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In the K-pop universe, men are from Mars & women are from Venus

Apoorva Kumble, a copy editor in her 20s, got into K-pop completely bychance around 2014. “I was going through a rough phase at the time. I came across a perfect K-drama, offering me the escapism I needed. After watching a few more Korean shows, I naturally found my way to Korean music as well,” she adds.

So great was her love for Korean culture that Apoorva even travelled to South Korea to experience the culture first-hand. She was a volunteer at a language café in Busan where she spent a few hours a day interacting with clients in English, leading to an exchange of cultural information.

“What started out as fun escapism, became educational for me. I started picking up the language and, eventually, I learned how to read and write it,” says Apoorva.

Like Apoorva, many K-pop fans are so passionate about Korea’s pop culture that they’d love to visit the country, though not allhave had the chance to do so far. And yes, a majority of them are female.

A positive influence on women

Incidentally, K-pop idols from India — Sriya Lenka and Aria — are female and stand testament to the positive influence that K-pop has had and continues to have on the women of India.

According to btsarmycensus.com, 97 percent of BTS fans are female. Even data from girl group fans narrate the same story. According to hellokpop.com, 66 percent of BLACKPINK’s fans are female.

According toKoreajoongangdaily.com, “The industry has generally come to assume that 70to 90 percent of K-pop fans are female. This means that a K-pop artiste’ssuccess virtually depends on support from women.”

A similar situation plays out in India. A male Indian K-pop fan, although not non-existent, is rare. Shravan Subramanian, a finance analyst, probably represents the average Indian male when he says: “K-pop’s perceived overexposure has always been a turn-off to me. The stuff produced in this genre doesn’t make up for the hype. Technically, the music produced lacks depth, soul, texture and context. Maybe because I’m an Indian, I find the music very homogeneous and lacking in diversity, which I expect in a genre.”

Shravan’s view is diametrically opposite to that of Trisha D’Souza, a student who’s been an eager K-pop enthusiast for years. She says: “BTS was my first-ever obsession in K-pop. I think their song Dope was what I listened to first and it was amazing. They’re good at everything, and that’s what pretty much drew me to K-pop. I continue listening to it even now because of how diverse it has become.”

Similarly, Rochelle M, a student who has been an avid K-pop fan since 2016, says: “Their music has many dimensions to it and I feel like I’m being introduced to various genres of music.”

Most groups in Korea have at least one rapper, a vocalist and a dancer, adding diversity to a performance. Also, they don’t just limit themselves to music. Extensive choreographies, game shows, live platforms like Weverse, etc., are part of the K-pop industry.

“What initially got me into K-pop were the choreographies and how in sync the groups were. It was after that, that I really delved into their discographies and was almost instantly hooked onto their songwriting, wordplay etc.,” says Patricia L, a K-pop enthusiast.

Gentle masculinity

So, what else draws young women to K-pop, apart from the diversity? For Rochelle, it’s the “gentle masculinity” that groups like BTS and Seventeen present.

Wearing makeup and occasionally dressing in ‘feminine’ clothing is something that is not out of the ordinary for them. This is a far cry from the stereotypical portrayal of men, especially in India, where being male is all about being macho — think Bollywood stars and their eye-popping, bordering-on-the-unreal muscles. The K-pop idol, on the other hand, comes as a breath of fresh air as they giggle their way through fan engagements.

When it comes to fan engagement, bands like BTS and Seventeen have their variety shows — Run BTS and Going Seventeen respectively — solo artist IU has her talk show called IU’s Palette, and so on. But even K-pop idols are surprised when a male fan turns up. For instance, on BTS’ 10th anniversary this year, RM of BTS hosted a live radio show called ‘It’s 5 pm and this is Kim Namjoon’ where he read messages sent by anonymous fans. During the show, RM got a call from a very enthusiastic fanboy who wanted to talk to his idol. A boy? RM is very, very surprised and excited. But, guess what? Turns out that the fanboy was none other than Jungkook, a fellow band member. Yes, a male K-pop fan is pretty rare!

Is it toxic hero-worshipping?

In fact, the nature of the fandoms riles Shravan. “The toxic hero-worshipping and fandom has gotten way out of proportion. You don’t get a chance to express your opinion freely, as most of them are easily offended by constructive criticism. The fans are ferocious and are always defensive,” he says.

He does have a point. Some K-pop fans tend to get very possessive andaggressive when it comes to talking about their idols. There is absolutely no room for any negative comments. Of course, this is not a representation of the entire fan base, but it is the most vocal and outspoken part and presents itself as the “face” of K-pop fans, says Rayan Sheikh, a rare male fan who likes K-pop, butgets why most males can be turned off by the genre. “Some K-pop fans are overly obsessed at times and perpetuate “Stan” (obsessedand overzealous fans) culture(stanoriginated from a combination of the words “stalker” and “fan”, but has since evolved to become a positive term for fans who are highly engaged and supportive of their favourite celebrities). This is often irritating to men, who associate theactions of the fanbase with the genre itself and assume a “dislike” of K-pop,regardless of whether they’ve actually heard it or not.” says Rayan.

However, there is a slight change now. Fourth-generation groups like Newjeans are slowly bridging the male-female gap in their fandom. Accordingto sportskeeda.com, the ratio of males and females was 6:4 at a recent fan meeting, which shocked most netizens and made the fan meeting go viral. However, there was a lot of concern regarding this meet as some male members were in their late 20s, 30s, and even 40s while the eldest member of the band, Minji, is 19 and the youngest Hyein, is 15 and still a minor. What really was the intention of the male fandom here, netizens wanted to know.

Not many 40-year-olds are K-pop fans. Kunal Talgeri, a writer on technology in India who is in his 40s, says he’s missed out on the K-pop rage even though he’s aware of BTS as a global phenomenon. But, he adds, his wife and 8-year-old son are fans!

Maybe there’s hope there. As the K-pop industry becomes more diverse and inclusive, there will soon come a day when there will be a male group with a male majority in their fandom. As Shravan says, “I wouldn’t write off K-pop completely as there are some straight-up bangers.” That’s definitely not being “delulu” or delusional!

(Published 28 October 2023, 19:57 IST)

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