Social Media: Changing the Game For Korean Idols


Social media sites such as Facebook are helping in the spread of K-pop around the world

It is no secret that social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, have become increasingly popular in the last decade. Because of the rise in the use of social media, Korean idols are achieving fame on a more international level while also facing privacy invasion and negative repercussions.

Over the past decade the use of social media has steadily increased, to the point where we now could not imagine our lives without its presence. When something exciting happens in your life, instead of telling friends in person it is now custom to post a status on your Facebook, or send out a tweet. The same goes for hearing a new artist that you really like, or seeing a movie that you enjoyed. While these thoughts used to be private, they are now published for an audience of hundreds, sometimes thousands, of other people to see. With all of this information so easily accessible celebrities are finding that their careers can skyrocket or plummet in a matter of hours, depending on what kind of information is being put out about them.

South Korea is not left out of this upward trend in social media use. It was reported that close to 95% of the population has high-speed Internet access, which is higher than most other countries. It has been noted that while countries in the West prefer social media platforms such as Facebook, which are more about connecting with friends, South Korea prefers social media that involves an exchange of opinions with others. It is home to the largest blogging community, second only to China.

It can’t be denied that Koreans are incredibly avid fans of their idols. From the throngs of screaming fans outside of concerts, to the fan art that has Internet pages dedicated to it, idols are given constant attention and praise by their fans. As one blogger puts it, “K-pop is such an addiction.” Almost every idol or K-pop group has its own official fan club, which becomes a close-knit community where fans can discuss everything about their favorite celebrities, order merchandise, and get the latest information about new music, as well as the idol’s personal lives. While Western artists certainly have strong and dedicated fan bases, they are no competition for these fan clubs.

Since Korea has such a large percentage of Internet users, as well as a huge interest in the lives of their celebrities, it should come as no surprise that social media has become an integral part of K-pop. Fans can easily follow their idols every move through sites such as Twitter, regardless of if the celebrities themselves are posting. If an idol is spotted somewhere, you can be sure that within minutes the news will spread throughout the Internet; if it is an idol’s birthday, that is sure to be a trending topic. Even celebrities who aren’t active themselves on social media sites are still talked about constantly.

Many artists and corporations have taken note of this social media craze and are able to use it to their advantage. Artists can directly communicate with their fans, strengthening their fan base and allowing their followers to feel a personal connection with them. Pictures posted to Instagram can give the fans the feeling that they are right their with their favorite artists, experiencing the same things. Record companies are posting teaser pictures or clips of new songs, building excitement about a new artist or new album. This wouldn’t be possible without the dedication of the fans, retweeting and “liking” posts.

Perhaps one of the most crucial social media platforms for K-pop is YouTube. Prior to the rise of YouTube the fan base of K-pop was pretty much isolated to Korea. Because the music wasn’t as easily accessed or as well promoted anywhere else K-pop artists struggled to break onto the scene in other parts of the world. Now, through YouTube, you can view the latest K-pop music video as soon as it comes out. There are hundreds of YouTube channels specifically for Korean pop and in addition to hearing music fans can also watch interviews or more candid videos of their favorite stars.

One of the more notable K-pop stars to utilize YouTube to their advantage, and probably the first to come to mind, is Psy. His hit song ‘Gangnam Style’ was the first YouTube video to reach 1 billion views and quickly became an international sensation. The song was inescapable for a while and even prominent world leaders such as Barack Obama and David Cameron (the British Prime Minister) have been documented dancing along. It was even hailed as a “force for world peace” by United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon. Psy recently used YouTube to his advantage once again by live streaming a concert on the site, and premiering a new song “Gentleman”.  The use of this social media site has allowed Psy to reach a global audience that wouldn’t have been possible a decade ago.


Psy doing his famous pony dance in the Gangnam Style music video

This increased use of social media and access into the personal lives of stars does not come without ramifications. Especially since K-pop idols are held to very strict standards, a few have come into trouble by posting certain pictures or thoughts that their fans don’t agree with. Many have decided to just remove themselves from social media altogether in order to avoid trouble.

One instance of this comes from K-pop idol IU, presumably accidentally, posting a picture of herself and Eunhyuk, of Super Junior, together in a bed. This immediately sparked rumors that the two were dating and many fans were upset about this. IU didn’t communicate with her fans for nearly a month afterwards, eventually posting an apology and acknowledging that her fans “hearts were suffering”.


The picture of IU and Eunhyuk that caused quite a controversy

There was another social media incident involving members of T-ara.  Group member Hwayoung was injured during a performance and had to sit during the group’s next show. Later, other group members took to twitter and posted statements alluding to the fact that they didn’t think Hwayoung had enough determination. Fans were very upset and felt as though the other girls in the group were bullying their fellow member.

One of the more extreme cases of negative repercussions due to social media activity is from Jay Park, the former leader of 2PM. In August of 2009, Park posted negative remarks on his MySpace page about Korea, such as “Korea is gay”. Although he tried to explain that these comments were made during a difficult time for him when he was missing his hometown of Seattle, this did not stop 2PM fans from participating in violent protests against him. He eventually went back to Seattle and was soon dropped from the group because of his “unforgivable personal life”.

After examining all of the repercussions, both positive and negative, it’s impossible to deny that social media has a growing effect on the world of K-pop. Artists’ successes and failures are easily accessed by a worldwide audience. As both K-pop and social media use continues to grow, the effects are sure to become even more prominent.


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