You probably know someone who likes K-Pop or who did like it at one point. Or you probably have an auntie who watches K-dramas, and a cousin who knows where all the good Korean food spots are. If you’re being really honest, all of this might even be you (it might be me too lol).
I’ve had one too many conversations where, after I share my research topic, people respond, “Oh yeah I know heeeeaps of (other) Pacific people who love K-Pop. I wonder why?”
I really don’t know the answer to that question (though I’m hoping to have some idea by the end of the year) and I feel that because K-Pop was such a niche interest to have early on. The fan experience was super personal and internalised in many respects. Some Pacific peoples I know became fans because of their siblings, making it even more personal. So the K-Pop fan origin story is different for everyone (sounds like a cop-out ay haha).
Despite having different entry points into K-Pop, later in life there are distinct ways Pacific peoples have engaged with it that can only be reconciled through an Indigenous lens. I’m mainly thinking here of the creation of groups (read: safe spaces), online and offline, which have aimed to bring Korean culture fans together. Fan pages such as NZ BTS ARMY and NZ KPOP FANS, creative collectives such as The Legacy Project and dance communities such as KDA (the ones who dance in Freyberg Square every weekend!) have Pacific and Māori people either as part of their founding members or currently at the helm.
I’m not saying that the creation of community is unique to Te Moana-Nui-a Kiwa, just that the creation of community by Pacific peoples in Aotearoa around something like K-Pop, seems to be.
The diasporic, migrant, minority, multilayered nature of this engagement with K-Pop, which notwithstanding its global appeal is still a non-Western form of popular culture, is too interesting to miss waxing lyrical about. The fact that this is taking place within the settler colonial context of Aotearoa is even more interesting!
In the latest iteration of the Perceptions of Asia survey from Te Whītau Tūhono (Asia New Zealand Foundation), one of the findings was that after Asian New Zealanders, Pacific peoples in Aotearoa were the most frequent consumers of Asia-related entertainment (.i.e. games, films, TV, movies, pop music etc.). Furthermore, 28% of Pacific survey respondents said that they were ‘interested’ or ‘very interested’ in learning an Asian language, compared to 18% of Pākeha survey respondents. I have heard anecdotal evidence that in recent years, there has been an identifiable increase of Pacific students taking Korean language courses here at Waipapa Taumata Rau even!
Overall, these findings affirm that New Zealanders are consuming Asia-related entertainment with greater frequency, particularly those under the age of 30. In addition, people living in Tāmaki Makaurau rate their self-assessed knowledge levels of Asia as high and feel that within Aotearoa, they have the strongest connection to Asia. This would make sense, given that most Asian New Zealanders live in Tāmaki and there is more exposure here to Asian culture via festivals, entertainment offerings (I mean, shoutout to the critical mass that enabled RRR to be shown in cinemas here in 4 Indian languages) and of course, food!
If you connect these data points with the stats that we all know – that Pacific peoples are fast-growing, young and based mostly in Tāmaki Makaurau – the picture becomes clearer: Pacific peoples are doing THE most when it comes to engaging with Asia in terms of entertainment and culture. This is obviously alongside Tangata Whenua and Asian New Zealanders, for whom the trends, especially demographic, are pretty similar!
I think the reason why it’s been difficult to see these threads of cultural engagement is because it’s been happening beneath the surface and in the margins (true to that diasporic/migrant/minority point made earlier). But now that demographics are changing and K-Pop is becoming more mainstream, these threads are much more visible.
There are other cool components to the story that can’t be fully explored here – the potential influence of ancestral connections with Asia, the classic 90s anime cartoon diet for Kiwi kids, the Diversity Stage at Polyfest and of course Parris Goebbel choreographing for some of K-Pop’s biggest acts.
But really, all of this is just to say – your obsession with K-Pop (and anime) is statistically valid AND totally backed up by a nuanced narrative, so pop off fam!
PSY’d note: what K-Pop song(s) should you listen to based on your degree? (in classic chaotic K-Pop fan style, these suggestions are influenced either by the title or the deep & meaningful stuff. No in-between)
- Arts: TWICE – The Feels or TAEYANG – Vibe (feat. Jimin). We’re always about the feels, the vibes, the nuances, the grey area
- Science: f(x) – 4 Walls. Those long lab hours must be brutal fam. BTS – DNA is a good one too
- Engineering: Stray Kids – Maniac. Dunno why, but it gives….engineering.
- Medicine and Health Sciences: 2PM – Heartbeat. An oldie but a goodie.
- Education: Taeyeon – Weekend. You guys deserve the best weekend vibes
- Law: BIGBANG – Bang Bang Bang or ITZY – Mafia in the morning. You see where I’m going with this lol.
- Commerce: Lisa – Money or NCT U – Boss. Nuff said.
- Fine Arts: IU – Palette or Girls’ Generation – Genie. Creative output is high-key magical
- Music: Red Velvet – Feel My Rhythm. Samples Bach & the MV was even released on the composer’s birthday ayyy
- Dance Studies: anything by SHINee. Like, you have too! Or Block B – Shall We Dance
- Architecture/Design/Urban Planning: EXO – El Dorado or Yubin – Lady. Second one has classic city pop vibes!!
- Social Work: LE SSERAFIM – Antifragile. Coz you guys are anything but fragile, sheesh
- Sport: BTS – Blood, Sweat and Tears. For obvious reasons lol.
- Special mentions –
- Language majors: Super Junior – Lo Siento (feat. Leslie Grace). Has 3 languages in it. Not sure how it works but it does.
- Math majors: Lee Hi – 1,2,3,4 or AKMU – 200%. K-Pop is big on numbers lol.
- Those specialist Masters degrees (like Earthquake Engineering, Marine Conservation, Conflict and Terrorism Studies etc.): Seulgi, SinB, Chungha & Soyeon – Wow Thing
- Doctoral students: NewJeans – ETA. Because seriously, when will we arrive at that full word count?
For everyone: 2NE1 – I am the best and EPIK HIGH – Up. Two great K-Pop hype songs. Smash the rest of the semester e hoa mā!