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K-Pop band uses fan reaction videos as a promotional tool

Photo for K-Pop band uses fan reaction

BTS at the 31st Golden Disk Awards. (Photo: AJEONG_JM via Wikimedia Commons, 2017, CC BY 4.0.)

At the Center for Korean Studies, Michelle Cho argued that U.S. music producers would follow the lead of K-Pop boy band BTS and begin using fan-made reaction videos as a promotional tool.

By Kevin Sprague (UCLA 2018)

UCLA International Institute, March 14, 2018 — Music may be universal, but its distribution is not. In an increasingly digital age, consumers are no longer restrained by discovering new music in record stores or on radio stations. The music industry has turned to hashtags, retweets and viral videos as a means of connecting fans and artists.

This shift was the focus of a talk on March 5 at the UCLA Center for Korean Studies, led by Michelle Cho, Korea Foundation assistant professor of East Asian studies and world cinemas at McGill University. In her talk, she analyzed the dynamics of the dedicated social media fan base of South Korean boy band BTS.

Cho argued that seemingly candid behind-the-scenes videos of band members engage fans on an emotional level, inspiring them to unofficially promote the group in the form of viral reaction videos and v-logs (i.e., video blogs). This fan-created content plays a crucial role in translating the appeal of BTS to international audiences.

Social media offers a path to stardom

“BTS’s social media presence is the key to their popularity in North America and beyond, as well as the reason [why] they can sell out stadium shows from Sydney to Osaka to Santiago,” Cho explained. The seven-member South Korean boy band seized the attention of the American pop music press after winning a Billboard Music Award in May 2017 for "Top Social Artist,” a fan-voted category that recognizes social media impact (as measured in Twitter hashtags and retweets).

“The group's masterful use of Twitter has jolted both South Korean and American pop industries to attention,” said the speaker. “Their highly engaged fan base epitomizes a powerful market.” They currently boast over 13 million followers on Twitter, which no doubt contributed to the half a million tickets sold during the group’s international 2017 “Wings” tour.

The band’s dedicated fans refer to themselves as “A.R.M.Y.,” an acronym for “Adorable Representative M.C for Youth.” The moniker is reflective of the constant tropes of boyhood and youth employed by the band, as well as the near-militaristic levels of devotion prevalent among BTS enthusiasts. According to Cho, this passion and diligence stems from fans’ perception of an intimate connection to the band members, which they achieve through seemingly candid digital content.


Michelle Cho spoke on boy band BTS and viral fan videos at the Center for Korean Studies. (Photo: Kevin Sprague/UCLA.)

“Across BTS’s social media channels, there is an ongoing accumulation of footage ostensibly showing the group members as they really are, further emotionally engaging their fans,” Cho explained. The band frequents the Naver V Live app, which allows BTS members to stream short live broadcasts to thousands of fans at a time. In these videos, the bandmates speak less formally, tell jokes and respond to fan questions.

The BTS YouTube channel hosts more than 400 stylistically similar “behind-the-scenes” videos, which have accumulated millions of views. “These videos are a construction [that] rely on viewers comparing seemingly informal content with the band's heavily stylized and produced music videos,” said the speaker. She emphasized that although the v-logs of BTS do not seem as professional as their music videos, both were created by the same producers.

The perception of candidness, underlined the speaker, is integral in attracting new fans. For example, Cho played an interview clip in which the band’s leader, Rap Monster. explained that “when someone first gets interested in our music, they can search YouTube and see our chemistry, they can follow us all on social media. It's easy for our fans to get to really know us right away.”

Reaction videos create perceived intimacy

As noted earlier, one unique strategy the group has employed to achieve crossover success is the use of reaction videos — a specific subgenre of online self-documentary or v-log [that] records the spectacle of K-pop consumption,” explained Cho.

Reaction videos capture fans’ unfiltered and affected responses to their favorite artist’s music videos and live appearances for the vicarious pleasure of their fellow fans. In one such video screened by Cho, a BTS fan recounts her initial exposure to the band during the telecast of the Billboard Music Awards, which inspired her to record her own emotional response to multiple videos of the group in concert. At the end of the video, the fan traces her enthusiasm for the band to the feeling of unity she achieves with the BTS fan community in their efforts to promote the band, as well as her perceived knowledge of the group members’ personal lives.

“This fan embodies the contradiction common among so many A.R.M.Y.,” said the speaker, “[that] of asserting an individualized connection to the band while also claiming a collective function.

“There is a resonance between who the members of BTS are as people, who their fans are as people and the perception that they are all experiencing something together,” said Cho. To illustrate this point, she showed a fan-made YouTube clip that compiled hundreds of fan reaction videos to BTS’s 2017 single, “DNA,” in effect creating a virtual mosaic of BTS supporters.

BTS’s digital marketing, supported by content produced by both the band and its fans, has created an intimacy between fans and an imagined intimacy between the group and its fan base, said Cho.

The speaker predicted that the group’s massive online following would inspire U.S. pop producers to employ similar fan engagement strategies to reach a global audience. “In our media-driven world, isolation can now intersect with engagement, allowing music consumers across borders to band together as a community,” the speaker concluded.

Published: Wednesday, March 14, 2018