Asian Fans Turn Their Back on Korean Pop Culture

  • By Lee Hai-woon

    January 29, 2021 12:10

    Fans in Japan and other parts of Asia are turning their backs on K-pop, Korean soaps, webtoons and other pop culture products even as the rest of the world seems to be embracing them.

    The trend seems to be mainly driven by patriotic spats and resulting anti-Korean sentiment in Japan or China, where national pride is at its most fragile at the moment.

    According to a recent survey by the Korea Foundation, 16 fan clubs with hundreds of thousands of members vanished in China last year, and the number of fans declined by 10 million.

    One trigger was an over-hyped online spat about remarks a member of super boy band BTS made about the Korean War, where China found itself on the losing side. But bad behavior by Korean boy idols also played a role, not least the endemic sexual abuse some K-pop stars got away with at their exclusive nightclubs or in online chatrooms.

    The scandal surrounding the Burning Sun nightclub owned by Seung-ri of Big Bang in particular led to a decline of around 600,000 fan club members in Muslim Indonesia.

    In Japan, the number of paid-up fans fell by 22,000.

    Numbers in Latin America also edged down, particularly in Argentina and Chile. That trend was attributed to excessive K-pop commercialization, which meant that fans simply became fed up.

    But at the same time there has been an uptick in interest in Korean soaps and movies like "Crash Landing on You," "Itaewon Class" and "The King: Eternal Monarch" on Netflix. "Itaewon Class" appears to have found legions of fans among Japanese viewers in their teens to 30s.

    In fact, 12 new fan clubs formed in Japan despite the drop in overall membership.

    Cho Kyu-heon at Sangmyung University said, "The Korean Wave that's being spotted in Japan now is different from the past. We need to take a closer look at the qualitative change in the popularity of the Korean Wave in Japan to maintain the growth momentum."

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