You’ve heard of BTS, the Korean pop group that has taken the world by storm with their attractive charms, addictive music, and altruistic personas. BTS has successfully globalized the K-pop genre through marketing ingenuity, creating an infectious wave of idolization from fans who call themselves the “ARMY” around the world — reaching even the UW.
This has spawned communities of passionate, dedicated, and like-minded fans called “stans.” Linked together by their favorite group, these fans are powerful agencies with an international presence, known for their strong conviction. They also venture beyond the music itself into topics such as political activism.
In a period of rampant anti-Asian hate crimes and global racism, it is important to recognize the powers and dangers of stan culture in an anti-racist movement.
Reflecting on my experiences growing up as an Asian person, I have been the brunt of many Asian jokes that spawned from stereotypes. Living in a predominantly white countryside of the U.K. during my school years, I simply accepted the reality that my visage was different from everyone else, and I would always be made fun of for my “unconventional” features. This marginalization was a product of a white beauty standard set by society — blue eyes, tall nose, and light skin. The powerful beauty industry lacked diversity and sent a message that had us believing that our facial features were undesirable.
But then came K-pop, a phenomenon that has reached not only Asian countries but also predominantly white countries, where these Asian idols are now being celebrated for their beauty — albeit beauty that has been heavily influenced by Western standards. K-pop’s obsessions with pale skin, double eyelids, and tall noses are all evidence of colorism and white celebration. This wave of cultural imperialism has also been adopted by neighboring Asian states such as China, and a look at any of China’s most celebrated female beauties lists will reveal the extent of Western influence.
However, the men's K-pop beauty standard tells a different story. Although the male “ideal” is also plagued by the obsession with Western standards, Western expectations of masculinity are not necessarily present.
Compare celebrities such as Michael B. Jordan and Channing Tatum, both recipients of People Magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” designation, to visually renowned K-pop idols such as Cha Eun-woo, and the deviation becomes extremely glaring. The traditional Western beauty standard of a “masculine” visage is now being challenged, and the stan culture is here to support this movement.
In 2018, a Greek TV show criticized K-pop idols for looking like a woman as they went through the 100 Most Handsome Faces of 2018. One of the panelists said that K-pop idol Kang Daniel “should have been on the other list,” referencing the list of attractive women.
After this incident, stans mobilized to criticize the TV show and its host on Twitter and all over social media, expressing their dismay and disappointment.
As we progress into a more globalized world, diverse cultures and social movements are key components of chipping away at ethnocentric standards. Stan culture acts as a facilitator of the K-pop movement and, by extension, the anti-racism movement.
Although stan culture has contributed to progressing anti-racist sentiments, it is also important to recognize the harm that it can do.
It should be no surprise for anyone who regularly surfs the web to know that K-pop stans are not generally well liked. If you search up “why are kpop fans...” on Google, the top suggested searches are “why are kpop fans so annoying” and “why are kpop fans so sensitive.”
These ill sentiments stem from toxic behavior associated with K-pop stans, and stan culture in general.
“I’ve seen a lot of cyberbullying, [and] not only between stans of different groups,” Catherine Mae Tolentino, a third-year English undergraduate who has been in the K-pop scene since eighth grade, said. “People in general have been very toxic over the internet on Twitter and Instagram.
Over the years, we’ve seen the K-pop community attempting to cancel celebrities and other artists. Jason Derulo, KSI, and Charlie Puth have all been victims of this “cancel culture” from K-pop stans, which is ironic — the most toxic stan community is canceling other people for own behavior. These stans seem to have a misplaced sense of justice, attacking every criticism and opinion about their favorite idols without internalizing that critique for their own community’s behavior. The K-pop community is full of toxic users, which has even resulted in the creation of a Twitter page that lists blocked problematic K-pop stan accounts.
“I’ve personally ran into some toxic fans from the ARMY fandom, so it kinda gives off a bad vibe about stan culture,” Tolentino said.
This toxic behavior, although conducted by a small minority of the stan culture, reflects poorly on the community as a whole and may delegitimize their positive efforts. It is important for the public to not generalize stans, but it is even more important that the stan culture continues to condemn the toxic minority, in the name of anti-racism.
Reach contributing writer Max Cheung at email@example.com. Twitter: @maxtszc
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