K-POP CULTURE V. US IGNORANCE: THE BTS ‘CONSPIRACY’

LILLY WEBBER WRITES — In a tweet posted recently on his official Twitter, Floridan politician KW Miller asked the following question: “Why was AOC conspiring with Koreans such as Junkook and BTS (Big Time Socialists) to undermine our President?”.

Miller’s tweet was in response to the low audience turnout at President Donald Trump’s rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The President had boasted that an expected million people had reserved tickets, but according to official numbers, fewer than 6,200 people attended the rally. Republicans were quick to claim the discrepancy in numbers-count was the result of alleged foreign interference conducted by K-pop fans. Now, who are these Big Time Socialists, what is K-pop, and is this so-called “Army” actually an organization aimed to undermine American politics?

Despite what the misguided and the misinformed may claim, K-pop is not an organization that is a threat to American sovereignty. K-Pop is a genre of pop music originating from South Korea, ‘Big Time Socialists’ is just the name conceived by Miller for a highly popular Korean boy band — best known as Bangtan Boys/Beyond the Scene. The alleged foreign agent group — the BTS “Army” — is only the boisterous nickname of the BTS’s fanbase.

Fan bases having nicknames is not anything new, either as fans of The Grateful Dead are known as Dead Heads, or as Lady Gaga fans are known as Little Monsters. Unlike some band followings though, K-pop fans have their own unique reputation and presence online — they’re highly organized. For years and to the chagrin of many online, K-pop fans have been well-known for their tendency to take over social media trends and flood hashtags with fancams. Fancams are short videos edited by fans that typically feature their respective and favorite band member(s). The purpose of this behavior is to advertise their favorite idols to an international audience and ultimately make K-pop more accessible to fans living outside of South Korea.

Since the murder of George Floyd on May 25th in Minneapolis, K-pop fans have diverted their attention and spamming abilities into a unique form of online activism. Changing their focus from randomly flooding already trending hashtags, K-pop fans began using their platform to deter racist efforts. The movement arose when several police departments throughout the nation asked the public to submit videos of allegedly “illegal activities” occurring at anti-racial injustice protests which would help them identify protestors. To deter and slow down police efforts to arrest protestors, K-pop fans en masse launched their ingenious counterattack. They spammed the servers with irrelevant video clips of dancing Korean musicians instead and eventually crashed the servers. K-Pop fans continued their anti-racism activism on numerous social media sites such as Instagram, Tiktok, and Twitter, where they utilized their collective energy to target and overwhelm Alt-Right hashtags such as #WhiteLivesMatter and #MAGA, which were originally used to propagate and foment White supremacist rhetoric.

The efforts of the K-pop fandom to support Black Lives Matter has not gone unnoticed by Korean musicians either. As the protests have continued, some K-Pop stars have shown their support for the movement. On Thursday, June 3rd, the aforementioned boy band BTS announced that they were donating 1 million dollars to Black Lives Matter. In response, the band’s official fan collective ‘One In An Army’ initiated their own million-dollar fundraiser campaign under the hashtag #MatchAMillion. In only a few days, their Twitter was able to proudly announce that they had collected enough to match BTS’s donation.

While it is undeniable that K-pop fans have positively contributed to the Black Lives Matter movement with their recent acts of online activism, it is important to remember that the K-pop industry itself is notorious for appropriating and stereotyping aspects of Black culture. Racism within the K-pop fandom against Black fans is not uncommon either, which can cause some Black K-pop fans to feel very unwelcome within the community. So yes, while K-pop fans rsvp’d to the President’s rally with the intent of Do Not Attend, there aren’t any “KPOP agents/operatives” but rather just a diverse and complex fan community united by a shared love of music. And this should be music to everyone’s ears.

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