“Apathetic” is hardly the first word that most people would use to describe the general K-pop fan base. “Crazed” might be a more popular choice, or perhaps “devoted” to put a positive spin on it. After all, K-pop fans are the ones that organize fan clubs and charge membership fees. They’re the ones setting up flash mobs to guilt trip their favorite companies into paying a visit to their countries, and sending creepy couple fan art by the boxful to their idols. But still, they are apathetic.
What makes the average K-pop fan so apathetic, then? Something rather simple: they never demand better, or more, of the companies and the idols affiliated. I don’t mean that they don’t bother demanding quantity and the companies don’t respond. Heaven knows those idols promote anywhere and everywhere and there’s mini albums and repackages galore. The thing is, they never demand better. The companies release the same terrible electro-pop songs over and over and the fans lap it up for the sake of their oppas and their noonas. Nobody starts a flash mob in the name of real vocal gymnastics, or protests for the sake of good lyrics, or asks for, heaven forbid, something new. Nobody really looks in earnest for anything above a superficial level.
Well, why should anyone ask for better? It’s just bubblegum pop, right? Not meant to be taken seriously? That assumption, right there, is where the apathy lies. The fans have resigned themselves to things always being just “stupid pop, not meant to be taken seriously.” If they decide not to take it seriously, when will it ever progress? When you don’t ask for something, people will err on the safe side, and assume that you don’t want anything more. And so, the companies have decided that the public doesn’t want, or isn’t ready to handle, anything more. SM Entertainment slaps Super Junior with the same boring dance videos over and over because the fans haven’t proved that they would appreciate anything more than staring at Super Junior’s faces for the entirety of a video. JYP never pulls the Wonder Girls out of the retro rut because the retro rut was what sold them, time and time again.
Listen, your idols aren’t stupid. Sometimes in those cheesy variety shows, you’ll see flashes of wit or a spark of creativity. But those things are always kept under wraps because the media just assumes that people are afraid of anything that requires a little brainpower and attention span. Entertainment companies are afraid of fans being scared off by an intelligent, accomplished idol. As a consequence, the idols all play stupid. They never cut loose with poetic lyrics or sing something from the heart. They never air their views; they never show another side behind those vanilla-bland personas that are meant to reel in the screaming fans. The fans are doing them a disservice by talking down, patronizing, and never expecting more than a wink at the camera, a stupid catchphrase, and vocabulary at the sixth grade level. The low expectations are holding these idols back.
But hey, the idol industry shouldn’t necessarily be doomed to stupidity. Just look at JYJ. They felt not only underpaid and underfed but creatively constricted under SM Entertainment, so they sued to break free. It was a long and hard struggle, but in the end, they got what they wanted. Of course, after all of that, many doors were shut to them. The networks were locking them out and double-crossing them. Cassies worldwide were sobbing into their pillows. Some cried traitor and demanded that they slink back to SM Entertainment’s constricting arms that very instant, for the sake of preserving the group. But a great, great chunk of Cassies did stand by JYJ’s tough decision.They respected that JYJ wanted artistic freedom, and trusted that if they gave them the power to go their own route, they would do great things. Sure, “Ayyy Girl” may have been a crime against humanity. Most of the fan base wants to scrub that collaboration with Kanye West from living memory. But then, something important happened with JYJ: after they got past that first rocky bit, they began releasing good music, with heartfelt lyrics and strong vocals and themes and videos that prodded at the normal limits of idol music. In short, they did something different, and far better than ninety-nine percent of what they had done before in the industry, all because they had the audacity to ask for better, and their fans had the audacity to expect that of them, and push them for it. Sure, it wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t revolutionary in the context of what international fans are used to. But it came from the heart, and it bought them recognition worldwide. Ask, and ye shall receive.
The rallying cry of many foodies and vegetarians worldwide is “Vote with your fork!” Perhaps it’s time the K-pop fan base developed its own rallying cry: “Vote with your expectations!” If you want your idols to do better, you ask for better, not just more. Do you think that the K-pop fan base has fallen into the trap of apathy? What do you think should be done to break out of it?