If you happen to be among the countless people who have dismissed K-pop as vapid, saccharine and content-free, a Korean dance-music answer to Japan’s Hello Kitty, you might want to reconsider.
Over the past few weeks, K-pop fans have been leading the music world’s most-effective campaign on behalf of the Black Lives Matter movement. While anonymous hackers have their “we are legion” boast, K-pop fans have the numbers to prove it.
With tens of thousands of Twitter accounts at their fingertips, they sent out no less than 6 billion tweets last year. As Esquire magazine pointed out, that is approximately “3% of all tweets sent by everyone in the world.”
But with great power comes great responsibility, and much to the chagrin of BLM deniers, K-pop fans have handled quite a lot lately. Here are a few highlights:
K-pop fans have hijacked far-right hashtags like #whitelivesmatter, #whiteoutwednesday and #maga with an endless stream of K-pop videos, effectively rendering them useless for the reactionaries who rely upon them.
K-pop fans shut down the Dallas Police Department’s iWatchDallas app, which was designed for residents to use as a “portal for videos of civil unrest.” When Grand Rapids’ police department released its own Big Brother app, K-pop fan @ngelwy sounded the alarm:
“You know the drill! SEND IN ALL OF YOUR FANCAMS!!! CRASH THE WEBSITE!!! MAKE THEM TAKE IT DOWN!!! PROTECT THE PROTESTORS!!!”
K-pop fans even ruined President Donald Trump’s online birthday card. (Unfair!)
It gets better. A couple of weeks ago, after K-pop idols BTS donated $1 million to Black Lives Matter, their fans organized a fundraising campaign that, using the hashtags #matchamillion and #matchthemillion, raised an added $1 million in less than a day.
“Just like BTS,” they tweeted, “we were able to donate 1M dollars to help fund: bailouts for those arrested for protesting police brutality, black-led advocacy orgs fighting against systemic injustice, support for the physical and mental health of the black community.”
So, is it possible there is more to K-pop than its confectionary blend of choreographed EDM, hip-hop and bubblegum pop? Granted, no one is going to mistake BTS and Blackpink for Bob Dylan and Public Enemy.
But step beyond the linguistic and cultural boundaries, and you might be surprised at what you will find. Consider, for instance, BTS bandleader RM’s collaboration with Nigerian American rapper Wale on 2017’s “Change.”
The hit single includes lyrics about conspicuous consumption, cyber-bullying and racial profiling. “In America, they’ve got their situations, and we’ve got ours in Seoul,” RM told Teen Vogue at the time.
“The problems are everywhere, and the song is like a prayer for change. He [Wale] talks about the police and problems he has faced since he was a child. For me, I talked about Korea, my problems and about those on Twitter who kill people by keyboards.”
RM’s bandmate Suga, whose Agust D solo project debuted at No. 9 on the Billboard Rap Album chart this month, echoed RM’s comments in a BTS news conference later that same year. “It isn’t a BTS album,” he said, “if there isn’t a track criticizing society.”
That was three years ago, which in the world of teen pop is the better part of a lifetime. So, at this point, there is no telling what trends today’s K-pop fans might be following three years from now.
And in a larger sense, that does not really matter because these online activists are not going away anytime soon. They have already proven that they are cleverer and more resourceful than their counterparts on the right.
They have shown up the hypocrisy of a culture that is more interested in virtue signaling than meaningful change. And, like it or not, they are legion.