In this paper I will be discussing identity in communities and networks in the online world in relation to South Korean pop culture in Western countries. This phenonium of South Korean pop culture gaining immense popularity throughout the rest of the world is known as the “hallyu wave” (Anderson, et al. 2014). Specifically, I will be discussing the fans of a Netflix produced Korean Romance drama called “Crash Landing on You” and the fanbase, also known as ARMY, of K-pop boy group BTS, Bangtang Soneydanmeaning Bullet Proof Boys in KoreanBoth of these fans have numerous members all over the globe, especially BTS with the only country without an official fan Twitter account being North Korea (BTS_twt. 2020). To understand the Hallyu wave and the impact it has had on online communities one has to look into the linguistics of international fan interaction and what social media platforms these interactions take place on. Having the English language, specifically American English, as a linguafranka is one aspect of this (Wen, 2016). Where all this interaction takes place is also key in understanding the individuals and communities that thrive there. Social media sites such as Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr are some favourites of fans as they encourage interaction between accounts and people (Abd-Rahim, 2019). Online social media network creates new, vibrant Hallyu communities and identities that could not exist without them.
Social Media websites and anonymity/pseudonymity go hand in hand with many members of fan communities not using their ‘real’ or ‘legal’ name for numerous reasons (Van der Nagel, E., & Frith, J. 2015). To truly understand I asked a few BTS fans as to why they chose to use or not use their legal names and the responses varied widely. One user stated that they simply felt cooler online and wanted a new name to match that new-found confidence, another stated as they live in a very conservative place where being LGBTQ and a fan of an Asian boygroup could seriously impact her relations with family and friends. This theme of wanting to hide an aspect of one’s self from close off-line relationships came up often, one user stated that as they were non-binary there were two reasons as to why they chose not to use their birth name. One was that they didn’t feel connected to their birth name as it was decidedly female in nature and the other was that they didn’t want their family to be able to easily find out about their gender identity as it could pose a danger to them. Only one out of the 21 people who responded to my question used their real name. She stated that she simply did not feel comfortable not using her real name as she believed it was deceiving her followers and did not wish to respond to a name that she wasn’t use too. However, she also stated that she was lucky to have a good family environment and she understands the privilege of having a good connotation to her birth name. Online identities stem from what has come to be an encouraging and supportive online community (Oh, et al. 2014). Many of the twitter users who chose not to use their real names had usernames connected to their interests, with many using Korean celebrities’ names, nick names given to them by online friends and also in-jokes and puns of the online Hallyu community. Without this online community many of these individuals would not have met, communicated or created the online identity they now strongly identify with. There are numerous Korean culture-based communities with Korean music, film, books and art having mass followings, to the point where international companies such as Netflix see reason to create Korean movies and TV shows such as the 2020 release Crash Landing on You to appeal to this large multi-national audience,. BTS specifically used the online networks available to them to promote and communicate with their fans back in 2013 when they first debuted, because they did not have the funds to hold meet and greet events or concerts. This online interaction led to what is now the biggest boy band in the world speaking at the United Nations, having international sponsorships with Puma and selling out stadiums and by proxy a vast international, dedicated fanbase that ha subgroup communities and identities.
“If you’re not on myspace you don’t exist” (Boyd, 2017). Although this quote might seem dated today’s sentiment remains the same, if you’re not on social media you might as well be invisible. This is especially obvious in the Hallyu sphere as the community heavily relies upon online interaction to boost their favourite artists or actor credibility and popularity (Abd-Rahim, A. 2019). Online fan communities all have their own vocabularies, skills, knowledge and even offline dress codes (Abd-Rahim, A. 2019). For example, one of the first questions one will be asked when discuss BTS is, “Who is your bias?” and then “Who is your bias wrecker?” n individual who isn’t fluent in Hallyu vocabulary would not know how to respond. The first question is asking “Who is your favourite member?” and the second is asking “Who is your very close second favourite member?”. Many AMRY , which is the nickname for BTS fans, would dismiss you as ‘not a true fan’ if you didn’t know how to answer these questions as it shows that you obviously don’t spend a lot of time online reading and talking about BTS (Abd-Rahim, A. 2019). This creates a sort of fan hierarchy where certain fans feel as if they are ‘more of a fan’ if they know more Hallyu BTS vocabulary as it shows that they simply know more about the group (Abd-Rahim, A. 2019). These two questions create sub-communities and identities known within the BTS ARMY as Jungkook Biases, Namjoon Biases and Yoongi Biases. Members of each subgroup would all have one specific interest in common and create private chatrooms and even have offline meetups where they all sit and discuss their love for their bias. It could be argue that if you are a fan of BTS but you do not have any online presence outside of email, in the eyes of the wider fan community you don’t exist and you could be completely out of the loop when it comes to new content, ticket sales and brand partnerships (Boyd, 2017). For example, for all seven members of BTS (Kim Namjoon, Kim Seokjin, Jung Hoseok, Min Yoongi, Kim Taehyung, Park Jimin and Jeon Jungkook) the ARMY create international online hashtags on multiple social media network sites dedicated to specific birthday celebration. On Kim Seok Jin’s birthday last year, December 3rd, ARMY created numerous hashtags 16 of which ended up being the 17 top tweeted hashtags of the day (BTS And ARMY Celebrate Jin’s Birthday 2020). For a BTS fan offline this whole activity would be completely off their radar and they would miss out on a whole community they could be involved in It could even be argued that you can’t really be a BTS ARMY if you don’t have an online presence.
The 2019 Netflix made Korean romance drama ‘Crash Landing on You’ has had a hugely positive viewer response. The show as an 8.910 rating on IMDb and a 5-star rating on google reviews with over 8500 people offeringtheir opinion from all over the globe (Calliopekaz. 2020). Having Netflix, a huge international media company see the Hallyu market as one in which they should invest proves the scale of the community. Netflix has over 70 Korean drama TV shows, with a few being Netflix creations (Robinson. 2020). Netflix did something quite interesting with Crashing Landing on You, which it doesn’t do for many of its other Netflix originals, it released one episode per week. This is instead of dropping the entire season at one time, like they did with Stranger Things and The Umbrella Academy (Netflix, 2020). The international Hallyu market is in constant need of new content and are very engaged in the online sphere giving, in this case Netflix, free publicity. Having English subtitles available on all Korean media shows the large Western audience that actively seeks out and consumes this content. In this example it is clear that the already present Hallyu community lead to the creation of more Korean content therefore making even more individuals to join the already established social network. This is evident in a review written by an IMBd user who goes by the name ‘Calliopekaz’ stating that Crashing Landing on You was the first Korean TV show or movie they had ever watched and it was “Better than any Hollywood production” (Calliopekaz, 2020). It has also had quite a few fans inspired to write fanfiction about the show with many changing key plot points, such as character death and even the replacing the main characters with other Korean celebrities (Archive of Our Own, 2020). The Hallyu community is incredibly widespread and engaged in the online sphere which is not overlooked by media companies looking for what their next project should be.
A journal article written by Liam Bullingham and Ana Vasconcelos goes into great detail about online identities people create and how this may or may not clash with their offline persona (Bullingham & Vasconcelos, 2013). It is discussed throughout the article that online identities are no less ‘real’ than offline ones, a point that I also found throughout my research talking to members of the Hallyu community (Bullingham & Vasconcelos, 2013). As stated earlier some members feel that their online personality makes them feel ‘cooler’ or ‘funny’. Bullingham and Vasconcelos’ also bring up an interesting point surrounding how ‘avatars’ create a new way in which people can literally be seen online. Users do not have to use their ‘real face’ meaning that they could portray themselves as any gender, age or even their favourite BTS member to show other ‘ARMYs’ that they are a part of the community (Bullingham & Vasconcelos, 2013).
Both BTS and Crash Landing on you have American English throughout their perspective fields with many of BTS’s songs having English titles and choruses with Crash Landing on having spoken English throughout the show. English in this sense is being used as a bridge between the Eastern world and the Western world with script writers and musicians wanting to engage the overseas Hallyu communities as well as use English to attract other Asian audiences who might not know Korean but were taught English is school (Jenkins, J. 2009). There are three dimensions when it comes to knowing English; number 1 is indelibility, “the degree to which one is able to recognise a word or utterance spoken by another” (Jenkins, J. 2009. Pg 17). This level would include native Korean speakers who might recognize the words ‘today we fight’ from BTS’s 2016 song ‘Not Today’ but might not fully understand their meaning (Jenkins, J. 2009.). Number 2 is Comprehensibility, “the degree to which one is able to ascertain a meaning from another’s word or utterance” (Jenkins, J. 2009. Pg 17). This would include people who have studied English throughout school or needed to know it for cultural reasons (Jenkins, 2009.). This group would fully understand the title “Crash Landing on You” but might not be able to translate it into their native language. Number 3 is Interpretability, “: the degree to which one is able to perceive the intention behind another’s word or utterance” (Jenkins, 2009. Pg 17). This dimension refers to individuals who would be able to listen to BTS’s English choruses and understand their meaning and how it fit in with the rest of the song (Jenkins, 2009). It is important to distinguish the level of English ability as each dimension holds together individuals, communities and networks within the greater Hallyu community. Individuals who are fluent in both English and Korean and translate songs, movies and television shows are usually quite well known in the community and create a lot of content for the Hallyu community. For example, a YouTube channel which is dedicated to translating BTS content has over 1.3 million subscribers, with one of their videos getting over 7.4 million views (Bangtan Subs, 2020). In the channel’s description it states, “We are a non-profit, fan based subbing team dedicated to providing translations for international ARMYs.” (Bangtan Subs, 2020). Their subscribers are from all over the globe and they also have a huge following on both Twitter and Tumblr (Bangtan Translations, Twitter. 2020). They translate from Korean to English and then into other languages such as Japanese and Chinese (Bangtan Translations, Twitter. 2020). This small group of individuals has created a whole network surrounding them with BTS fans creating artwork dedicated to them, fans religiously updating their pages to see when they will be able to understand what the latest BTS tweet and they were also the winners of the 2017 BigHit BTS award which gave them a lot of credibility within the BTS network (Bangtan Translations, Twitter. 2020). It is also of note that 15 out of 16 hashtags used on Kim Seokjin’s birthday were in English and not Korean, showing the there is a high possibility that even native Korean speakers would have used an English hashtag to celebrate a Korean celebrity’s birthday. With individuals like this using established social media networks BTS communities all over the globe would not exist as they would not be able to understand and appreciate the content produced.
In summary this paper has discussed how identity, community and social networks are essential to the continued existence of the international Hallyu community. Social media sites have created new identities and identities, such as Jungkook biases groups that would not be possible outside of South Korea without them. Crash Landing on You displays that huge international media companies see that the international Hallyu market is in constant need of new content and are very engaged in the online sphere giving, in this case Netflix, free publicity. Having English subtitles available on almost all Korean media shows and 15 out 16 hashtags for Kim Seokjin’s birthday being in English displays the large Western audience and how English is used as a bridge between cultures. This all amalgamation of media types and the Hallyu community which continues to inspire new content today has created new identities, communities and networks all over the world.