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Case Studies

These case studies explore the attitudes and activities of the global online fan communities of 12 K-pop groups.  These groups have established global fanbases that are active on the Internet. Represented by a variety of Korean agencies, they include all-male and all-female groups as well as large and small groups from a variety of genres within K-pop.  These groups, and their fandoms, are: 

2NE1 • BigBang • f(x) • Girls' Generation (SNSD) • MBLAQ • SHINee • Shinhwa • SS501 • Super Junior • TVXQ •  Aziatix, Epik High 

 Using cultural studies and qualitative methods to curate websites and examine survey results, these case studies reveal the complex dynamics at play in K-pop fandom.   On one hand, K-pop fan communities exhibit a variety of attitudes and activities.  Fan communities that support the same group may hold different attitudes and engage in different kinds of fan activities.  The fan communities for each K-pop group in the case study differ from each other, in part because they reflect the individual persona of the group.  At the same time, K-pop fan communities of the 12 selected K-pop groups share a discourse of support that encourages respect for other fandoms and supports K-pop overall.  The discourse of support emerges from activities specific to K-pop that foster interactive community.  The work of subtitling and translating often involves groups of individuals who work to the benefit of the larger K-pop community.  Fans also collect information and maintain a flow of information, as well as provide fan photos and footage of concerts and appearances. Such work demonstrates that K-pop functions as a gift culture, which Karen Hellekson argues contains three elements: “to give, to receive, and to reciprocate” (144).  Such gifts “may be artworks, as in vids. . . podcasts, fan fiction, or manipulated images.  But they may also be narrative analysis, known as meta, of the primary source or of a fan artwork. . . .The items exchanged have no value outside their fannish context” (114-115). 

Focusing on fan discourse, attitude and activities challenges the effectiveness of theories of fan hierarchies.  Rebecca Williams recounts attempts to describe fan cultures in terms of hierarchies, including Andrea MacDonald’s definition of “executive fans,” individuals who top the five hierarchies of knowledge, fandom level or quality, access, leaders and venue.  However, the centrality of the gift culture as well as transnational and cross-cultural nature of online K-pop fan communities suggest that the executive fan model obscures other important and more communal modes of fan activity.     


Hellekson, Karen.  “A Fannish Field of Value: Online Fan Gift Culture.”  Cinema Journal 48.4 (2009): 113-118.

Williams, Rebecca.  “ ‘It’s About Power’: Executive Fans, Spoiler Whores and Capital in the Buffy the Vampire Fan Community.” Slayage: The Journal of the Whedon Studies Association. 3.3-4 (2004): n.p.  http://slayageonline.com/PDF/williams.pdf