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K-Pop’s Popularity Abroad: A Case Study Of Jujuy, Argentina

AMERICA

INTRODUCTION

With the imminent American debut of 2NE1’s CL and the raging need of another K-pop fandom to achieve the seal of approval from Americans, one may wonder: Besides the United States, how global is K-pop, really? This “study” will look into it from the POV of a fan living in Jujuy, Argentina.

Jujuy is a small province on the north of Argentina; it has a population density as low as 2.8% of the one observed in South Korea.

mapa_de_argentina

As an Argentinian I can testify that the region is characterized for a high rate of cirrhosis, school desertion, and teenage pregnancy, and the province’s biggest personalities narrow down to the best charango player in the world, a football player with drinking issues, and llamas. Jokes aside, this is important to the point of the study, as I wanted to explore places are not considered K-pop hotbeds and are not targeted by K-pop companies as regions of expansion to see how wide the net of K-pop really is.

Another important factor to consider is the general confluence between Asian and Latin American cultures that manifest. For example, in the Peruvian-Japanese culinary current; as well as the fact that Korean and Asian shows in general are part of public broadcasts in Bolivian and Peruvian television.

Also significant is the state of the music industry in Argentina, with little to no mainstream representation of the pop and hip hop genres, thus allowing for this space to be filled with foreign sources of yoloswag and sister bonds.

The K-pop fandom in Jujuy has its virtual headquarters on K-Pop Jujuy, a Facebook group that nucleates all fandoms. This group organizes ‘Vive Corea‘, an annual event that promotes K-pop and Hallyu.

METHODS AND MATERIALS

An interview of 15 minutes with the general coordinator of K-Pop Jujuy, Micaela Duran, with her serving as the representative of the K-pop community in Jujuy and helping me to diminish costs in the process.

The materials used included: paper (2), pen (1), cellphone (1), screwdriver (5), camera (1), and limbs (2.54×10-3).

RESULTS

Please introduce yourself.

Hello, thanks for coming. I’m Micaela Duran, the general coordinator of K-Pop Jujuy.

KpopJujuy (32)

How did you get started in K-pop and what are your favorite groups?

I started getting interested around 2010-11 when I bought a DVD that featured a Japanese band, Berryz Koubou, and I posted it on my Facebook profile; then a friend commented with a link to the dance practice version of SHINee’s “Lucifer“, and I asked myself, “What’s with these Chinese dudes?” (Laughs). At the same time my sister started watching Bolivian and Peruvian broadcasts of Korean dramas. We started talking with some friends as well, and now I’ve been a K-popper for five years.

My favorite band is pretty irrelevant (laughs), they’re called Big Star, and they’ve been around for three years, but I like them.

Do you find you have a preference for boy groups over girl groups?

Not really, what I look for in groups is versatility, for example: Super Junior is always doing the same thing but it’s mostly because their company keeps giving them the same concepts and it gets tiring; now another case is Big Bang, and they’re always changing, with each member having their own style as soloists but as a group too. I also like AOA, for their concept, same with EXID. So, I don’t really have a preference for groups but for the concepts they’re given and their personalities.

KpopJujuy (13)

Talking about AOA and EXiD, many fans seem to complain about their R18 concepts, are you bothered by those as well?

Not really, I think one should remain respectful. As Argentinians, actually as Latin Americans, we are used to seeing girls with minimal clothing or dancing certain type of songs, so seeing Korean girls do the same thing doesn’t bother me. Usually they want to bring attention to some body parts that aren’t as voluptuous, and they should manage that better (laughs), but the girls should do what they want. For example, 4minute’s “Crazy” had a concept in that line with the movements of the choreography, I think it’s nice as long as they have fun and the fans enjoy it, and as long it’s good there’s no problem.

In relation to your group being “irrelevant”, one could argue that these R18 concepts started because of the high amount of groups debuting since 2012, how do you think that this affects the K-pop fandom and K-pop in general?

I think that K-pop fans are major consumers. I admit that K-pop, right after Coca-Cola, is the biggest expression of consumerism I’ve seen in all my life, I mean, creating a group to sell it massively and companies competing is just like Coca-Cola competing with Pepsi, so I’m not really annoyed by it because companies put all their efforts in creating the best groups, albums, etc. That my favorite group is irrelevant doesn’t bother me either because this means I’m closer to them, it’s easier for me to win one of their albums or for them to reply my letters.

On the opposite side, what are your thoughts on the global impulse K-pop has gotten since 2012 with “Gangnam Style”? Some people don’t seem fond of the idea of K-pop becoming a worldwide thing.

I don’t like it because the fandoms have started to change. When I got started in K-pop, the fans were calm, the term “sasaeng fan” didn’t exist, and they were respectful. Becoming a “massive” thing has caused people calling themselves fans over just one song; it turns into a mainstream movement that I don’t enjoy. If you say you’re a fan, follow them. It may be that you actually like them, but something I really appreciate are fandom names: for instance some ELFs say “I’m a Super Junior fan but I’m not an ELF”, “I’m an ELF”, or even “I’m an onlyELF”. I don’t really like these “levels” of fanaticism, either you’re a fan or you identify as a fan, but there isn’t an “only”, I think that’s pretty discriminatory. There were some issues here with people saying things like “if you don’t have the original CDs you can’t be a fan” and that doesn’t cut it for me: one could be a big fan but not being able to buy the original albums.

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What do you think makes the Jujuy fandom different?

Passion. The passion, not only to know the group, but also to learn about the culture. For example, they’d say, “I saw X idol eating Y on a drama and I want to know what it is.” They really want to learn. In Korea people don’t care that much, or if a new group comes out they just say “I’ll be a fan” and the same with the next group that comes around; but here fans are more hardcore (laughs). We also appreciate the things we buy more; in some places in Korea people throw their albums away as garbage, and for a fan here that would be crazy. You appreciate it more because it’s not close to you.

I’d really like to know what made you organize this event?

First, my fanaticism for K-pop. Secondly, my fanaticism for the Hallyu, because we don’t only like K-pop but also the Korean culture “for export”, as we want to learn more about it. And, as a personal goal, I do this for the youth because I see so many fights. It’s an expo to showcase the Korean culture of which I emphasize two things: the respect they have for each other, towards the eldest. Here, for instance, you get killed for a cellphone that’s sold afterwards for 200 pesos (around $20), where’s the respect for life? On the other hand it’s the will to improve as a country, and I wish we could imitate Korea, as even though it’s a small country that was attacked by North Korea, Japan, and China, they’ve moved on and I want that to happen here, I want us to develop. It’s not only about K-pop; we want to make something good for society.

How long does it take you to organize this expo?

We’re currently in this expo and we’re already thinking on the next one (laughs). It’s really troublesome here in Argentina because of the taxes involved, so we have to hire and rent many things. It’s not as simple as saying “let’s rent a place and make an expo”, we need to have security and other things. Then there’s the logistic of what we’re showcasing, something new we have this year are these cabinets with material sent from the Korean Cultural Center that supports us. We also have the new animation and movies stand that I considered were really important because sometimes we watch a movie and we don’t ask ourselves, “Who did this?” For example, ‘Kung Fu Panda 2‘ was directed by a Korean woman, she won an award because of it and she’s directing the third movie, and most times we ignore these things, so we also want people to know that Korea is very close, very current, stuff like cellphones, cars, etc. We also organize the dance competitions and the prizes we’re giving; inviting the fandoms so they can participate … it’s a lot of work. There are two of us running this and luckily we haven’t fought yet (laughs). This year our families supported us a lot: my mum, she’s a genius, she was helping me out. It takes a lot of time and we’re just two people, but there are many girls committed to the cause.

Where do you think K-pop is heading in general?

I think K-pop is much related to the culture, like I said this culture “for export”. K-pop will continue to grow here as long as the Korean Cultural Center keeps supporting this, and you can see it in the competitions. I think it will have great impact globally because Korea is finding its space among the current pop and electro singers, so it will continue to grow and it won’t stop.

Something that’s also expanding is the concept of “K-beauty”, with many actresses showcasing the products they use on dramas, Korean brands reaching shelves in the US, etc. Were you interested in this? Do you think it will also continue to grow?

I think so. For example, Maybelline released its own BB cream and it surprised me because before you had to work a lot to get a BB cream, even though it isn’t the same quality. I’ve bought creams from South Korea before and you just need a small amount, the price doesn’t matter but they’re really good quality. The beauty market is geared towards “natural” products and I think that’s important, though I´m not that into K-beauty like other girls.

Before we entered the K-pop fandom we used to dress without caring, and nowadays we’re much better, mostly because we follow the trends they do, and like you said, because of dramas. Personally I don’t follow what did X actress used but I do use Korean cosmetics and I really like them. I believe it will continue to grow, not only K-beauty on regards to cosmetics but also fashion.

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Asian Junkie has readers from all over the world, is there anything else you want to highlight about the fandom in Jujuy for them?

About the fandom? (Laughs) It’s a very assorted fandom like everywhere else, but here we have 80-year-old K-poppers all the way to 0-year-old fans because they’re already K-poppers since they’re in their mum’s belly. In the country, I believe, we’re head-to-head with Buenos Aires because of the magnitude of the event. I also highlight the will to develop the K-pop dance covers, as they want to get better; a group even traveled to Buenos Aires to compete and they’re the second to do it, and it awes me because when people think of Jujuy they think it’s just mountains and no Internet. Not being mean (laughs) but I think this fandom can surpass the fandoms of bigger provinces. I highlight the passion and also not losing our identity, and I always say to everyone “do not lose your identity” because one day a Korean person will come and ask you “what are Jujuy’s traditional foods” and you won’t know the answer; this fandom doesn’t lose its roots. My personal goal is to make ‘Vive Corea’ the largest event in the north.

CONCLUSIONS

K-pop still remains a niche in Jujuy, with only 0.09% of the population showing interest in this event. Even with the official support (including publicity) of both the Korean Cultural Center and the capitol’s government administration, it still can’t yet be compared to anime conventions that triple the amount of attendees. But that appears to be acknowledged and it’s a growing interest they’re still working on.

Significant differences between the K-pop fandom in Jujuy and their other international peers couldn’t be found when comparing their interactions both online and offline, for better or worse.

Further studies are required to establish correlation between the lack of accessibility to official merchandise and fandom craziness.

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