If you happen to be among the countless people who've dismissed K-Pop as vapid, saccharine and content-free – a kind of Korean dance-music answer to Japan's Hello Kitty – you may want to reconsider.
Over the past few months, K-Pop fans have been leading one of the music world's most effective campaigns on behalf of the Black Lives Matter movement. While anonymous hackers have their "we are legion" boast, K-Pop fans actually have the numbers to prove it. With tens of thousands of Twitter accounts at their fingertips, they sent out no less than six billion tweets last year. As Esquire magazine has pointed out, that's approximately "three percent of all tweets sent by everyone in the world."
But with great power comes great responsibility. And much to the chagrin of BLM deniers, K-Pop fans have been responsible for quite a lot of late. Here are a few highlights:
• K-Pop fans hijacked far-right hashtags like #WhiteLivesMatter, #WhiteOutWednesday and #MAGA with an endless stream of K-Pop videos, effectively rendering them useless for the reactionaries who rely upon them.
• K-Pop fans shut down the Dallas Police Department's iWatchDallas app, which was designed for citizens to use as a "portal for videos of civil unrest." When Grand Rapids' police department released its own Big Brother app, K-Pop fan @ngelwy sounded the alarm: "You know the drill! SEND IN ALL OF YOUR FANCAMS!!! CRASH THE WEBSITE!!! MAKE THEM TAKE IT DOWN!!! PROTECT THE PROTESTORS!!!"
• K-Pop fans even ruined Donald Trump's online birthday card. (UNFAIR!)
It gets better. Back in June, after K-Pop idols BTS donated $1 million to Black Lives Matter, their fans organized a fundraising campaign that, using the hashtags #MatchAMillion and #MatchTheMillion, raised an additional million in less than a day.
"Just like BTS," they tweeted, "we were able to donate 1M dollars to help fund: bailouts for those arrested for protesting police brutality, Black-led advocacy orgs fighting against systemic injustice, support for the physical and mental health of the Black community."
So is it possible there's more to K-Pop than its confectionery blend of choreographed EDM, hip-hop and bubblegum pop? Granted, no one is going to mistake BTS and BLACKPINK for Bob Dylan or Public Enemy. But step beyond the linguistic and cultural boundaries, and you might be surprised at what you'll find.
Consider, for instance, BTS bandleader RT's collaboration with Nigerian American rapper Wale on 2017's "Change," a hit single with lyrics about conspicuous consumption, cyber-bullying and racial profiling.
"In America, they've got their situations and we've got ours in Seoul," RT told Teen Vogue magazine at the time. "The problems are everywhere, and the song is like a prayer for change. He [Wale] talks about the police, and problems he's faced since he was a child. For me, I talked about Korea, my problems, and about those on Twitter who kill people by keyboards."
RT's bandmate Suga – whose "Agust D" solo project scored big on the Billboard magazine Rap Album chart earlier this year – echoed RT's comments in a BTS press conference later that same year. "It isn't a BTS album," he said, "if there isn't a track criticizing society."
That was three years ago, which in the world of teen-pop is the better part of a lifetime. So at this point, there's no telling what trends today's K-Pop fans may be following three years from now.
And in a larger sense, that doesn't really matter, because these online activists aren't going away anytime soon. They've already proven that they're more clever and resourceful than their counterparts on the right. They've shown up the hypocrisy of a culture that's more interested in virtue signaling than meaningful change. And, like it or not, they are legion.