Some tech-savvy followers of K-pop music have emerged as increasingly active players in American politics, but in the birthplace of the genre, South Korean fans are wary that their favourite artists will be pulled into foreign partisan fights.
Fans of Korean pop artists, including the widely popular BTS, have rallied around major U.S. political movements in recent weeks, using their online communities and mobile apps to encourage participation and donations.
K-pop fans and users of TikTok, a popular video-sharing app, claimed partial credit for inflating attendance expectations at a less-than-full arena at U.S. President Donald Trump’s rally in Oklahoma over the weekend.
Earlier this month, they waded into social media protests against racism and police brutality, with BTS fans matching the band’s $1 million donation to Black Lives Matter (BLM).
“The mobile-based communication channels favoured by the millennial generation provide an effective means to quickly spread their political voices and mobilise support,” said Jung Duk-hyun, a South Korean culture critic.
The donation to BLM fits with a long history of BTS and other groups donating to social and humanitarian causes, including supporting Syrian refugees and efforts to stop violence against children.
But the incident with Trump’s campaign rally sparked new debates among fans in South Korea, who don’t appear to have been significantly involved in that effort. Young South Korean artists rarely get involved with their country’s politics, and many fan forums ban political discussions.
Chang Ju-yeon, a 22-year-old student, said that many Korean fans support BTS-led human rights campaigns, but that the singers should not be used in U.S. politics.
“We’re proud that BTS leads those efforts as global artists, and do want to raise voices together on universal issues that earn everyone’s sympathy,” Chang told Reuters.
“But the artists should stay away from domestic politics, as some people could take advantage of their fame for political purposes and it would eventually come back to hurt them,” Chang added.
A spokeswoman for Big Hit Entertainment, the management label for BTS, declined to comment.
Rosanna Scotto, an anchor for a local FOX affiliate in New York, apologised on Twitter on Monday after some fans criticised her for asking K-pop group TXT about the Trump rally during an interview that day. Group members looked confused and didn’t answer the question.
“Wow. We didn’t want you to ask them that rude question about the Trump rally, that’s for sure,” one Twitter user who identified as a North Carolina-based K-pop fan told Scotto.
Scotto replied, “Sorry…it was trending on Twitter. I had no idea that would upset you.”
A post shared on Sunday on theqoo, a popular fan site, that included U.S. news reports about K-pop fans’ disruptions of Trump’s Oklahoma rally was met with mixed responses.
Although some users cheered and made supportive comments, others voiced concerns it would hurt the artists and the K-pop industry.
“There could be differences among fans about how they relate to their stars in their everyday lives, as some might see their online fan group as an exclusive channel to share their interests and love, and others more actively use it as a broader platform to express themselves,” said Jung, the culture critic.
The campaign for BLM largely garnered support after BTS’ donations, but some Korean fans urged those in the United States to stop “forcing others to give money” and respect the rights of individuals to express themselves.
“BLM was understandable as it was about human rights but it makes me uncomfortable to see my idols pop up in Trump-related news,” one fan wrote on Monday on Weverse, BTS’ official fan community app.