Race and Ethnicity in Fandom: Praxis

K-pop, Indonesian fandom, and social media

Sun Jung

Victoria University, Melbourne, Australia

[0.1] Abstract—Around the world, pop consumers are increasingly accessing popular products through social media. Online fan groups of Korean popular music (K-pop) in Asia have dynamically and transculturally circulated their product through social media such as Facebook and Twitter. In October 2010, Super Junior, a K-pop idol boy band, was ranked as the number one worldwide trending topic on Twitter—ranking even higher than a sensational news story about trapped Chilean miners. Regional fans in Indonesia in particular have been identified as the source of a spike in tweets on this topic. Such a phenomenon illustrates how social media–empowered online fandom enhances cultural flow and affects transcultural pop circulation dynamics. I examine these dynamics by means of the specific case study of K-pop fandom in Indonesia. By focusing on three specific aspects of new media circulation of K-pop in Indonesia—performing immediate transculturations, embodying K-pop, and building intimacies—I contextualize transnationally focused, newly emerging, and social media–deployed cultural circulation driven by online fan practices.

[0.2] Keywords—Cultural circulation; Ethnographic research; Facebook; Fan community; Global cultural economy; Online youth culture; Twitter

Jung, Sun. 2011. "K-pop, Indonesian Fandom, and Social Media." In "Race and Ethnicity in Fandom," edited by Robin Anne Reid and Sarah Gatson, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 8. https://doi.org/10.3983/twc.2011.0289.

1. Introduction

[1.1] In the second week of October 2010, Super Junior, a K-pop (Korean popular music) idol boy band, was ranked as the number one worldwide trending topic on the Twitter weekly chart—ranking even higher than the story of the 33 Chilean miners who were hoisted from captivity after 69 days underground (Mashable 2010) (note 1). This fact is of no small interest to the study of Asian popular cultures, particularly considering how gripped the world was by the epic plight of the miners. Regional fans in Indonesia in particular have been identified as propelling Super Junior to this unexpected top position as their online participation generated a great percentage of tweets. News of the Super Junior Twitter sensation spread across the Internet: US-based Associated Press filed a story on October 13, 2010, noting that Super Junior "gained wider fame in August after a YouTube video clip showing a group of dancing Thai policemen impersonating its members became a pop sensation. The officers shimmied and swung their hips in the five-minute video spoof of 'Sorry Sorry,' a hit song by Super Junior" (http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory?id=11870029). "Sorry Sorry" had already found Internet fame in late 2009 in a YouTube video showing a group of inmates in a Philippine prison dancing to the song, where it garnered over 4.6 million hits. The success and popularity of examples such as these reflect the ways cultural content crosses cultural and national borders largely through grassroots-driven new media circulation, particularly via social media.

[1.2] Around the world, pop consumers are increasingly accessing popular products—music, film, television, and other audiovisual media content—through online social media. Social media refers to "a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, which allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content" (Kaplan and Haenlein 2010, 61). From user-generated content Web sites to peer-to-peer networks, these channels now play a central role in global cultural circulation. With youth consumer groups as central figures, social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter have recently become the fastest-growing media platforms to circulate global cultural products. Scholarly analysis of the creative flows or cultural circulation in the global cultural economy has been framed in a number of ways, including anthropological understandings of exchange (Mauss 1976; Bourdieu 1977; Appadurai 1996), sociological interpretations of the contemporary economy (Castells 1996; Callon 1998; Lee and LiPuma 2002; Thrift 2005; Barry and Slater 2005), and accounts of mediation that are part of what might be called media theory (McLuhan 2001; Bolter and Grusin 1999; Lash 2002). The dominance of these critical perspectives has tended to place cultural circulation and global cultural economies in a conventional domain, largely focusing on mainstream circuits and the formal economy.

[1.3] Here, I evaluate the recently emerging alternative cultural circulation that arises from grassroots participation in online social networking practices. A collective "you" (manifested through the famous Time magazine Person of the Year edition in 2007), made up of individual grassroots/Web users, with the help of Web 2.0 technology (discussed in more detail below), challenges the traditional broadcast principle of centralized content production and distribution. I am aware that these deployments of social media are still shaped by and function within the context of corporate and state control. The hierarchical nature of the Web renders them more suitable for commercial exploitation, where the typical client-server structure gives the owner of the server maximum control over user activity and data. However, I wish to focus on grassroots-driven cultural circulation in social media. This is not to claim that this new way of cultural circulation is completely democratic; rather, the power of grassroots community networks enables bottom-up cultural circulation, which is different from the traditional top-down model that is predominantly led by corporate and state power. There has been a general shift in governance from hierarchy and markets to networks; as Mark Taylor states, "what is emerging at the moment is a new network culture" (2001, 5). Nevertheless, I do not suggest that there is a binary opposition between the two different circulation models; they are still intricately and closely interrelated. As is evident from my example of Super Junior, both old and new media platforms enable transcultural media flow, which exemplifies Henry Jenkins's notion of media convergence, "where old and new media collide, where grassroots and corporate media intersect, where the power of the media producer and the power of the media consumer interact in unpredictable ways" (2006a, 2). I acknowledge the notion of media convergence, but I concentrate on the ways in which cultural content freely flows across multiple media channels and across cultural and national borders through social media–delivered online fan practices.

[1.4] The conceptual framework that I deploy here draws on an important paradigm shift that recognizes how contemporary cultural flows are formed by particular combinations of globalization dynamics and technological innovations. Recent research into culture industries has attempted to map the links between circulation of cultural goods, cultural practices, and economic production within the framework of the changed global culture industry and market environments (Lash and Lury 2007; Pratt and Jeffcutt 2009). Many studies have explored how cultural products increasingly circulate across national borders, a phenomenon emblematized by Arjun Appadurai's five dimensions of global cultural flows: ethnoscapes, mediascapes, technoscapes, finanscapes, and ideoscapes (1990, 1996). The global cultural economy has to be understood as a complex, overlapping, disjunctive order, which can no longer be understood through existing models of center and periphery (Appadurai 1990). However, relatively little work has undertaken a sustained empirical analysis of this phenomenon beyond the conventional center-periphery cultural distribution models. Although many scholarly works discuss global information and cultural phenomena, they often focus solely on Western forms of knowledge and culture, using Western symbols and Western truth claims as the basic structural unit (Raine 2002, 188). For example, while Lash and Lury (2007) reconceptualize an understanding of cultural industries within the context of globalization, their work focuses predominantly on the aspects of (Euro-American) center-to-periphery flows. This ignores the fact that various non-Euro-American global cultural industries have emerged as important sites of creative production and circulation.

[1.5] In terms of technological innovation, media studies scholars like Henry Jenkins have examined how new tools and technologies enable consumers to appropriate and recirculate media content, and how they blur the distinctions between producers and consumers within the conceptual paradigms of participatory culture and media convergence (2006a, 2006b). Such a phenomenon reflects the era of democratization of cultural production (Fetveit 2007), where bottom-up platforms like YouTube have become a core site for cultural distribution (Burgess and Green 2009; Dwyer 2010). Some studies explore how the practices of fan communities are increasingly incorporated within the logics of the media industries (Green and Jenkins 2009; Jenkins 2006b, 144–49; Johnson 2007; Murray 2004; Shefrin 2004). By means of the notion of participatory culture, Jenkins notes that when empowered by new media technologies, "fans and other consumers are invited to actively participate in the creation and circulation of new content" (2006a, 290). By its very nature, online fandom–driven cultural circulation presents a challenge to empirical research, and academic interest in the topic has been sporadic. Jenkins, using the notion of pop cosmopolitanism, briefly discusses how digital media has accelerated Western fandom of Asian popular cultures such as Japanese animation and Hong Kong action films, which has enhanced the transcultural flows of media content (2006b). Nevertheless, in-depth study is still needed of online fan practices on social media that particularly focuses on transcultural circulation of Asian pop content via empirical research methods. Through such an in-depth analysis, we will discover how transcultural online fan networks of Asian pop cultures operate, how large and diverse these networks are, who uses them, what kinds of content they distribute, and how such operations affect actual global cultural industries.

[1.6] Social media fandom–driven cultural flows reinforce changing transcultural dynamics between East and West—dynamics that once operated predominantly within the conventional center-periphery paradigm, and dynamics that were once centered around Western (predominantly US and UK) popular cultures and their consumer markets and industries. In an age of volatile changes in global culture industries driven by technological innovation and globalization dynamics, understanding these online cultural flows is crucial to developing effective grassroots media-based transcultural creative circulation environments. I use the case study of fan groups in Indonesia to examine these dynamics to demonstrate via empirical analysis the integrated phenomenon of the changed cultural market environments of Korean popular music fandom and fan network practices that deploy social media.

2. K-pop fandom in Indonesia

[2.1] Since the early 2000s, Korean popular culture has become broadly recognized and embraced by both Asian and (to some extent) global pop consumers in what is now commonly known as the Hallyu, or the Korean Wave (Chua and Iwabuchi 2008; Jung 2011). Starting from the regional popularity of television drama series such as Winter Sonata (2002) and Full House (2004), the Hallyu phenomenon today also encompasses Korean popular music, or K-pop (note 2). Indonesian youths have embraced many foreign musical forms during the past few decades, and Indonesia has been identified as the fastest-growing K-pop market in Southeast Asia: "Throughout the 1990s, 'alternative' musical genres such as rap, punk, and hard rock, derived from North American and European commercial cultures, captured the enthusiasm of large number of Indonesian youth" (Bodden 2005). After Suharto (the authoritarian second president of Indonesia, in power from 1967 to 1998), Japanese popular culture also became popular in Indonesia, signifying associations with the modern and the cool: "Many Indonesian teenagers and youths [are] attracted to Japanese animation films (anime), Japanese pop music (J-pop or J-rock), and Japanese fast food—such as hoka-hoka bento" (Surajaya 2010, 217). The Taiwanese romantic comedy Meteor Garden became a nationwide sensation when broadcast in Indonesia in 2002, and it remains the most popular foreign drama series in the history of Indonesian television (Heryanto 2010).

[2.2] In large part as a result of cable television and the Internet, Korean popular products have been dynamically distributed in Indonesia since the early 2000s. Beginning with Winter Sonata, which aired in Indonesia and in many other Asian countries in 2003, countless Korean drama series have been broadcast on various local television channels such as Indosiar, a station specializing in Asian dramas from Korea, Japan, and Taiwan. These television dramas have attracted many youth audiences (Ida 2008; Heryanto 2010), and the major sources of attraction include "the good physical appearance of the actors (especially the males), beautiful scenery, glamorous lifestyles, and the characters' successful engagement with the conditions of modern living in big cities" (Heryanto 2010, 220). With youth fan groups as the backbone of the phenomenon, K-pop—predominantly the product of idol girl and boy band music—has also gained recognition in Indonesia; in 2010, over 120 fan-operated K-pop-related events were held, including fan gatherings and Korean pop festivals and concerts. One of the key attractions of K-pop, according to many Indonesian fans, is its modern, cool attributes, in large part originating from Western popular culture forms such as American hip-hop and R&B, European electronic music, and pop and visual elements from J-pop. K-pop produces culturally hybridized global music forms and transcultural imageries, the origins of which are ambiguous (Lee 2011, 39). K-pop is a carefully manufactured hybridized pop product that combines both East and West as well as global and local cultural aspects. The main reason for such strategic cultural hybridization is to meet the complex desires of various consumer groups, which maximizes capitalist profit (Jung 2011).

[2.3] Another key factor in the recent popularity of K-pop in Indonesia is the increased sociocultural dynamism driven by globalization. Krishna Sen and David T. Hill (2000) note that Indonesian media, including television programs, pop music, books, and magazines, is heavily influenced by the world beyond its borders. They note that "in the last two decades of the twentieth century, satellite and digital technologies, and the related financial integration of the world have made it infinitely more difficult to keep foreign cultural products outside national media borders" (13–14). Diversification of cultural media products has been accelerated on the basis of media liberalization processes in the post-Suharto era. The fall of President Suharto's authoritarian regime brought diverse voices and different cultural actions to Indonesian society (Kim 2010, 59). Younger generations in particular had begun eagerly embracing the new kinds of global popular cultures that were flowing into the nation. Ritty Lukose, in a study of globalization and youth in India, discusses how a particular youth group, Liberalization's Children, emerged as a result of India's economic and cultural transformation, driven by the nation's globalization processes. According to Lukose, the youths are "urban, hip, cool, full of ambition, and confident. This construction of the social category of youth directly links the values and attitudes of this new generation to the economic liberalization of the economy and the cultural impact of globalization" (2008, 134). As such, the case of the Indonesian youth reception of K-pop signifies the sociocultural transformation in post-Suharto Indonesia. The recently increased influx of global popular cultures into Indonesia also mirrors the dynamics of capitalism. Japan emerged as the first modern industrialized East Asian country; now others, like Korea and Taiwan, are challenging Western-dominated global capitalism (Heryanto 2010, 210). K-pop products signify the capitalist profit-oriented K-pop entertainment industry sector. Thus, K-pop's popularity in Indonesia refers to the intricate intersection between capitalist desires of the Korean entertainment business sector, the globalized desires of the Indonesian media industry, and the local audiences' desire for cool, modern pop cultures.

[2.4] The scope of K-pop fandom is most evident from the increased number of K-pop-related Web sites, and the situation is similar in other pop markets. For instance, a search for "K-pop" on Google yielded over 86 million results in English; 2,100,000 results in Indonesian; 2,200,000 results in Thai; and 3,100,000 results in Vietnamese (November 1, 2010). On Google Trends, it is evident that the search volume for K-pop has exceeded the one for J-pop since late 2009 (figure 1).

Figure 1. A screencap of a Google Trends (search volume index) result demonstrates the dramatically increased online search volume for K-pop and how it exceeded J-pop, which until recently was the most sought-after Asian pop genre, both within and beyond Asia. [View larger image.]

[2.5] A huge percentage of Web sites appear to consist of fan-generated content on social media. Time magazine reported, "For many artists in Korea's booming music industry, social media like YouTube and Twitter have become crucial tools to reach audiences in formerly hard-to-access markets like the US and Europe" (Yoon 2010). As previously noted, fan community practices on social media increasingly enhance the transcultural flows of K-pop to a large degree. Jenkins notes that

[2.6] grassroots cultural production and distribution demonstrated a demand for Asian content that preceded any systematic attempts to commercially distribute in the West. Yet, we underestimate the impact of these grassroots intermediaries if we see them as markets or even marketers; they also play a central role in shaping the reception of those media products. (2006b, 162)

[2.7] As such, grassroots media plays a key role in the emerging transcultural flows of Asian popular content, enhanced by Web 2.0 technologies, and the social media–empowered online K-pop fandom signifies the phenomenon. When Super Junior became a top Twitter trending topic, it became clear that online fan practices on social media enhance transcultural K-pop flows and enable once-unknown Asian popular cultures to easily reach "audiences in formerly hard-to-access markets" (Yoon 2010). The increasing numbers of social media users in the region support this phenomenon.

[2.8] Indonesia has experienced strong user growth within a fast-rising economy where more and more people are beginning to use social media for sharing daily news and circulating media cultural products. As of October 2010, Indonesia is ranked as the second highest country for Facebook use, after the United States, with almost 30 million users (Socialbakers 2010). Only a month earlier, Indonesia was the third highest country (with approximately 28 million users), after the United States and the United Kingdom, demonstrating the rapid increase of Facebook users in the country. In June 2010, nearly 93 million Internet users visited Twitter worldwide, an increase of 109 percent from the previous year. Indonesia reported the highest penetration, with 20.8 percent of Internet users in the country visiting Twitter that month (ComScore 2010). Significantly, Indonesia is experiencing fast-growing penetration of social media, and such a change in the media environment affects how Web users seek and share foreign cultural content through social media.

[2.9] In what follows, I explore how K-pop fandom in Indonesia demonstrates the ways in which today's pop content travels freely across cultural boundaries as a result of social media–empowered online cultural distribution. I focus particularly on three visible aspects of online fan practices: performing immediate transculturations, embodying K-pop, and building intimacies. I look in particular at how youths in post-Suharto Indonesia now embody these three aspects and play a key role in this transcultural pop phenomenon. With the help of various technologies, the youths choose K-pop to satisfy their desires for cool, modern pop cultures. I do not wish to imply that this small sample group represents all Indonesian youth; Indonesia is a big nation, with a wide range of ethnic, religious, regional, linguistic, and class divisions, and I acknowledge the diversity of the youth population in Indonesia. The members of the youth group that I investigate are well-educated, middle-class urban consumers, as is evident from their English-language skills and their access to advanced media technologies. Furthermore, they belong to a group of enthusiastic fans; they are not an ordinary consumer/audience group. By studying this specific group, I intend to explore one of many cultural phenomena evident in this rapidly transforming media environment of contemporary Indonesia, although my findings may also have relevance for audiences in other fast-changing countries that have undergone globalization.

[2.10] My methodology combines a literature review, participant observation, questionnaire surveys, and interviews. It includes ethnographic research in Jakarta and Jogjakarta during July 2010, where I initially conducted questionnaire surveys on various Indonesian-based K-pop Facebook fan pages. I then conducted a series of open-ended e-mail interviews with this group of pop consumers, Web users, and fans. Finally, I conducted face-to-face individual and focus group interviews with selected interviewees in Jakarta and Jogjakarta. In total, I collected 36 questionnaires and interviewed 13 participants. Three individual interviews and three focus group interviews were conducted. At the time of the interviews, the participants were aged between 18 and 24. Among 36 questionnaire participants, 7 were men and 29 were women; in my analysis, questionnaire respondents are designated with the prefix QR. All the interviewees were women; these interview participants are designated with the prefix IP.

3. Performing immediate transculturations: Near–real-time posting and translating

[3.1] According to the average worldwide traffic of "K-pop" on Google Trends, Indonesian is the third most used language after Vietnamese and Tagalog (the primary language in the Philippines), and the number of Indonesian-speaking users has been quickly increasing since 2009. One of the main driving forces behind K-pop fandom in Indonesia is unquestionably advanced digital technology, and without new media technology, today's K-pop fandom would surely not exist. The strong user growth in social media allows the instant, simultaneous, and multidirectional circulation of K-pop. In Indonesia, users between 18 and 24 constitute the majority of the social media user population—40.55 percent (Hui 2010). This group of young Web users is made up of technology-savvy digital natives who have never known a world without the Internet (Prensky 2001; Palfrey and Gasser 2008). Many of these users, who are keen on playing computer games and updating their Facebook pages daily (if not hourly), exploit the Internet and new media technologies. As Prensky memorably phrased it, digital natives are "native speakers" of the language of computers, video games, and the Internet (2001, 2). Hwang Sang-Min (2004) uses the term cyber new generation to refer to this group of digital-friendly young Web users. According to Hwang, evidence that members of this new generation regard cyberspace as a playground stems from the fact that they genuinely enjoy various online practices such as playing games, creating avatars, and forming communities. In doing so, "they create unique lifestyles [values and attitudes] based on their [shared] experiences in cyberspace" (16). A notable new lifestyle of the digital generation in Indonesia includes transcultural online pop consumption practices, which offer them access to foreign pop content on an everyday basis. The growing number of K-pop-dedicated fan pages on Facebook provides evidence that K-pop is one of the most highly valued forms of pop content in this context. According to my questionnaire survey of K-pop fans in Indonesia, 95 percent of the participants responded that they mostly use the Internet to consume and circulate K-pop products; all but one of the survey respondents chose social media (YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter) as their first preference. This high percentage reflects current online pop consumption patterns among youths in Indonesia.

[3.2] Further evidence of this lifestyle shift is presented by the number of hours fans spend on their online activities. Sixty-one percent of the questionnaire respondents indicated that they are online more than 6 hours a day, and more than 30 percent are online for more than 10 hours every day (table 1). Some stated that they are online practically all day, every day (note 3):

[3.3] [I spend online] 20 hours a day, and for K-pop, I think 15–17 hours. (QR4)

[3.4] Min. 12 hours a day…max. unlimited. (QR24)

[3.5] Well to be honest, I'm (almost) an online freak, and since [I've known about] K-pop, every time I'm online, I always do something related to K-pop itself, whether just chatting with another [K-pop] lover, [looking] for K-pop news, watching live performances, etc. (QR11)

[3.6] It is also evident that they spend most of their online time on K-pop-related activities. Some answered:

[3.7] Online?…hmmmm…10 hrs or more…and I spend almost 24 hrs [on] K-pop activities such as listening to K-pop, browsing, watching, talking. (QR33)

[3.8] Between 8–12 hours, I don't know, but mostly I do spend my time on K-pop things. (QR12)

[3.9] QR33 stated that she spends almost 24 hours a day on K-pop-related activities. Her response seems exaggerated to me; I assume that this is how she emphasizes her dedication to K-pop. She may listen to K-pop while she is sleeping or working via her MP3 player or her laptop. These responses clearly show how Indonesian youths have created a new lifestyle, one explicitly driven by digital technologies.

Table 1. Time spent online by Indonesian youth
Time per Day Spent Online (hours) No. of Study Participants Reporting General Online Activities No. of Study Participants Reporting K-pop Activities
1–2 1 5
3–5 12 13
6–9 11 7
More than 10 11 10
Other 1 1

[3.10] As mentioned earlier, 95 percent of the questionnaire participants stated that they mainly use the Internet to consume and share K-pop content. One of the two notable reasons why they choose the Internet was the lack of K-pop content off-line:

[3.11] In my country, [anything to do with] K-pop is hard to get. (QR1)

[3.12] [There are] no Korean music programs [on] Indonesian Television. So I have to search [for] information using [the] Internet. (QR2)

[3.13] In other words, the culturally insufficient off-line market environment enhances the development of the online circulation of K-pop. In fact, when I visited Jakarta in July 2010, I did not see many shops where fans could obtain K-pop products. The situation in Jogjakarta was even worse: only two shops sold legitimate K-pop products, and the product range was limited. In Hong Kong and Singapore, the situation differs because K-pop products are stocked in major CD and DVD shops in various shopping malls, where they are prominently presented as best sellers. In contrast, in the Manga Dua shopping mall, one of the biggest shopping malls in Jakarta, for example, there was only one small Asian DVD shop, and it sold a limited range of K-pop products.

[3.14] Another reason the respondents choose the Internet was because the K-pop information presented was timely, convenient, easy to obtain, and up-to-date:

[3.15] [I prefer the Internet] because online, I get news about K-pop very quickly. (QR3)

[3.16] Online, [we] can immediately obtain all about K-pop with ease and up-to-date. (QR26)

[3.17] Nowadays [the Internet] is the media [that provides] the fastest way to [be] informed…and I can easily find out about my idol. They're really up-to-date. (QR8)

[3.18] Definitely Internet…because it's easy, cheap, and very fast [to be updated]. TV, cable TV, or magazines [are] usually very slow. And there [are] so [few] K-pop information sources in Indonesia. (QR19)

[3.19] Among the 19 respondents who specified the reasons they preferred to use the Internet, 12 addressed its speed. Unquestionably, immediate updating is important for online fandom. Most fans repost and retweet K-pop content that is initially distributed by K-pop news Web sites such as allkpop (http://www.allkpop.com/), which is popular among overseas fans in particular because of its near–real-time posting. As Johnny Noh, one of the site's cofounders, said, "Our team can translate and have an article up within five minutes of release from the Korean media" (personal interview, e-mail, October 5, 2009). These fans usually obtain this K-pop content—which is translated and rereleased by allkpop—and then repost it on their Facebook or Twitter pages by clicking the "share" button that appears at the bottom of each news item:

[3.20] Usually I post news that I take from international fan forums or other K-pop news site, e.g., allkpop. Then, [I] usually share the linked videos, uploaded 2PM [idol boy group] images. (QR10)

[3.21] Another online platform where fans can access uploaded K-pop content includes Web sites that provide fan-subtitled (fan subbed) content. One such site, ViKi (http://www.viki.com)—the name is a portmanteau of video or visual and wiki—was cofounded by Moon Ji-Won and Ho Chang-Seong, who created the system to break down the language barrier by building a Web-based volunteer translation community (Jung 2010). According to Moon, some popular programs' subbing can be completed within only a couple of hours of its broadcast. Via ViKi, these fans can also easily repost uploaded and translated content on social media using the "share" button that appears near each entry. This environment allows the grassroots circulation of media content through the click of a button, reinforcing the immediate transcultural flows of popular cultures.

[3.22] Social media has thus quickly become one of the most popular platforms for consuming and distributing K-pop among overseas fans. All 36 questionnaire respondents and 13 interview participants have Facebook accounts, and all of them use Facebook to consume and circulate K-pop content. Over 72 percent (n = 26) mentioned that they also use Twitter. About 91 percent (n = 33) chose social media as their first preference for accessing K-pop:

[3.23] I prefer Facebook to make a 2PM fan group…it's easy. I have an Indonesian [2PM fan] group on Facebook named Hot Bunnies. (QR10)

[3.24] Facebook…it's much easier than the other platforms because it has everything I need. (QR24)

[3.25] [I prefer Facebook] because there [is] always up-to-date news, pics, videos and many more. (QR28)

[3.26] Because [Facebook is] so fast to get the info. (QR26)

[3.27] [I use] me2day [Korea's microblogging Web service]. They're really up-to-date, and when you sign into [K-pop stars'] official fan-page you can see their messages for fans [and] you can send them your message too…[on me2day], my idols post their pictures and share everything…I buy K-pop merchandise via Facebook. There are lots of K-pop online shopping [malls] on Facebook. Usually I pre-order to get original products from Korea. (QR8)

[3.28] Usually I use my mobile Internet to [consume] K-pop…using Twitter to mention K-pop idols. (QR10)

[3.29] These fans prefer social media platforms because of their immediacy and ease of use. From my vantage point as an observer, it is evident that a large portion of social media practices of Indonesian fans is dedicated to K-pop fan activities. In this sense, their social networking Web pages are mini versions of K-pop news blogs and fan club Web sites or forums. Thanks to its practical attributes, such as quick and easy setup, simple functions, immediate peer networking, and instant distribution, social media has now become the most popular channel to circulate and share K-pop content among fans in Indonesia and elsewhere.

4. Embodying K-pop: From cover dance to romance stories

[4.1] Indonesian fans use social media not only to consume and circulate K-pop but also to re-create K-pop content. This range of re-creation varies. The commonplace employment of user-friendly software to re-create videos and images online has done much to fulfill Alvin Toffler's (1980) prediction about the rise of "prosumers," whose activities blur the distinction between producers and consumers. Jenkins (2006a, 3) has extended Toffler's work and offered an influential elaboration of media convergence, in which new practices are driven by a participatory culture as participants engage in a dynamic interaction rather than occupy prescribed, distinct roles as producers or consumers. The notions of the prosumer and of participatory culture are reiterated through the concept of Web 2.0, a term coined by Darcy DiNucci in 1999. This term was given to the concept of the Web as "a space for collaboration and reciprocal communication" (Gere 2009, 212). Here, the two keywords for the Web 2.0 environment are participation and collaboration.

[4.2] K-pop fan practices on Facebook among Indonesian fans illustrate this collaborative participatory culture in a Web 2.0 environment. The fans collaboratively re-create K-pop-related texts and images, then distribute their altered content. Two of the most common examples are K-pop cover dance practices and fan fiction practices on Facebook. Covering dance is one of the most common collaborative fan activities worldwide. The term cover usually means a version of a song sung by an artist different than the original singer. However, in the case of fan activities, cover refers to a version of a song or dance performed by fans. It is no longer a surprise to find K-pop dance cover clips created by fans in Peru or Egypt on YouTube. In Thailand, some of the top cover teams dedicated to mimicking K-pop idol groups have gained YouTube fame and have become minor celebrities themselves. Two examples are the Wonder Gays, a dance team that covers the work of the Wonder Girls, a five-member idol girl group; and Ongchelic, a dance team that covers the work of SNSD (aka Girls' Generation), a nine-member idol girl group.

Video 1. Ongchelic cover dance video on YouTube.

[4.3] According to the nationwide joint fan group United K-pop Lovers Indonesia, there are more than 100 K-pop cover teams in Indonesia. At a K-pop cover dance competition held in Bandung in July 2010, over 40 teams attended. Most cover teams have their own Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, and YouTube channels to promote their activities. One of the leading teams is MC Entertainment. According to the introductory statement of their Facebook page, "MC Entertainment is a group which covering Korean idol group from INDONESIA. Inaugurated in September 12th 2009. We're Indonesian but we do love Korea especially K-pop."

[4.4] These fan covering practices highlight the importance of dance to the current popularity of K-pop. According to the interview responses, the well-crafted dance moves of idol stars initially attract many fans. All 13 Indonesian interviewees unanimously identified "amazing dance" as one of the main reasons why they like K-pop:

[4.5] I love K-pop because they can sing very well and dance very well at the same time…whenever I see their dancing, it always makes me feel like I want to dance. (IP6)

[4.6] Compared to J-pop, K-pop has much better dancing. There are many J-pop boy bands, but their dance [moves are] not really good…so-so…But K-pop dance is really good! (IP8)

[4.7] I left J-pop for K-pop…I used to like J-pop like NEWS and KAT-TUN. I saw them dancing, and they danced like…very simple and easy [moves]. Then, when I saw Super Junior, SHINee and TVXQ [idol boy bands], I was like…WOW! They can sing and dance so well! It was so amazing! (IP1)

[4.8] K-pop's colourful and modern…[K-pop] music's similar to American music like R&B, hip-hop and pop and it makes us dance…Indonesian pop groups are a bit boring. I hope they'll become as interesting as K-pop [groups]. (IP2)

[4.9] Many of these fans described their amazement at well-choreographed and well-crafted dance performances by K-pop idol groups (note 4). Some interviewees like IP1, IP2, and IP7 pointed out how K-pop is "modern" and "cool" by comparing it with American pop. Although they acknowledged the similarities between K-pop and American pop, they emphasized the uniqueness of K-pop, particularly the powerful and colorful dance performances of idol groups.

[4.10] According to the fan group United K-pop Lovers Indonesia, over 90 percent of the cover teams in Indonesia are girls and women in their late teens to early 20s. This means that the majority of the K-pop boy band cover teams consist of female members. Among the 13 interview participants, 8 are members of cover dance teams. All of them cover boy bands. One interviewee is a leader of SHiny Girls Indonesia (figure 2), a cover dance team of SHINee. On SHiny Girls Indonesia's Facebook page, the team posts images of real SHINee members as well as of them wearing SHINee costumes; they also post videos of their cover performances and their practice sessions.

Figure 2. SHiny Girls Indonesia was created in May 2009, and all four members are women in their early 20s. They have a Facebook page, "SHiny Girls (SHINee Dance Cover) Indonesia," a YouTube channel (http://www.youtube.com/user/SHinyGirlsSHG), and a Web site (http://shinygirls-shg.blogspot.com/). [View larger image.]

Video 2. SHiny Girls Indonesia cover dance video on YouTube.

[4.11] IP6 mentioned that she loves the cool dance moves of SHINee that she cannot find from the local Indonesian bands:

[4.12] I feel good when I practice SHINee's dances. I never really danced before this group. We love SHINee and we want to be like them…we practice about two days a week if we're not too busy because of exams and stuff.

[4.13] Another interviewee, IP3, said of dance:

[4.14] Boy group dances are much more difficult [such as] Super Junior and TVXQ, than girl groups [such as] f(x) and Tiara. So it takes much longer [to learn]. But it's more fun [to learn boy bands' dance].

[4.15] Significantly, it is not only the physical dance moves that these cover groups attempt to mirror, but also the specific masculine identities of the bands themselves through the adoption of certain props, hairstyles, and other features:

[4.16] I bought shoes very similar to SHINee's shoes, and I found this headphone from online shopping exactly [the] same as theirs. For our performances, we often make our own costumes. We are trying to make [ourselves] as similar [to SHINee] as possible. (IP6)

[4.17] IP3 confessed that she consciously attempts to mimic the hairstyle of Hong-Ki, the leader of FT Island (an idol boy band).

[4.18] It can be argued that their cover dance practices epitomize the ways in which the fans attempt to deconstruct normative gender representations, which in turn reinforces the construction of new Indonesian femininity. Such a questioning of the essentialist notion of gender has been introduced by Judith Butler's concept of gender performativity:

[4.19] Gender is in no way a stable identity or locus of agency from which various acts proceed; rather, it is an identity tenuously constituted in time—an identity instituted through a stylized repetition of acts. Further, gender is instituted through the stylization of the body and, hence, must be understood as the mundane way in which bodily gestures, movements, and enactments of various kinds constitute the illusion of an abiding gendered self. (1988, 519)

[4.20] Here, Butler argues that sexuality and gender are culturally constructed through the repetition of stylized performances of gender in time. By their repetition, these stylized bodily performances establish the appearance of an essential and naturally given gender. Indonesian fan cover practices indeed well signify this notion of gender performativity, through which they attempt to subvert the normative gender representations. They are also simultaneously yearning to embrace a modern coolness by mimicking K-pop dances. In the course of their covering practices, fans want to demonstrate their desire to embrace cool modern pop cultures and to transgress gendered representations. Through mimicking and altering K-pop content, the fans cross regional, cultural, and to some extent sexual boundaries. Web 2.0–empowered participatory culture accelerates these border crossings.

[4.21] Another popular way of practicing participatory cultures within the online K-pop fandom is creating stories. One of my interviewees moderates a Facebook page, "K-pop Iyagi (story)," where she and another K-pop fan write stories based on K-pop song lyrics (http://www.facebook.com/Kpop.Iyagi/). They completed an online series of short stories, Bubble Love, in which each of its 18 chapters is inspired by a different K-pop lyric. Unlike the usual fan fiction texts, Bubble Love focuses on the lyrics themselves, rather than the K-pop artists. The stories in Bubble Love often feature a Korean male character and an Indonesian female character in a romantic relationship usually set in Korea, even though neither author has ever been to Korea. Chapter 8, for example, is inspired by SHINee's song "In My Room" and features a male Korean character, Seon Ho, and Vivian, an Indonesian female character, and offers a sketch of Seon Ho's life in Bupyung, a satellite city near Seoul. My interviewee mentioned that her readers appreciate the modern, cosmopolitan settings of Seoul and the depiction of intercultural relationships because they make the stories more mysterious and exotic. In this example of K-pop Iyagi, K-pop songs have transformed into a new culturally hybridized object created through the collaborative and participatory imaginations of these Indonesian fan writers.

[4.22] K-pop-inspired content—whether a parody video, fan fiction, or other K-pop user-generated content—now appears online from fans all over the world. Through participatory fan practices, fans reinterpret and re-present K-pop on the basis of their diverse desires and imaginations. In the case of Indonesian fandom, fans reinterpret and re-present K-pop content within the conceptual paradigm of embracing simultaneously cool, modern, and exotic foreign culture. An important point here is the way Indonesian youths actively and voluntarily seek, appropriate, and consume new kinds of pop culture to satisfy their emerging desires in this new and modern digital setting. By means of the example of Hallyu in China and Vietnam, Baek Won-Dam (2005, 33, 163) argues that the local audiences in these countries "chose" Hallyu as an "alternative culture" while they were undergoing the process of socioideological changes during the 1990s. Baek notes that after the deconstruction of its socialist structure, China could not find its own cultural identity as it entered the capitalist era, and therefore, it chose Hallyu as a temporary measure to fill the cultural void: "Because there was a cultural vacuum, the marketing strategies of Korean enterprises [such as casting a Korean television drama star Ahn Jae-Wook as a commercial model] unexpectedly constructed Hallyu" (33). Vietnam also chose "Hallyu as a transitional substitute" for its new cultural identity as it transitioned from the premodern cultural system to the modern capitalist system; the reason for this choice was partly the result of the similarities between Korean and Vietnamese cultural traditions (67, 163). K-pop fandom in Indonesia may be similarly understood through the ways in which Indonesian youth "chose" K-pop as an "alternative pop culture" while their country underwent socioideological changes after the Suharto era. Such an aspect is evident from the ways in which a number of interviewees commented on how they expect their own Indonesian pop music to soon become cool and modern. One of the interviewees, IP2, said, "I know there are so many talented Indonesians and they'll make good music soon. Then, I will listen to them." Indonesian youth seek out and create new forms of culture by being actively involved in participatory K-pop fan practices to satisfy their desires until they can engage with their own cool "I-pop."

5. Building intimacies: Talking to Dong-Hae oppa on Twitter

[5.1] Much K-pop fan activity consists of exchanging and sharing K-pop information and news with fellow K-pop fans. The fans feel intense connection to their chosen stars, relevant Web sites, and other users. Since the emergence of Web 2.0 technologies from mid-2000, online fan activity has advanced in the area of Web-based information sharing and social networking. Web 2.0 technologies present new opportunities for developing diverse online community environments and enhancing interactivity, participation, and feedback between individual users. Empowered by Web 2.0 technologies, the Indonesian K-pop fans I interviewed actively share their K-pop experiences with other fans, predominantly through fan networks on social media. Some interviewees mentioned that they first got to know about K-pop through a Facebook invitation from their friends:

[5.2] Last year, I got a Facebook invitation to join the Super Junior fan group page from my friend. That was the beginning [of my interest in the fandom]. (IP12)

[5.3] I have more than 1,000 Facebook friends and over 75% are K-pop fans…I have about 300 Twitter friends and about 90% of them are K-pop fans. (IP1)

[5.4] I have Bulgarian and Turkish friends on Facebook. I call them eonni [big sister] because they're a bit older [laugh]…we often chat about SS501 [idol boy band] oppa [big brother] and we love it. (IP4)

[5.5] I have a Turkish friend and he is a Super Junior fan. Whenever he uploads something [about Super Junior], he sends me the links. I think we have a good connection…and a good relationship [through these fan activities]. (IP2)

[5.6] Many fans indicated that they build networks, especially international networks, through social media–driven K-pop fandom. Because they share a common interest and passion in K-pop, they are able to build instant yet strong emotional connections with each other despite different cultural and national backgrounds. For instance, K-pop fans from different countries often plan and carry out international projects to support their favorite stars. In 2009, the international fan club of K-pop idol boy group 2PM organized a flash mob video competition to support the band. Through such participatory interactions, fans cultivate a sense of connectedness with fellow K-pop fans from all over the world. Paul Booth explains, "As media fandom has moved online, fans have started to use a variety of different means to interact with, and to create, texts. New fans use digital technology not only to create, to change, to appropriate, to poach, or to write, but also to share, to experience together, to become alive with the fan's community" (2008, 515–16). Through participatory fan interactions, K-pop fans build a sense of connectedness and eventually construct a new kind of online youth culture where they share and experience with fellow fans from the other side of the world. In K-pop fandom in Indonesia, fans spend a significant amount of time online each day participating in international Web forums and maintaining their Facebook pages and Twitter feeds. They are eager to cross cultural borders through new media practices such as these. They are willing to experience new foreign cultures, and they are unafraid of meeting new people from different cultural contexts.

[5.7] As I briefly mentioned earlier, fans often participate in international projects through which they easily achieve transnational social networking. A good example in the case of Indonesia is "1,000,000 Facebookers to bring K-pop on Indonesian Television" (1,000,000 facebookers mendukung pembuatan acara Kpop di Televisi Indonesia; http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=112954108751659). A K-pop fan created this Facebook group to encourage the local broadcasting industry to produce and broadcast a K-pop music program. Her initiative soon attracted many local K-pop fans. With the help of some enthusiastic fellow fans, she formed a nationwide joint fan group, United K-pop Lovers Indonesia (UKLI). In August 2011, the number of the group members was over 48,000. In February 2012, UKLI will host Korea Sparkling Festival, inviting many K-pop artists. This will be the biggest Korean culture and K-pop event in Indonesia ever, and it will be the first transnational K-pop event purely planned and organized by fan groups in Indonesia. Such activities signify how online participatory fan practices on social media create transcultural networks and eventually reinforce the cultural flows between Indonesia and Korea.

[5.8] Fans use social media not only to connect with fellow fans, but also to connect with their favorite stars. Many Super Junior fans mentioned that they began to tweet because their oppas have Twitter accounts, and Twitter is the easiest way to follow their daily routines. Dong-Hae from Super Junior, for example, has almost 650,000 followers, and each tweet attracts up to 3,000 comments.

[5.9] I use Twitter and me2day. They're all really up2date, and when you sign in to their official fanpage you can see their message for fans [and] we can send them our messages too…[It's] really fun to chat on me2day where my idols post their pictures and share everything. (QR8)

[5.10] More and more fans are using Twitter because they can communicate with their stars directly…[Compared to Twitter] Facebook is complicated. Twitter is easier to use and updates are much faster. (IP2)

[5.11] I am following Dong-Hae, Hee-Chul and Shin-Dong [of Super Junior]. It's so fun to read their tweets, and see their photos…[It] feels like I know them better now. (IP6)

[5.12] These fans use Twitter in an attempt to both understand their stars and to demonstrate their dedication to them. Many interviewees indicated that Twitter is faster and more immediate than Facebook, and Twitter gives the impression (although this may not of course be followed through in action) of possible direct communication.

[5.13] Star-fan dynamics have greatly changed thanks to Twitter, and fans can now closely observe the daily routines of their idols, updated in real time, thus encouraging a strong sense of connection with the stars. Most importantly, Twitter has changed the dynamics between stars and fans with different national and language backgrounds, and in this sense, Twitter may be seen to some degree as having diminished (if not removed) the language barrier from transnational fandom. In the case of transnational K-pop fandom, there were few adequate channels for communication between stars and their overseas fans before Twitter. Twitter now allows immediate, direct, and constant communication between the stars and their overseas fans. First, this is because there are many translation groups on Twitter who immediately translate K-pop idol stars' tweets as soon as they are uploaded. Second, the stars upload photos and videos that do not require written or verbal explanation. Third, and most important, the 140-character limit of Twitter messages means that non-native-English-speaking K-pop stars and fans often post in short English sentences, thus permitting access to a range of fans from different and non-Korean-language backgrounds. It appears that more and more K-pop stars are communicating with their overseas fans through social media, especially through Twitter. The emergence of Twitter has not only changed the dynamics of overseas K-pop fandom, but has also created a new paradigm of transcultural circulation of K-pop.

6. Conclusion

[6.1] New knowledge, cultures, and lifestyles are increasingly transmitted transculturally, quickly, and easily in this ever more globalized, diverse, and technologically mediated world. The growth of social media since the mid-2000s has rendered various Asian popular cultures—once considered marginalized and difficult to access—now freely accessible as they flow across different national borders. Consequently, it is now unsurprising to see an Australian teenage girl in a tram looking at photos of J-pop boy band Arashi on a Facebook fan page on her iPhone, or a Turkish college student watching the popular Korean television drama series Secret Garden (2010–11) on YouTube on a newly purchased Samsung Galaxy Tab during a class break. Advanced new media technologies (particularly social media) enable global pop consumers to easily access once unknown and marginalized popular cultures, such as K-pop.

[6.2] I have used Indonesian K-pop fandom as a case study to examine how social media–empowered fan practices enhance the transcultural flows of K-pop, and how such flows reflect the changing global cultural industry landscape within the Web 2.0 environment. Particularly noteworthy is the key role that Indonesian youth groups play in this phenomenon. By practicing Web 2.0–empowered participatory culture, they both immediately embrace cool and modern pop products and easily transform and recirculate those products and directly connect to the stars. Most importantly, such participatory practices enable them to cross regional, cultural, and to some extent sexual boundaries, permitting them to satisfy their complex desires within the reorganized post-Suharto social setting of Indonesia. Considering the insignificant presence of both K-pop and Indonesian pop consumers in the global pop market to date, the recent social media phenomenon of K-pop, largely driven by Indonesian youth fan practices, is symptomatic of the changing global cultural industry environment. Social networking sites such as Twitter have been embraced by Indonesian K-pop fans, suggesting that the field of pop cultural consumption is opening up well beyond the traditional US/European-dominated pop scene. Rather than giving the world the new Lady Gaga, K-pop and its demonstrated ability to cross borders may suggest nothing less than a new truly globalized playing field for the next pop phenomenon, be it from Korea, Indonesia, or Bhutan.

7. Acknowledgments

[7.1] Before carrying out field research, I prepared a human ethics application that was approved by the Institute for East Asian Studies in SungKongHoe University (Seoul, Korea).

[7.2] This work was supported by a visiting research fellowship at the Institute for East Asian Studies in SungKongHoe University and a travel grant (ASEAN-KOREA Cooperation Fund) from the Korean Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

8. Notes

1. I use "Korea" to mean South Korea or the Republic of Korea.

2. The term K-pop usually refers to Korean popular music in the overseas market, while K-drama refers to Korean television dramas. According to Stevens, "'J-pop' is widely used by East Asian audiences to describe music from Japan overseas and has become so integrated in a wider East Asian consumer market that this terminology has recently been transformed to describe other Asian pop cultures: 'K-poppu' ['K-pop'] (Korean popular music and culture) is another trend seen in both Japan and other international markets" (2008, 16–17).

3. Most of the participants are not native English speakers and sometimes use Internet-specific terms. I have thus slightly altered the quotations for grammar and clarity. These adjustments have been placed in square brackets.

4. Such well-trained performances are the result of the Korean entertainment industry's strict training system, whereby young idol star wannabes learn to sing and dance. The K-pop training takes a long time—generally 3 to 5 years. For further explanation, see Jung (2011).

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