With dynamite K-pop acts such as BTS, BLACKPINK, and SuperM bringing and keeping the genre under the world’s spotlight for the past few years, it has become pretty common to hear Korean music playing in music stores, clothing shops, and even supermarkets – not to mention that you’ll likely bump into at least one newly converted fan whenever you walk down the street. K-pop has definitely become a global influence not just in the music industry, but in fashion, entertainment, and education as well. It has transcended several arduous boundaries to get to its current stage, namely that of language, culture, and society. People who don’t speak Korean still find themselves enjoying songs from this genre, proving that music is and always will be a medium for global unity, for all races, genders, ages, and walks of life to understand and accept one another.
If you’re reading this article, it’s very likely that you yourself are an international K-pop fan, who fell in love with the songs and artists responsible for performing them under the often-scrutinizing eyes of the world, and wants to share the wonders of K-pop to your closest friends, family members, and, well, even strangers. Chances are, doing so is proving to be quite a difficult hurdle to get over, for as something becomes more popular, the more misconceptions and skepticism shall arise around it. As a former non-K-pop fan myself, who has been successfully converted into a multi-fandom professor on all things K-pop, I will be sharing some of the ways to convince your friends who are non K-pop fans to give it a fair shot, and embrace and enjoy this new wave of K-pop and “K-poppers”.
Break the stereotypes.
There are several representatives of the global K-pop phenomenon, namely the three mentioned in the beginning of this article, and it should be noted that they are popular for a reason. For example, BTS has steadily gained an international following through a combination of powerful performances, consistent communication with fans through weekly, sometimes daily, livestreams and YouTube videos, as well as relatable lyrics that aren’t afraid of addressing possibly sensitive issues – basically breaking the unwritten rule/stereotype that K-pop songs do not and should not address topics such as mental health and social discrimination. BLACKPINK too was formed not to simply fit within the image of “girl crush” or “cute and pretty”; the name “Blackpink” itself reflects how the members are able to tackle different concepts, yet maintain a signature sound that’s recognizable amongst the many idol groups out there. SuperM consists of members of different idol groups that belong under the same entertainment agency, and they do a great job of mixing all of their different sounds to create exciting music that’s both familiar, yet fresh to K-pop veterans and newbies.
That’s why, the most obvious thing to do is to let your non-K-pop fan friend listen to the songs from these representative groups, making sure to mix in older songs as well as later ones that best reflect the idea of “breaking the mold.” This way, you’re not just showing your friends songs that they’ve heard before and are probably overplayed (I didn’t even need to download BTS’ new song because they’re still playing it everywhere I go), but you’re letting them know that there are variations in the music of each group, that they don’t just sound the same over the years and that they’ve actually evolved into who they are today. Remember not to play too many songs from the same group at once though (don’t go through the entire discography of a group that’s been around for nine plus years, for example); alternate between a select pool of groups, soloists, or bands – they don’t have to be part of the main representatives of K-pop, but are still quite popular in Korea and other countries due to their unique sound – that you think your friend would like, and that you yourself enjoy to keep things fresh and interesting during your discussions.
Another common belief or misconception about K-pop artists, is that they don’t sing live, in other words, that they are only lip-syncing during their performances. The best counteraction? Show your friend MR removed videos on YouTube, which are basically clips with no background sound and recorded vocals, and therefore lets you listen to the natural, unhindered voice of the artist at the time of that particular performance. The existence of these videos should be enough to convince your more skeptical friends, for K-pop artists are likely to be aware of the existence of such videos, and know that they are unable to hide their vocal skills from the public. That’s not to say K-pop artists cannot sing, of course – many singers-in-training, or just trainees for short, spend years developing their dance, vocal, and/or rapping abilities, as well as to maintain a stable voice while they’re dancing. Support this fact through reliable articles, videos or postings of artists’ explanation regarding their trainee life, and then show the results of said artists’ hard work through MR removed videos with vocals that sound just like it did in the actual recording. All of this relates to the next step in our guide:
Videos, videos, videos.
Music videos, stage performances, and even variety shows or – in case you think the editing and cultural differences between Korean variety shows and that in your own country will be too jarring – behind-the-scenes clips of artists rehearsing, working on music video sets, or just relaxing in between schedules. Visual ammunition is the key to convincing your friends of the charms of K-pop, and both you and me know that the genre itself has a lot of it. If your friend is particularly interested in the choreography, dance practices or stage clips from music and awards shows are definitely the way to go. If your friend is curious about the personalities of these artists you like so much, there are plenty of interviews, livestreams, and variety shows to go around. Anything your friend wants or needs to know about K-pop? Just hit YouTube and VLive, which is a platform for your favorite K-pop and Asian artists to do livestreams, post videos and updates, and even chat with their fans every once in a while. There are literally a hundred videos for every question your friend might ask, so don’t be afraid to use them to answer your friend’s now growing curiosity. At the same time, however, you should remember not to show too many videos within a short time span. In other words:
Ah, the rule of contradiction. Now, K-pop may be your biggest obsession at the moment, and it’s to be expected that you would be more than excited to share your interests with your friends, especially those that you are trying to convert into fans like yourself and are actually starting to show some curiosity about the subject. However, talking non-stop about K-pop, suddenly changing topics to discuss about it when you’re still the only one that is well-versed in the subject, and forcing your friends to watch its videos with you throughout the majority of your hangouts are a one-way ticket to turning your friends’ interest into irritation, as well as to worsening your relationship – remember, you’re trying to stay friends and nudge them into enjoying K-pop. To do this, you should give them some space away from your influence, and from K-pop basically, showing just enough videos to pique their interest, to make them look forward to the occasions when you’re going to explain more about the genre and its artists, and, ultimately, to develop their own preferences within the genre. Keep your K-pop obsession in moderation to give them room to breathe, and you’ll eventually make them curious enough to start searching for information on their own. When that happens, you’re definitely well on your way to forming your very own local K-pop fan club. You can actually stop following the guide up to this step if you wish, but if you’re an experienced fan who’s in it not just for the music but for the artists themselves, then these next couple of steps may be important in establishing true K-pop fans, of true ARMYs (BTS fans), BLINKs (BLACKPINK fans), Shawols (SHINee fans), Once (TWICE fans), Starlights (VIXX fans), Monbebes (MONSTA X fans), etc. (excuse my extensive name-dropping):
K-pop artists are human too.
Unfortunately, this is a fact that many people have ignored, in favor of looking solely at the quality of the music and not of the effort and heart that goes into making and performing them on stage – and this goes for all artists, not just in K-pop. How can you make your friends care about the people singing the music they said they enjoyed, and not just regard them in relatively superficial terms like appearance and dancing ability? If you initially only showed performance and dance practice videos to your friends, then it’s time to start pulling out the members’ profiles, the “unhelpful guides” to your selected group, and the behind-the-scenes and variety show clips scattered throughout the Internet.
Let your friend see both the on-stage and off-stage personalities of your, or their – if they already have any – favorite artists. Of course, they may end up not liking these artists at all after finding out more about their personality, but the opposite can also occur – that they may actually grow to love them even more. Either way, the point is for the idols and singers who you see on screen to be humanized; remind your friends that these idol groups, bands, and soloists are not just 2D characters meant to always appear perfect and flawless, but that they are real-life people with dreams, goals, and passions that are relatable to fans and others.
It’s okay if your friend dislikes an artist, maybe because their music or their personality does not match with their own taste and disposition, but there are some boundaries that need to be respected when it comes to disliking someone, especially when it comes to hate based on superficial reasons. In layman terms, for your friend to become a true K-pop fan alongside you, you should definitely remind them to:
Get with the times.
One of the most frequent comments I see when watching videos of non-K-pop fans reacting to male K-pop groups, as well as hear in real life, is that “[the members] look like girls,” often said after seeing how the male idols have on visible make-up and how some of them wear flowy and quite revealing outfits. Now, there’s nothing wrong if people just stop at that one comment, but, unfortunately, it is often succeeded by “they look gay” or “guys shouldn’t wear make-up,” both said in an often judging and ridiculing tone. These comments became less frequent in recent years as people worldwide became more exposed and used to K-pop, and the concepts of toxic masculinity, gender discrimination, and masculinity vs. femininity started to gain traction as being close-minded perspectives in this modern age. That’s why the simplest way to counteract such comments or people with such point-of-views, perhaps including some of the friends you’re trying to convince, is:
“This is 2021. Everyone, people of all genders and sexualities, are allowed to wear make-up, wear revealing clothes, and basically look however they want to look like. Appearance does not necessarily reflect who you are, but if we are allowed to be who we are, then we should definitely be allowed to wear whatever we want.”
It’s not like you’re forcing your friends to wear make-up or wear such outfits; you are talking about idols, artists who are willing to change their appearance to match the concept of their stages, so they can look their very best when they’re performing for their fans and fellow artists. Your friends do not need to like or feel particularly comfortable about male idols blurring the line between masculinity and femininity, but it is definitely an admirable thing if they are able to respect male idols, and judge if the music is to their taste by the quality of the song itself and its choreography, and not merely brushing it off as being “bad” or “not to their taste” due to the idols’ less traditionally masculine appearance.
Sometimes, the best way to challenge your friends’ way of thought is by showing them exactly what they are against: in this case, male androgyny. I recommend SHINee and SuperM member as well as soloist, Taemin’s, song, “Move,” which features a choreography inspired by contemporary or modern dance, and which is performed with gender fluid outfits that accentuate Taemin’s body lines. In fact, contemporary dance, which possesses moves that have similar nuances to ballet, is the best way to ease your friends into accepting male idols showcasing feminine visuals and/or movements. There are many idols who specialize in modern dance within the K-pop world, including BTS’ Jimin, VIXX’ N as well as Taemin, and these artists have all been designated the main dancer position or are one of the lead dancers in their respective groups. It is not a matter of how traditionally masculine you are; it is a matter of skill, passion, and hard work, and this applies to not just K-pop artists, but to everyone and anyone around the world.
So, hopefully, this guide has given you some useful tips that’ll help you bring out the inner K-popper in your non-K-pop fans. The K-pop world is fast and turbulent, with many new soloists and idol groups popping up each year after prolonged training periods that were often spent toiling away in a cramped-up practice booth. They each have their own colors, own sound, and own identity, so much so, that each person in the world will probably find at least one artist they like – that is, if they can look past the problem of culture and language (especially that of being too lazy/unwilling to read subtitles – it really is not that big of a deal, according to Oscar-winning director, Bong Joon-ho).
Whether you are a multistan or are a fan of one group or artist for life, remember you and everyone else you’re trying to convert into a fellow fan are free to like whomever you want. Just remember to respect and appreciate these K-pop artists – and every person for that matter – regardless of whether you are a fan of them or otherwise. Everyone has different preferences, and this can cause some rifts between those with opposing tastes, but respect, appreciation, and empathy are able to create unity between people of different perspectives, different cultures, and, of course, of different K-pop fandoms as well. Good luck with your quest of charming your friends and family, and make sure to support each other’s favorite artists as well, when you succeed in establishing that private K-pop club! Mutual support, after all, is and has always been the key to the K-pop world’s preceding growth, current peak in popularity, and, hopefully, to its long and even brighter future.