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[Grace Kao] International fans on the way to 'Music Bank'

By Korea Herald

Published : June 11, 2024 - 05:23

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One of my favorite activities when I’m in South Korea is to watch the idols arrive at KBS’ “Music Bank” on Friday morning.

While “Music Bank” is broadcast Friday evenings, there is a promenade of idols who arrive in the morning in preparation for prerecording and their live performance later in the day. Fans can line up near the entrance and watch them pose for the official photographers before entering the building. This may be the closest they will get to seeing their favorite K-pop stars in person.

From the languages overheard at these events, there is likely an overrepresentation of international fans like myself, with the exception of the phantom amateur paparazzi with ladders.

On a recent Friday morning, I arrived at KBS at 6:30 a.m. Unfortunately, the best areas were already overtaken by more than 50 ladders lined side by side in a grid pattern. There weren’t even any people present in some of those areas – just ladders blocking the viewing areas. When I went last year, I was able to secure an optimal viewing location. Because the ladders belong to locals while the “regular fans” have no such equipment, it made it very difficult for regular domestic and international fans to see.

Still, on this particular occasion, I was able to meet three wonderful international K-pop fans from Hong Kong. I stood with them from about 6:30 a.m. to 11 that morning. Let me introduce them to you.

These three women have asked me to refer to them as Yan Yan, Boey and Yannie. They arrived at 5:30 a.m. that morning. They seemed like very close friends and had traveled together to Seoul, but they had in fact met at a Zerobaseone K-pop event in Hong Kong not that long ago.

Their friendship was initiated by their love of K-pop. This was something I'd seen before with the BTS Army fans I met in Connecticut.

Yan Yan is a nurse in her early 30s and has traveled to Korea approximately 20 times. Her first exposure to K-pop was the song “Sorry Sorry” by Super Junior. She remembers studying at McDonald’s in high school while listening to their songs, and felt that they “gave me energy and motivation to keep on studying boring stuff for the public exam.”

She was poor when she was in university, so she couldn’t afford to go to concerts. However, her friends traveled to Korea to watch concerts, and at that time she thought “That was so crazy.”

Since watching the second season of “Produce 101,” she was “touched by the trainees’ courage, talents and dreams.” She reasoned that because Wanna One -- the group that emerged from that season -- was a temporary group, she had to make the most of the small window of opportunity that she would have to see them in person. By then, she had enough money to travel abroad. That marked the first time she went overseas for a K-pop concert.

She took a brief break from K-pop during the pandemic and watched Cantonese pop groups, instead. However, Mnet competition "Boys Planet" brought her back to K-pop.

She loved Sung Hanbin, the eventual leader of Zerobaseone, from the beginning of the show, and because he ranked very high -- No. 1 or No. 2 -- throughout the entire program, it kept her tuning in.

She said, “I couldn’t keep my eyes off Sung Hanbin and Zhang Hao because they are so great and talented.”

She explained that eventually she became even more “wild” for Zerobaseone than she ever was about Wanna One. She has done many things she couldn’t have imagined beforehand, including traveling to Korea many times, going to concerts and “lining up for the pop-up store at night and sleeping on the street.”

Boey is in her mid-30s and is an office worker. She has visited Korea four times for the sole purpose of participating in K-pop activities. In Hong Kong, she watches music videos and follows her favorite groups on social media. Her early favorite groups were Baby Vox and TVXQ, but now she is a huge fan of Zerobaseone.

She was also a viewer of "Boys Planet" and fell in love with Zhang Hao and Hanbin, who would eventually rank No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, on the show. She calls them her “favorite idols of her lifetime.”

Finally, Yannie is in her mid-30s and is a banker. She has been to Korea more than 10 times with the sole purpose of participating in K-pop activities. In Hong Kong, she goes to concerts and buys albums. She says she enjoys music and feels like “K-pop style is very energetic and nice, which matches my taste.”

She loves the stage performances and says they give her energy. She loved TVXQ, but now also loves Zerobaseone and EXO.

These women found a community of other fans, which helped to broaden their friendship networks. Some of their friends from their everyday lives thought they were a bit nuts to travel to Korea regularly for a K-pop boy band. Friends even asked them if they still had a Hong Kong address, since they seemed to be in Korea so often. However, these fellow K-pop friends accepted them for who they are.

While I enjoyed meeting them, we had so much time to chat because we had trouble seeing the groups despite our very early arrival.

KBS should consider banning ladders and stools on the premises, especially those without their owners present. Meanwhile, Yan Yan, Boey, Yannie and I will hope to see our favorite idols on their way to "Music Bank" in the future.

Grace Kao

Grace Kao is an IBM professor of sociology and professor of ethnicity, race and migration at Yale University. The views expressed here are the writer's own. -- Ed.