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Some K-pop fans #SayNoToStreaming, but others aren’t happy

In the K-pop sphere, discussions on what healthy fandom culture is comes and goes. The latest round of heated arguments recently surfaced on Twitter, many K-pop fans’ social media platform of choice, on how excessive music streaming can be. [SCREEN CAPTURE]

In the K-pop sphere, discussions on what healthy fandom culture is comes and goes. The latest round of heated arguments recently surfaced on Twitter, many K-pop fans’ social media platform of choice, on how excessive music streaming can be. [SCREEN CAPTURE]

 
In the K-pop sphere, discussions on what constitutes healthy fandom culture could be called a naturally occurring phenomenon.
 
The latest round of heated arguments on the subject recently surfaced on Twitter, many K-pop fans’ social media platform of choice, this time under the hashtag #SayNoToStreaming, shedding light on how labor-intensive K-pop fan culture can be.
 
Using the hashtag, a string of international K-pop fans called for moderation in streaming. The concept of “excessive music listening” may sound absurd to any unfamiliar with K-pop, but is a key activity among fans of the genre. Many K-pop fans stream their favorite artist’s music or a specific song non-stop — on mute if necessary — in order to boost their rankings on the charts.
 
Proponents of #SayNoToStreaming described 24-hour streaming as, essentially, unpaid labor, although it may be well-intended and done fully voluntarily to support one’s favorite artist. They advise people to participate in fan activities like streaming as a hobby instead of feeling pressured to do so, like many loyal fans do, to the point of it interfering with their own lives.
 
Though it may sound like an obvious statement, and though much of it did receive support, the piece of advice was also met with strong backlash.
 
 
Streaming maketh the fan?
 
Discussions about streaming surface frequently among domestic and foreign K-pop fans alike, usually regarding whether it’s acceptable to pressure others in the same fandom to stream. Skeptics of #SayNoToStreaming maintain that a true fan would listen to their favorite band’s music all day because they genuinely enjoy it, and therefore would not refer to streaming as labor.
 
“If you don’t like listening to your favorite band’s music, it’s because you think their songs are boring,” this school of thought claims.
 

Television music shows place the most emphasis on the amount of online streaming, above other criteria including physical CD sales and viewer votes, when announcing the No. 1 song of the week. [SCREEN CAPTURE]

Television music shows place the most emphasis on the amount of online streaming, above other criteria including physical CD sales and viewer votes, when announcing the No. 1 song of the week. [SCREEN CAPTURE]

 
Some, while in the same breath admitting that streaming certain songs non-stop can be tiring, exhorted that mass streaming is absolutely necessary for artists’ success.
 
“Don’t call yourself a fan if you won’t even make an effort to support the artist,” argue proponents of 24-hour streaming. “Would you rather see them be unsuccessful?”
 
High chart rankings, which means more exposure to the general public through streaming platforms, contribute to the group becoming better known. Similarly, the number of streams are one of the top criteria tallied by television music shows. Winning No. 1 on a music show is considered a career milestone that further promotes the group.
 
So within a K-pop artist’s fandom, fans encourage each other to constantly “stream like you breathe,” especially when new music drops. Numerous social media pages are dedicated to encouraging fans, notifying them which songs to stream and sharing tips on how to stream efficiently so that every listen counts.
 
This includes streaming overnight when listeners of other songs are asleep — which explains why many K-pop idols’ songs enter domestic charts late at night but aren’t seen during the day. Social media pages encouraging fans to stream recommend checking “first thing in the morning to see if the music had been playing all night without interruption.”
 
 
Peer pressure
 
Fans proudly proclaim they consciously hold themselves back from listening to other artists’ songs even if they want to, in order to not interrupt the non-stop streaming of their one favorite artist. They often face pressure from other fans to present screenshots that prove they have been streaming.
 
Many go so far as to condemn other fans who don’t do the same, often with threatening rhetoric that incites fear among fans.
 
“If you won’t support your favorites [by streaming], don’t complain about them not winning any awards and don’t be surprised when they disband,” numerous responses to #SayNoToStreaming emphasize. Comments like “don’t let this be their last comeback” are frequently seen under newly released music videos by relatively lesser-known acts.
 

One fan online proves with a screenshot that they have been streaming boy band Exo. [SCREEN CAPTURE]

One fan online proves with a screenshot that they have been streaming boy band Exo. [SCREEN CAPTURE]

 
Some dismissed the hashtag movement as a non-issue, reasoning that streaming is simply each individual’s decision. However, considering that such pressures are prevalent in fandom culture and many stream to the point of neglecting their own personal lives, it may be a disingenuous approach.
 
One Korean fan in her mid-20s, formerly a loyal fan of a still-active boy band and who wished to stay anonymous, shared what estranged her from being an active part of the fandom.
 
“You know how the term gaseongbi [cost-effective] fan is basically used as an insult in the K-pop idol scene,” she said. The term refers to casual fans who do not stream all day or buy CDs, but simply enjoy the singer’s works lightheartedly. They are often called out as fake fans and may even be asked to leave the fandom.
 
“Until my early 20s, I felt like I had to stream, purchase multiple CDs, attend fan autograph events, go to concerts […] promote them and sometimes defend the group online if I were to call myself a fan.”
 
As she pointed out, streaming is one of the many activities required from those who want to be acknowledged as bona fide fans. They are expected to put in both time and money to set a myriad of new records for the artist, and the so-called light fans who don’t are largely shunned by the core fandom. Many claim that those who don’t stream lack sincerity and don’t deserve to attend concerts or meet-and-greets.
 
“I remember being constantly distracted during the day to check if my music streaming was on,” she continued. “It disturbed my sleep. […] I knew streaming day and night was interfering with my real life, mentally and physically, but the pressure was strong online where fans gather. We were told other fans are busy too but still put in ‘real effort.’ The pressure doesn’t seem like a big deal from the outside, but because fanhood is based on love, suggesting that my love was untrue was very guilt-tripping and influential to me at the time.”
 
 
Debates going deeper
 
Fans naturally want to show support to their favorite artists; a phenomenon seen in any pop music industry. But a fandom culture that also requires so much time, money and sincerity, on a daily basis and in a highly organized manner, is considered unique to K-pop. Where does this labor-intensive culture come from?
 

A guide explaining how to efficiently stream non-stop, distributed by boy band Monsta X's fandom Monbebe. The image includes tips for streaming on Melon, though there are guides for each streaming platform. [SCREEN CAPTURE]

A guide explaining how to efficiently stream non-stop, distributed by boy band Monsta X’s fandom Monbebe. The image includes tips for streaming on Melon, though there are guides for each streaming platform. [SCREEN CAPTURE]

 
Music critic Park Hee-a says rather than singling out K-pop culture as being different, the answer lies in Korean society’s work culture in general.
 
“K-pop fan culture requires a very high standard of labor-intensive activities,” she said. “K-pop is music from Korea, so it inevitably reflects the country’s attitude toward labor as well. Our work culture is known for praising long work hours and dedication. Koreans’ national character also emphasizes diligence, intensely so when there’s a goal to reach. Not all countries share such a work ethic, so it’s very interesting that this culture of labor, in a way, has spread to foreign fans through K-pop.”
 
These discussions on excessive fan activities have been going on for much longer among domestic fans. Critic Park says the fact that fans overseas have officially jumped into the discussion shows how they don’t only enjoy consuming K-pop, but are also serious about the fandom culture that comes with it.
 
“They’re showing a strong willingness to deeply understand K-pop culture and talk about it among themselves,” she said. “Eventually, each fan will decide how much fan activity is fit for them, and fandoms will also hopefully reach a consensus on how much encouragement is acceptable. At this stage, even the heated arguments are a natural and constructive phenomenon which proves that the dialogue surrounding K-pop is going deeper overseas too.”

BY HALEY YANG [yang.hyunjoo@joongang.co.kr]




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