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K-Pop: An Active Audience Industry

How may audiences be understood as being ‘active’ in their engagement with texts?

Lewis Howes once said that the most important thing is to know your audience. All media texts are created with an audience in mind, making "audience" a crucial topic in media studies.  They play a role in the media equation since it consumes the product after it is generated.

Stuart Hall, a cultural theorist, investigated how readers interpret media texts and asserted that viewers actively participate, not passively. An active audience not only interacts with, but also understands, and reacts to a media text in many ways and can question the concepts it contains. A passive audience is inclined to take the contents encoded in a media text at face value and be directly impacted by the messages as a result. (BBC, n.d.)

According to Hall's encoding/decoding approach, "the degrees of 'understanding' and 'misunderstanding' in the communicative exchange - depend on the degrees of symmetry/asymmetry … between the positions of the 'personifications', encoder-producer and decoder/receiver".(Livingstone, 2000)

Encoding, which emphasizes the construction and coding of information, is the process by which the transmitter delivered specific content in a particular sort of code. Decoding, on the other hand, is the process by which the recipient understood and processed the received code to draw meaning from it. The receiver plays a vital role in media and cultural studies, under Hall's theory. The audience may be viewed as both the message's recipient and information source in the media communication domain of media texts. (Xie , et al., 2022)

Various cultural groups can be found in modern communication. Pop culture is the most well-known of these categories. Pop culture, to put it simply, is every meme, viewpoint, image, and phenomenon that is accepted as normal in culture and has attracted a large following. This engaged audience shapes pop culture in ways that define and produce music, film, and race in it.

Walter Lippmann once said, “It requires wisdom to understand wisdom: the music is nothing if the audience is deaf.” In today’s world, popular music has many different aspects, but K-pop or Korean pop reception and participatory fan culture put all other aspects to shame.

Stuart Hall makes a case for the value of popular culture as a forum for debate. In particular, he writes, “Popular culture is one of the sites where this struggle for and against a culture of the powerful is engaged [...] It is the arena of consent and resistance. It is partly where hegemony arises, and where it is secured” Although Hall's major goal is to analyse if pop culture may serve as a setting where power disparities between dominant and non-dominant groups can be identified, his neo-Gramscian perspective on popular culture is relevant when examining modern K-pop fandoms today. (Lee & Kao, 2021)

In a study conducted by Jin Ha Lee and Anh Thu Nguyen, they noticed over the past few years, K-pop's appeal and persistent fandom have transcended Asia and gained importance in the West. Hallyu, the Korean wave, gained popularity through a variety of channels, but K-pop is one of the factors that contributed to its success. The popularity of Hallyu music has spread to the West because of performers like Psy and BTS, who have amassed billions of views on YouTube. (Lee & Nguyen, 2020)

Meicheng Sun noted in another article that the distinctiveness of K-pop fandom has had an impact on the growth of the K-pop industry. K-pop helps Korea disseminate its cultural values in addition to providing economic benefits. The fandom has set itself apart from the competition by being more marketed and emphasizing fans' material and monetary donations. (Sun, 2020)

Researchers like Sang-Yeon Sung observed that older K-pop fans are no longer pleased with being consumers and are contributing to creating the current generation of K-pop fans by taking initiative to organize fan events to build more connections between K-pop fans, amongst other initiatives. (Sung , 2013)

Researchers stated that the labor of K-pop fans is creative labor that adds to the industry's ongoing expansion and the culture's widespread influence. Self-described K-pop fans work in specialized, management, or unskilled jobs and collaborate with other fans locally and internationally (Sun, 2020).

Fans have an impact on the business through a variety of means, including the development of new audiences, the manipulation of data flow on online platforms, and the creation of alternative discourses to texts provided by the industry. Researchers claim K-pop fan labor, even in its most diverse form, is immaterial work since it continuously creates K-pop-related immaterial goods and contributes to the idols' continued appeal. K-pop enthusiasts create original artwork, fan fiction, translations, music, dance performances, and video and photographic works. Fans engage in a gift economy where they give as opposed to monetizing their creations. Researchers contend that such behavior results from fans' love of the work or their disapproval of the logic of capitalism. Fans have active involvement in the music industry as listeners, performers, producers, and promoters, they even create, market, and consume their own goods to express their commitment to their fandom. Researchers attest that all of this is the result of fans wanting to "repay" their idols for providing them with entertainment. (Sun, 2020)

The sheer scale of the fandom, as well as its diversity and effect, make BTS ARMY an excellent example. It is well known that the ARMY fan base is incredibly devoted and actively engages in a variety of projects to promote BTS and important issues all around the world. The South Korean band BTS, which has seven male performers, has been under the management of Big Hit since June 2013.

BTS's extensive fan interaction on social media, where band members share candid visual accounts of their lives, aesthetic preferences, and analysis of their work, is a major factor in the group's success. BTS's fanbase, known as ARMY, has come together as a unit as a result of their shared experience of development, genuineness, and drive to succeed as musicians. This has allowed BTS's popularity to spread around the globe. ARMY alone has a significant impact. (Lee & Nguyen, 2020)

Even when compared to the relationships between other K-pop groups and their fandoms, BTS's relationship with its ARMY is distinctive.  Every time BTS participates in interviews earns any sort of recognition, etc., they start by thanking and professing their love for ARMY. They give the ARMY credit for each honor they win. BTS's members frequently cite Bang Si-hyuk, their manager and producer, as claiming that the group would not exist without the support of their ARMYs. This proves that the bond between the BTS and the ARMY transcends the limitations of para-social contact. Their interactions are neither exclusively nor unilaterally focused on the artist. Social media connections are intense, taking place in almost real-time, and they are reciprocal. BTS tries to create a sense of community among its fans, so their relationship with ARMY is unique. (Lee & Kao, 2021)

This type of commitment between fans and their idols is successful because the management companies for the idols have great fan responsiveness. An example of this is shown in Blackpink's case when their music video for "How You Like That," used a cultural icon was used in an insensitive manner. Indian Blackpink supporters started a petition against Blackpink's management firm, YG Entertainment, right away in protest at the usage of the Hindu god ‘Ganesha’ in the song video. Four days after the video's debut on June 26, 2020, a new version of it that omitted ‘Ganesha’ was uploaded to YouTube. (Lee & Kao, 2021)

Researchers find that such promptness is consistent in all activities and issues that catch a K-pop fandom’s attention.

Over the years, K-pop fans have used their power to advance causes ranging from education initiatives to human rights campaigns, frequently in the names of the idols they follow. (Bruner , 2020)

When BTS's planned tour in Korea was canceled due to COVID-19, ARMY followed the example of the BTS member, Suga, and donated their refunds from the concert to the disaster relief charity Hope Bridge, raising more than $300,000 in a matter of days. In another case, ARMY created a campaign to match the gift and raised an additional million dollars in little over 24 hours after learning that BTS and Big Hit Entertainment had contributed $1,000,000 to support Black Lives. (Lee & Nguyen, 2020)

ARMYs have extended the scope of their fan activity to socio-political problems in addition to humanitarian endeavors. Concerning sociopolitical issues, such as the COVID-19 epidemic, racial discrimination, the frequent refugee crises, children's rights, and so forth, ARMY has never shied away from speaking out. This is not exclusive to ARMYs; many K-pop fandoms have been involved in sociopolitical matters. (Lee & Kao, 2021)

For example, Armenian K-pop fans posed for photos holding a signboard with Korean writing in the hopes that K-pop lovers all around the world would recognize the dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Since K-pop idols are known to maintain their neutrality on political topics to avoid letting such opinions harm their relationships with fans, any political action performed by them is a significant step forward.

In the idol business, fans are more than just spectators or customers; they actively contribute by working and spending money. In general, fans agree that the accomplishments of their idols are a result of both the idols' efforts and those of the fans who actively devote time, energy, and money to them (Sun, 2020).

The K-pop explosion is also evidence that popular music does not simply migrate from the West to the East; this movement can no longer be viewed as unidirectional, and all the credit is given to K-pop fans. (Sung , 2013)

The world is just starting to witness how the interplay between artists, fandoms, and businesses has changed with K-pop's global development. this level of engagement with media texts proves that K-pop fandoms are prime examples of active audiences, entirely motivated by their passion for the text and the source it comes from.


BBC, n.d. Audience appeal. [Online] Available at:,directly%20affected%20by%20the%20messages[Accessed April 2023].

Bruner, R., 2020. How K-Pop Fans Actually Work as a Force for Political Activism in 2020. [Online] Available at:[Accessed April 2023].

Lee , W. & Kao, G., 2021. “Make It Right”: Why #BlackLivesMatter(s) to K-pop, BTS, and BTS ARMYs. IASPM JOURNAL, 10 October, 11(2079-3871), pp. 2-4, 7, 10-12.

Lee, J. H. & Nguyen, A. T., 2020. HOW MUSIC FANS SHAPE COMMERCIAL MUSIC. Montreal, s.n., pp. 1-2, 5.

Livingstone, S., 2000. Television and active audience. In: D. Fleming, ed. Formations: A 21st Century Media Studies Textbook. Manchester: Manchester University Press, pp. 6-7.

Sung, S.-Y., 2013. K-pop Reception and Participatory Fan Culture in Austria. Cross-Currents: East Asian History and Culture Review, December, Issue 9, pp. 1-2, 7.

Sun, M., 2020. K-pop fan labor and an alternative creative industry: A case study of GOT7 Chinese fans. Global Media and China, 5(4)(389-406), pp. 1-3, 6-7, 12-13.

Xie , Y., Yasin, M. A. I. B., Alsagoff, S. A. B. S. & Ang, L. H., 2022. An Overview of Stuart Hall’s Encoding and Decoding Theory. Multicultural Education, 8(1), pp. 1-2.


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