K-Pop In India
Anyone who frequents the Internet or finds themselves among youngsters may tell you that there has been an explosion of K-Pop fandom in India. A 2021 Twitter survey has found more than 7.5 Billion Tweets with #kpop from the Indian subcontinent, more than any political or sports hashtag ever. These tweets are mostly about Kpop Bands BTS, BlackPink, and NCT. Many K-Pop bands have recognized their fandom in India, most famously when BTS gave their Spotify advertisement in Hindi in 2023.
What is K-Pop?
K-Pop, or Korean Pop, is a musical movement that originated in South Korea. It is an umbrella term used for Korean musicians performing in genres ranging from rock, rap, jazz, folk, disco, techno, EDM, reggae, etc, often fusing it with traditional Korean folk music. Movements like these are not unheard of, there is a growing Desi-Rap movement in India and Pakistan and we saw the rise of the Nordic-Noir movement where bands like Swedish House Mafia spearheaded heavy metal and techno. But the rise of K-Pop has been exponential, unlike anything we have seen in the past. The industry is mainly ruled by 3 big houses, namely SM Entertainment, YG Entertainment, and JYP Entertainment, who have a combined revenue of more than 1 Billion USD.
These are serious numbers for a country whose musical revenue was under 50 Million USD just 10 years ago.
This is because of the philosophy of these media companies. It is similar to what the Chicago Bulls, a team in the NBA (Basketball) leagues, did. Using fashion, performance, and acute marketing, they turned their performers into idols. Much like what the Chicago Bulls did with Micheal Jordan.
Everything is geared towards making these performers world-famous, from changing their names to being trained in dance and singing, to the most minor details like their accents. Their fitness is kept in check by the very best trainers and dieticians money can buy, the best PR agencies monitor their social media presence, and even their personal life is kept in check. Because of investing so heavily in them as individuals, and with strict contracts, they become names as big as The Police, Led Zeppelin, and the Beatles but without controversies.
But is this working in their favor? A BBC report has said that the contracts that these media houses make teenagers or young adults sign are nothing more than “slave contracts”. They are not allowed to be in touch with friends who will not contribute towards their idyllic image, they are made to rehearse without sleep, their voice is subdued and they are only allowed to say and do the things their PR consultants sign off on. If they did not comply with these rules and regulations, they are not only wiped off their stardom and fame but also fined upwards of 100,000 USD. Since this was stipulated in their contracts, the Korean courts allow it as ‘fair trade’.
This has also affected the fans. Their own manufactured image has been working against them. Such idolization of a person eventually goes on to dehumanize them. It makes them seem artificial and unreal, in a word, Fake. But this has not affected the die-hard fans, who go on to spend copious amounts of money on their merchandise and traveling to attend their overpriced concerts.
K-Pop v/s Men?
Recent research has shown that only 10% of the K-Pop fanbase is men. It is the women who make up so much of their revenue and fans. It is a well-known pattern that most of the fans of boy bands are usually women. A recent example would be One Direction. But the number is just too imbalanced with K-pop. A few reasons for this can be -
Fashion - K-Pop has been a reason for a rapid fashion movement as well, which the female-oriented fashion brands have capitalized on.
The Music - The media companies have also hit on genres that women are more likely to listen to. Sidelining Rap and Heavy Metal have a more male following, at least in the mainstream.
The Lyrics - A lot of women have said that they related to the lyrics more than men.
Fetishization - There is an increasing fetishization of ‘feminine men’ across the internet. With terms such as ‘warm and breedable’ being used as compliments to male models and public figures.
Sexualization - This is just a way for these media houses to capitalize on the fetishization. Everything from the vocal training, and dressing to the activities of the men in these Boy Bands is geared specifically to attract a particular fan base.
Most men, though, see this attraction of women to feminine men as something outrageous. You can take a stroll through Reddit and Instagram to find these vilifiers on “dank” meme pages. They equate this feminine quality to homosexuality and Indian homophobia is an omnipresent phenomenon across all generations. Social Science research has shown that this hate towards K-Pop comes from the insecurity of men about themselves.
It must be noted that the Internet-Generation of India is still a minor portion of the population. Across India, feminine men have been systematically discriminated against with a host of slurs being thrown at them regularly. This is not even accepted as discrimination in Indian households but instead seen as healthy social control. The perpetrators of these activities are unsurprisingly, men.
Keeping the homophobia aside (for now), India as a country has also seen historic racism towards the rest of the Asian population. Anyone with similar facial features is ceaselessly berated and verbally abused casually on the streets of even the so-called “modern cities’ of the country like Mumbai and Pune. And hence it is even more baffling how two sides of the same country are at once accepting and vehemently rejecting the K-pop phenomenon. We cannot know what the future holds but it will be interesting to wait and see how this love-hate relationship of Indians with K-Pop pans out.
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