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How K-pop keeps up with international fans

New forms and routes of global communication between stars and fans are surfacing

With K-pop now having risen as an international phenomenon, communication between the stars and their fans -- who are multilingual, multiethnic and span across the continents -- has emerged as a significant issue.

Though some celebrities already engage in extensive social media activities, it seems photos, text and manufactured videos are not quite enough to satisfy international fans’ thirst for a more personal, immersive connection, according to Chloe Choi, a spokesperson for Korean Internet giant Naver, which has heavily invested in K-pop coverage. 

In response to this demand, new forms of global star-to-fan communication are budding.

The rise of video platforms

In response to the increasing demand from fans and general social media consumers for a more realistic level of online engagement, 2015 has seen the rise of new platforms such as Periscope and Meerkat, where users can live stream video.

Naver recently jumped on the live-streaming bandwagon with its new mobile app V, which allows K-pop stars to broadcast snippets of their daily life and interact with fans in real time. 

Naver's V app is one of several emerging live streaming platforms that allow stars to interact with fans via mobile devices. (Naver)
Naver's V app is one of several emerging live streaming platforms that allow stars to interact with fans via mobile devices. (Naver)

“Instant, fleeting bits of live communication have become more important than photos or text,” Naver’s Choi said.

“Simple, real-time video platforms like V allow fans a more intimate window into stars’ behind-the-scenes lives. They also let stars communicate with fans with minimal investment,” as videos posted on V generally require no additional equipment other than a mobile phone and no postproduction editing, said Choi.

The app seems to have delivered precisely to international fans’ heretofore unfulfilled demands. Since its July launch, V has seen up to 80,000 fans worldwide tuning in simultaneously during a single broadcast, with some videos receiving over 8 million “hearts” -- a feature which lets viewers show their support for the uploaded content -- and 10,000 comments, a large number of which have been written in English.

On the other side of the fence are K-pop stars who have begun harnessing conventional social media in new, creative ways of their own.

One K-pop idol branching out creatively is girl group f(x)’s Amber, who launched and is running the YouTube channel “What the Pineapple” in collaboration with her friend Scott. The channel features English-language videos of the two and their friends, and has nabbed over 80,000 subscribers since its first upload on July 10.

Amber, who edits all the videos herself, said in an Aug. 22 upload that she started the channel to “have fun” and show “the parts you can’t really see on TV,” revealing a desire to both express herself and connect directly with a larger group of fans.

Another content-creator idol is girl group Rainbow’s Jaekyung, who currently operates a blog with posts about her hobbies, which include interior design, cooking and beauty.

Adding personality to ‘prepackaged’ K-pop

Many say that in K-pop, artists’ individual identities tend to get lost in a process driven by strict planning and mass production. Appealing to fans using personality and individuality, however, just might be that extra kick K-pop needs to spiral from a still “unrelatable” minority phenomenon to a more widespread genre, according to industry watchers.

“I think K-pop stars can definitely benefit from expressing themselves more, especially when considering the potential they have to connect with a bigger international audience is larger than ever,” Billboard magazine’s K-pop writer Jeff Benjamin told The Korea Herald via email.

The chaotic, colorful texture of K-pop music has grabbed the world’s attention, but now audiences are curious to learn about the human beings behind the glitz.

“When I’ve personally observed stars giving very safe and generic answers, it’s very frustrating for the international fans and the media outlets involved,” Benjamin said, adding that such rehearsed personas discourage global outlets from seeking the stars out a second time.

Maggie Huyen, a 26-year-old Taiwanese woman who works in education and has been an avid fan of K-pop since her middle school years, spoke of a similar frustration. K-pop stars, she said, have seemed to hide their true personalities behind the veil of an often forced public image or choreographed team performances.

“But fans want to get to know their stars better,” she said.

By Rumy Doo (bigbird@heraldcorp.com)

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