After weeks of demonstrations and social protests helped reshape the American conversation about race, advocates for the Black Lives Matter movement recently gained a powerful group of allies:
Fans of South Korean pop music, commonly referred to as K-pop, are nothing new in Asia, but they are growing in explosive numbers around the world as bands like BTS, EXO, and Blackpink claim the international music stage. K-pop fans are well known for their passionate adoration of their music idols, and they have developed a ubiquitous social media presence that produces a steady stream of video clips of performances (known as fancams), memes, and other illustrations of online adoration. Social media platforms like YouTube, Twitter, and others fuel the growth of K-pop in the United States since they make it possible for fans to not only watch their favorite acts endlessly online, but also create content that demonstrates their devotion to them.
Increasingly, however, K-pop has stepped beyond fandom into a different arena – social activism.
Last week, amidst the protests that have swept the United States, one of K-pops biggest bands, South Korea’s BTS, shared a tweet in both Korean and English aligning itself with the Black Lives Matter movement. In the statement to its 26 million followers, it wrote, “We stand against racial discrimination. We condemn violence. You, I and we all have the right to be respected. We will stand together. #BlackLivesMatter.” The reaction from its fans was swift, and its fervent fan base, known as ARMY, short for “Adorable Representative M.C. for Youth,” quickly matched the band’s $1 million contribution to Black Lives Matter causes.
But it appears K-pop fans aren’t done being allies with the Black Lives Matter movement. In fact, it looks like they are just getting started.
This week, as Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson came under fire for critical comments he has made about both the Black Lives Matter movement and the recent protests, K-pop fans once again sprang into action. Carlson, the popular host of his own show Tucker Carlson Tonight, gave an incendiary monologue on Monday night in which he questioned the legitimacy of the protests in startling terms.
“This may be a lot of things, this moment we’re living through, but it is definitely not about Black lives. And remember that when they come for you — and at this rate, they will,” Mr. Carlson said on Monday evening.
Following his offensive comments, Carlson was dumped by several of his high-profile sponsors, and in response, the hashtag #IStandWithTucker, began trending on Twitter. But in another act of online activism, K-pop fans started spamming the hashtag filling it with fancams and photos of K-pop stars, essentially drowning out the tweets supporting Carlson.
In some ways, it is not surprising that K-pop fans are stepping up their activism. Much of the world is feeling a surge of interest in ways to step up their attitudes and actions around issues of racial justice. And as the music industry starts to more closely examine how its own actions might have sustained systemic racism in America and around the world, it shouldn’t be surprising that fans will continue to find ways to channel their sense of connection to artists and one another in ways that help the cause.
One thing that is clear. K-pop is flexing its music fandom muscles at a time when the United States could benefit from a surge of activism and allyship in the fight for racial justice. And regardless of whether it is said or sang in Korean, English, or any other language, the sound of people supporting one another is always good to hear.