K-pop and social causes: BTS, Blackpink, EXO, Crush, and more are making a change with their global footprint

K-pop and social causes: BTS, Blackpink, EXO, Crush, and more are making a change with their global footprint

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Text: Azrin Tan

So you're not living on the side of stan Twitter, let alone K-pop stan twt (which translates to someone who likes K-pop on Twitter). But surely you must have heard the news when K-pop stans flooded anti-racist hashtags on Twitter and Instagram with K-pop fancams? No? How about when the BTS fandom a.k.a. ARMY, matched their idols' donations of 1 million USD to the Black Lives Matter Foundation — all within over 24 hours? Still no? Well then you should probably read on, because if you're still thinking that K-pop is all but a 'phase' for 'teenage girls', it's time you think again.

In 2020, we've not only seen the pandemic overtake the world as we knew it, but we've been consistently disheartened, and yet, empowered by the increasing amount of discourse surrounding the racial and social injustices happening across the globe. Despite the Black Lives Matter movement's existence since 2013, the notion only took off recently on a global scale. Now more than ever, our social feeds are flooded on a regular with an endless stream of information. And we need to start listening.

And these days — when the biggest means of social change bank on the fury of your words on the WWW — K-pop idols, and their fan bases along with them, possess more power than you think. Their worldwide popularity is without a doubt, and their dominance over popular social media platforms — primarily Twitter and Instagram — is evident as making anything they post a trending topic. Tweets from popular Korean idols such as the likes of BTS and EXO are retweeted by thousands at a time, while Instagram posts from the Blackpink girls rake in the likes almost instantaneously.

So it really should come as no surprise when these Korean pop stars receive overwhelming responses to their thoughts about social causes. Perhaps, if they had so openly shown their personal stances just five years ago, some of these idols may have received flak and negativity for bringing politics into their professional personas. But with 2020 being a limitless year of possible change and necessitated empathy, many of these popular Korean idols have taken to their social media accounts to openly show their support for the Black Lives Matter movement; with the likes of solo artist Crush and Got7's Mark even publicly posting proof of their donations to the movement.

But it didn't stop there. When fans found out about the 1 million USD that BTS had donated to the cause, it didn't take very long after before their ARMY, followed suit: spearheaded by @OneInAnARMY, a notable fan account that frequently organises charity projects to multiple causes, they started the hashtag #MatchAMillion, raising over a million dollars by the next day. The influence of the K-pop boy group is clear as day; but in this case, it was for all the right reasons as BTS' stance of solidarity meant that their ARMY matched their sentiment and rallied their resources to do something greater in response.

Likewise, other K-pop fanbases have shown their hand at tackling the matters of social injustice head on. As the #BlackLivesMatter tweet raged on, the hashtags of the opposing grain: #WhiteLivesMatter and #whiteoutwednesday simultaneously took to the net. But what came in response? It wasn't just heated responses and more enraged tweets: instead, K-pop stans decided to take matters into their own hands. Utilising the power of numerous K-pop fans worldwide, they flooded the hashtags with fancams of their favourite faces instead. Fancams, according to K-pop stan twt, are essentially short clips of videos or GIFs of their idols — ranging from their dances on stage to them walking into the airport. It was as effective as it was hilarious as these K-pop fans sent a clear message: any form of racism was not to be tolerated and auto veto-ed.

And at the frontier of all of this, BTS has proven time and time again that they are a globally driving force for social activism. Since 2017, they have been the leading ambassadors for the UNICEF campaign "Love Myself" to urge youth against discrimination and to #ENDviolence. And as their presence has gained more and more influence globally, so has their confidence and desire to speak out on more social matters. Since their release of hit summer song "Dynamite", their first full English song, they have not only gained more open acknowledgment of their musical talents, but the Korean celebrities now also hold more agency than ever to speak up about the xenophobia they've faced from all their times interacting with the Western-centric industry.

Most recently, Weverse Magazine, the magazine started by BTS' own entertainment company, Big Hit Entertainment, released an in-depth article of the group's trying times during COVID-19: one of them, revealing a racially charged instance by Howard Stern — a popular American radio host. On the basis of the boys' Asian heritage, he had claimed that "there was no way those guys don't have the coronavirus" during their promotional visits to the radio station. Apart from the article release, the BTS boys have also started making more open remarks during their interviews — surfacing the discrimination that they've faced when promoting in America.

And the fans? They're more riled up than ever to protect their beloved idols at all costs. They remain unfazed and unafraid of calling out xenophobic moments that their Korean idols face — even if it's from the likes of popular TV show hosts like Ellen Degeneres. To them — the heartening message, sound and quality of their idols' music is more important than the medium — whether it's in Korean or in English. And so, perhaps if you look a little closer, it makes sense that the Black Lives Matter movement — one that hopes to end all forms of discrimination — is also an empowering one for rising Korean stars like BTS and many others following their lead.