New Delhi: This past week saw KARD, one of the biggest names in the K-pop music industry, perform in Delhi and Guwahati. This is the first time that a big Korean pop band has toured the country, which so far had seen performances by lesser-known names. Tickets for the KARD concert ranged from Rs 1,800 to Rs 7,000.
The four-person band, which is a huge hit among international K-pop fans and has toured the US, UK, Canada, Brazil, Mexico and Italy, was surprised by the response it got in India.
“We didn’t know we have a huge fan following here,” said band member BM.
What’s so special about K-pop fans?
They are unlike fans of other pop cultures. For those unaware about the Korean wave subculture, there is a whole world of K-pop and K-drama fans who go far beyond what regular admirers do for their idols.
These communities and fan clubs regularly interact on social media networks, organise music streaming sessions and philanthropic activities in the name of their favourite artistes.
They also mobilise their networks to place bulk orders of physical copies of K-pop albums.
India, where K-pop isn’t as big as it is elsewhere, has its own fan clubs. TeamEXOIndia, for example, is dedicated to K-pop sensation EXO.
“In the past two years, fans have ordered 2,000 albums of EXO through group orders organised by us,” says administrator Ritika, in conversation with ThePrint.
Last year, the community donated Rs 91,300 to cricketer Yuvraj Singh’s foundation ‘YouWeCan’ to fight cancer.
The group also extended support to HelpAge India Foundation for a year to mark the birthday of an EXO member, Baekhyun, who often talks about his grandmother during interactions with fans.
Unlike the western music scene, K-pop bands and their fans forge a symbiotic bond where both parties constantly acknowledge each other’s presence.
“First and foremost, we are not KARD without our fans,” said BM.
“Who are we if no one listens to our music? I receive messages from fans on SNS (social networking services) where they say their day was a little bit better because of our music or because of content we put up or because of our videos. It’s a give and take – we receive their love while our music helps them through the day,” BM further said.
Women leading the fandom…
A majority of people at K-pop concerts and fan meetings who marshall resources for their beloved musicians are devoted women fans.
India-Korea Friends Mumbai (IKFM), a major Korean culture fan club, was formed in April 2013 and has 84 per cent women membership against 16 per cent men.
“Women are at the helm of things,” said IKFM president Orlinda Fernandes.
“Until recently, most men – and a few women too – perceived Korean male celebrities to be effeminate. I am still asked why I find Korean stars attractive and this question is mostly asked by my male friends and acquaintances. Women usually are more open to and accepting of Korean culture. Also, we watch a lot of K-dramas which not many men are into,” she said.
Explaining the women fandom culture in South Korea, University of Southern California professor Hye Jin Lee, in a podcast on Global Fandom for K-Pop, said, “It is an almost maternal kind of love that fans feel for their idols. The star is not to be desired but taken care of… Fans take it as their responsibility to promote their idols or do good things in their name.”
It was their interest in Korean dramas and love for K-pop music that brought together four women in Delhi to form the Pink Box Events – a company that organises K-pop concerts (including the recent KARD tour) and fan meetings in India.
“We realised that someone had to start but there was no one in the market to take the leap,” said Vilina, one of the founders.
Since its inception, in 2015, the event and artist management company has brought seven K-pop bands and solo artistes to multiple Indian cities.
Attending concerts and fan meetings regularly can be an expensive proposition. A cheaper alternative is to buy albums and merchandise. In the absence of a registered K-pop product, many women fans took upon themselves to set up small-scale K-pop stores online.
“I started listening to them in 2015 but my store took off only in 2018. In March 2015, when I wanted to preorder the EXODUS album by EXO, I had a hard time finding a store in India and asked one local seller of imported Chinese goods to help me,” says Jasmine, the owner of Instagram store @eleven_twenty7, which exclusively deals in importing K-pop albums as well as official and unofficial K-pop merchandise.
…while men battle stereotypes
While female fans have been able to form communities, not all male fans have been lucky enough.
Sanjay Ramjhi, president of Chennai-based fanclub ‘The K-Wave India’ and one of the rare male administrators of a Korean culture fan club whose 2,000+ members are almost entirely composed of women, gives an overview of the scenario in Chennai.
“I know men who like K-pop but are embarrassed to admit it in public. They think a guy who admires another man is gay. There must be something ‘wrong’ with him to like fashionably-dressed men. There are men who refuse to explore K-pop and those who will not admit it in public,” he explained.
IKFM’s Fernandes, however, said the trend is shifting now to include more men who are leading fan clubs.
A Delhi University student and K-pop fan, who did not wish to be named, said, “I have come across remarks like ‘K-pop is a feminine thing’. But things were worse earlier. In school, liking K-pop or K-dramas was associated to being gay”.