Conflicting Desires: K-pop Idol Girl Groups Flows in Japan in the Era of Web 2.0
This article uses the experience of the female K-pop group Girls’ Generation (SNSD) in Japan as a case study to examine how K-pop represents a different kind of transcultural flows and consumption. It focuses on how the promotion and production strategies of SNSD differ from previous K-pop groups. It explores the “idol” and marketing strategies of Korean agencies in Japan. It reveals the conflicting responses to such strategies by the female fandom and critics of the Korean cultural movement, Hallyu. Within the context of a definition of K-pop limited to “idol” music, K-pop groups such as BoA and TVXQ that achieved a measure of success in Japan prior to SNSD did so by engaging in localization, speaking and singing in Japanese and collaborating with Japanese producers. Conversely, SNSD did not engage in such localization processes: they cannot speak Japanese and spend considerably less time promoting in Japan. K-pop marketing strategies mirror Japanese aidoru (idol) system, with the training of individuals who sing and dance. Korean agencies modeled early Korean idols on Japanese idols, and go further by “adopting globally popular cultural elements form Japan and the US, then repackaging and manufacturing culturally hybridized products. Finally, they resell these repackaged products overseas, sometimes even back to its point of origin” (5). Using the idol management technique of “K-pop traineeship,” SM Entertainment, SNSD’s Korean agency, creates a wide range of images associated with the group and uses online strategies, especially social media such as YouTube, to promote the group. In part, they foster fan participating by encouraging filming at concerts and uploading of fan content. Such promotion is made even more effective by branding by the Big Three Korean agencies.
While such promotion strategies encourage the female fandom, it has also generated an anti-Hallyu backlash led by Japanese men. Such critiques “see all practices relevant to consumption and distribution of Korean popular culture as anti-Japanese” and “signifies Korea’s potential threat to Japan’s entertainment industry” (7). Like the promotion of K-pop, such critique uses the Internet to spread its views. Female fans also use the Internet to show their perceptions of K-pop groups. SNSD allows young girls to “represent their sexualized desires” through cosplay, cover dancing and the emulation of fashion and hairstyles. At the same time, the Japanese media exhibits a male gaze by objectifying SNSD through its coverage.