021 remotely in Seoul and Columbus, OH.