Spend more than ten minutes on Twitter and you’ll quickly realize that K-Pop stans are everywhere. Users worldwide spend hours each day flooding viral tweets and hashtags with ‘fan-cams’: grainy, zoomed-in videos of their favorite stars, which are shared far and wide to promote Korean artists. But more recently, stans have weaponized these fan-cams against fascism. First, they flooded racist hashtags like #whiteoutwednesday, and then they crashed the Dallas Police Department’s website to stop users sending in surveillance footage of Black Lives Matter protesters.
Within weeks, the global perception of K-Pop fandoms has completely shifted: no longer are they seen as DIY Twitter Bots, now they’re hailed as powerful, anti-racist allies. Anti-Blackness within K-Pop fandoms has made headlines recently, but these conversations arrive in tandem with new reports that stans had teamed up with TikTok teens to sabotage Trump’s Tulsa rally — and that expert-level trolling has cemented the fandom’s mainstream status as comrades in the fight against systemic racism. But what’s truly surprising is the insinuation that any of this is new. In reality, K-Pop has always been political.
Some of the first examples of K-Pop date back to the early 20th century, when Japanese forces colonized Korea. At the time, it was commonplace for schools and universities to ban Korean students from speaking their mother tongue; authorities even burned over 200,000 historical documents, destroying vital records of Korean culture. Music soon became a tool for resistance: when activists marched for Korean independence in 1919, they sang “Huimangga” (“Song of Hope”), sometimes credited as the first modern K-Pop song.
Since then, K-Pop has undergone countless transformations: from the heyday of ‘trot’ (a music genre once popular in Korea) stars like Lee Mi-Ja to hip-hop’s influence on Korean music throughout the 1990s, a lot has changed — but the politics remain. When Korea split in 1945, the South retained close ties to the US (which explains the Western influences of K-Pop), but music has since been used to heal rifts between North and South. For example, when North Korea launched a nuclear test blast in 2016, South Korea responded by blasting K-Pop over the border. Then in 2018, the world’s most unlikely photographs surfaced: Kim Jong-Un clapping along to a K-Pop concert starring globally-renowned girl group, Red Velvet.
Obviously, it’s not always that deep — it’s completely possible to enjoy the melodies, stars, and songs without reading through a political lens. But this fandom, in particular, has proven particularly successful in spreading awareness of causes and injustices worldwide. When student protests erupted in Chile back in 2018, hundreds of activists were allegedly beaten, abused, and raped by police. These protests escalated and expanded their focus from class disparity to police brutality, and a report identified K-Pop fans as a key driving force behind this political mobilization. According to the research, stans would “mainly focus on questioning deaths during protests, frequently mentioning human rights violations and criticizing the silence of the media, or blocking social networks.” Sound familiar?
Stories like these get buried beyond the legions of fan-cams, online drama, and stan forums, but the mainstream bemusement at K-Pop activists tends to be anchored by a sense of disbelief or surprise at youth activism. It seems we’re still tempted to write off fandoms as trivial, or stereotype them as the obsessive hobbies of high-school girls, but recent times have shown that united they can dismantle surveillance campaigns, sabotage rallies and still find time to dissect the work of their Idols.
Tl;dr: We stan!