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K- Popping: Korean Women, K-Pop, and Fandom


Korean popular music (hereafter K-pop) can be understood as an inclusive cultural phenomenon. K-pop fandom constitutes a sizeable portion of this phenomenon and is characteristic, to a large degree, of K-pop culture. However, female fans, especially in Korea, are frequently disdained in mainstream Korean culture, and their fandom has been undervalued and derided. Challenging this negative view of female fans, I autoethnographically examine Korean female K-pop fandom, based on my field research in Korea from August 2015 to September 2016, and from the end of December 2016 to early January 2017. I first introduce and explain various Korean slang expressions describing fandom, including “ppasuni,” a disparaging expression to describe Korean female fans. Drawing upon the concept of musicking (music as an activity people do, functioning as a verb), I chart multiple forms of musicking, which Korean female K-pop fans do before, during, and after concerts. Focusing on musicking during concerts, I analyze fan chanting and singing during musicians’ live performances, also known as “ttechang.” I also illuminate how female fans construct a K-pop soundscape through their different voices around the concert venue. In addition to these music-related fan practices, I explore a wide array of cultures and subcultures that Korean female K-pop fans build. Further, I investigate how Korean female fans perform feminist fandom, as well as how these fans participate in political activities through fandom. Thus, I contextualize K-pop fandom in a range of social and political phenomena. I then propose two concepts to reach a new understanding of K-pop and its female fandom – “K-popping” and “fanscape.” Building on the concept of musicking, I suggest K-pop as an action, and re-conceptualize K-pop as a verb, that is, “K-popping” or “to K-pop.” Also, to avoid confining Korean female K-pop fans and their activities to fan-“dom,” which differentiates and even marginalizes the fans, I expand the terminology for K-pop fan practices to fan-“scape.” This term, “fanscape” can be defined as not only a place or event where fans are present to perform their fandom, but also as a collage of different sounds, images, texts, and activities, which Korean female K-pop fans create.

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