The differences between being a K-pop fan in 2014 vs in 2021
My idols went from being 10 years older than me, to even younger than me.
In 2011, when I was 10, my Primary 4 classmates had filled their personal diaries with Girls’ Generation trivia and were quizzing one another.
I decided to watch a few Girls’ Generation videos and was immediately hooked, becoming a diehard fan of the girl group until about 2014.
While I continued following their activities after, I was a very casual fan. It was only until 2020 that I returned to the addictive world of K-pop.
While watching a live broadcast of the Mnet Asian Music Awards, I was happy to see member Sooyoung presenting an award, when I noticed people asking who the presenter in the red dress was.
Seeing newer fans ask for the name of the pretty presenter in the red dress made me realise: I’m a fan of a whole new generation of K-pop now. The revelation got me reflecting on how much my experience as a K-pop fan has changed in less than a decade.
1. More access to content
Back in 2011, if I wanted to watch a variety show that the Girls’ Generation members had appeared on, I would need to scour the Internet to find a working link.
When I did finally find videos, they would only be available in 360p quality or lower and would be flipped or cropped strangely. The videos would also be uploaded in several parts with cryptic titles to avoid being copyrighted and removed.
Even then, they would get taken down quickly, so I always made sure to watch them immediately.
It was worse waiting for subtitles for a video, which could take weeks or months depending on how busy the fan-subbers were. Often, the subtitles would also be in broken English.
Now, waiting for working links and subtitles is a thing of the past – broadcast companies usually upload the full HD shows on YouTube, with accurate English subtitles embedded, to reach out to international fans.
2. More idol-fan interaction
In the past, idols seldom had any social media accounts and only Korean fans got to interact with their idols when they met in person.
When Taeyeon was the first of the Girls’ Generation members to create an Instagram account in 2013, it was so out of the ordinary that many speculated that the account was fake. Now, she also has her own YouTube channel and even a public Instagram account for her dog.
She’s not the only one. Idols have infiltrated every social media platform – Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, YouTube, Snapchat. If you name it, they’ve got it. They actively post on their accounts and even respond to fans’ comments.
3. Idols are now younger than me
I was introduced to K-pop when I was just 10, and the youngest member of Girls’ Generation was 20. I thought of them as role models I could look up to and ended up putting them on a pedestal.
When I returned as a 19-year-old K-pop fan in 2020, I was shocked to see there were idols the same age or even younger than me. I remember wondering why idols were getting younger and younger.
Then, I realised that idols weren’t too young – it’s always been normal for idols to debut between 15 to 20 – but I was just getting older. The smaller age gap has helped me to think of idols as people I could be friends with in another life, instead of people who can do absolutely no wrong.
4. More groups and members
Although I only used to focus on Girls’ Generation, I got to know other groups when they were guests on the same show. I generally knew all the K-pop groups, as well as their members.
However, idol groups are a dime a dozen now. And while the standard used to be four to five members per group, the number of members averages at seven to eight now.
There is a perk of the idol industry getting so saturated: With the popularity of K-pop around the world, there are now more foreign members.
NCT currently has a total of 23 members, of which 12 were not born or raised in Korea. With so many foreign members, getting through Chinese and English interviews is a breeze.
5. Streaming is important
Previously, if a K-pop music video was released, most people would watch it on YouTube just once. If they wanted to watch it again, they would download it at a higher quality and save it to their own devices for convenience.
When BoA made a comeback in December 2020, many hyped her up for being “legendary” and the “Queen of K-pop”. Some newer fans asked why her biggest hits had less than 10 million views on YouTube, as having a high view count as the benchmark for an idol’s success is new to K-pop. When a group makes a comeback, fans focus on getting their music videos to at least 100 million views.
While I personally still wouldn’t stream my idols’ music videos, I do find it very satisfying to see a high view count and I have admiration and respect for the people who stream these videos almost religiously.
Coming back to K-pop after just six years, I didn’t expect to get such a “culture shock”. I realised that all these changes were due to the globalisation and immense popularity of K-pop all around the world, as well as advancements in technology.
Although it was overwhelming to have so much content and so many members to recognise, I now realise that K-pop going mainstream is one of the best things that could have happened.
Newer fans will never have to know the struggle of typing every possible combination of words to find a single part of an old reality show. They’ll never have to wonder what their favourite idols are up to when they haven’t updated their official Twitter account in two months. And that is for the better!
With K-pop gaining more and more traction around the world, I can’t wait to see what lies ahead for us international fans.