Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Ask a Korean! News: What Happened to JYJ's Internet Station?

The Korean has to throw a bone to all the K-pop fans who visit this blog, right? :) This is actually a fascinating op-ed that shows an aspect of how the celebrity market operates in Korea. Translation below.

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To make sense of the "JYJ Internet Station Case," we must trace back to "Seonggyun'gwan Scandal" (SS), a drama broadcast last fall. SS, which depicted the growth of the Confucian students at Seonggyun'gwan, enjoyed explosive popularity from the "auntie fans" by casting Park Yoochun (25), a member of an idol group "JYJ."

The auntie fans felt for JYJ, who could not appear on television after the drama was over. JYJ, which was formed by suing its former management company for unfair contract and subsequently breaking off from Dongbangshinki, released its first album in September of last year. But the powerful management company requested the television stations to refrain from having JYJ appear; JYJ earned the nickname of "the news desk idols" because they would only show up on news." Many of the auntie fans expressed the strong desire to "help Yoochun follow his dreams." Eventually, a fan who uses a pseudonym of "Helena" (48) came up with the idea to establish an Internet broadcasting station (IBS) exclusively showing JYJ.

JYJ's IBS drew passionate reaction. Amid the cheers of "the fandom's victory" and "justice prevailed," it opened on March 4, a day after the planned opening date because of the server failure by the rush of people onto the site. But certain fans, jealous of the IBS project operated by the newly emerged auntie fans, demanded the IBS to close when it showed the congratulatory interview with Grand National Party Assemblywoman Jeon Yeo-Ok (whom Helena personally knew,) claiming that JYJ is being used as a political tool. Finally, the IBS shut down only four days after its opening.

JYJ IBS case vividly illustrates how our society consumes popular culture. The idol subculture, the mainstream of pop culture, is created by teens but is being nurtured by the auntie and uncle fans. Analyzing the phenomenon in which the star is beloved by the daughter and the mother alike, psychologist Hwang Sang-Min of Yonsei University said, "The older generation failed to form the pop culture particular to its own generation."

The auntie fans loved their stars differently. When JYJ faced difficulty appearing on television, they provided a meaningful alternative in IBS and collectively donated $30,000 [TK: assuming $1 = KRW1000]. The fans organized the volunteers into web development team, publicity team, translation team, etc., and obtained legal advice from an attorney. The girl fans, at risk of losing their hold over the fandom world, criticized that "the ajummas are trying to buy the oppas with money."

The case, which first started as a clash between the girl fans and auntie fans, spread into the form of new versus old fans. The critics of Helena, who denounced "some ajumma who was not even a fan club member at first is now setting up the IBS," were the group that has prided itself of "being the true fans for several years." Professor Tak Hyeon-Min of Sungkonghoe University said such groupings were "a reflection of Korea's follow-the-crowd culture."

The JYJ case would not have occurred if it was not for the small, distorted pop culture market that gives no room to an artist who is shunned by the powerful management company. Lee Moon-Won, a pop culture critic, said: "JYJ's stature has come to a point where it was being dominated by its fans, and then the power struggle within the fandom began."

Before IBS's opening, Helena said: "We wait for the day when IBS disappears because JYJ is free to appear on television." But in the end, IBS disappeared, and JYJ was still banished from television. On April 4, Seoul Central Prosecutors' Office indicted a woman who hacked into Helena's private information for charges of extortion; the woman had been unhappy with IBS's operation. And this is how the JYJ IBS case ended.

JYJ방송국 사건의 전말 [Dong-A Ilbo]

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A couple of thoughts here...

1.  It is not entirely correct that older generation does not have its own pop culture. The pop artists of late 1980s-early 1990s are frequently remembered as legends, and their concerts constantly sell out huge stadia. The more focused analysis would be this:  the older generation, particularly women, did not develop its own pop culture that is explicitly based on looks and sex appeal. Korean women in their 40s and 50s do not exactly have their own version of, say, James Dean.

2.  Is there any equivalent of Korean pop culture ecosystem --vibrant, successful, but largely confined to a small country -- in other parts of the world? The Anglophonic countries (U.S., Canada, Australia, U.K., New Zealand, etc.) share a large pop-culture sphere. Other smaller countries may have pop culture, but such pop culture is not as internationally successful as Korea's. The closest the Korean can think of is Japan, but Japan's population is more than double of Korea's, i.e. naturally larger market. Maybe Hong Kong?

At any rate, the size of Korea's entertainment markets drive a lot of the market dynamics unique to Korea's. Because of the proximity between the star and the fans, the power dynamics among the star, the fans and the management company in Korea are not like their American counterpart at all. As the op-ed alluded, the small television market means that a strong management company has a large sway over television stations. This will be an interesting area of further study.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at


  1. Very interesting post, though the translation isn't up to your usually excellent standard. A bit hard to follow the English in parts.

    Also a little confused about your questions here:
    "Is there any equivalent of Korean pop culture ecosystem --vibrant, successful, but largely confined to a small country -- in other parts of the world?...Other smaller countries may have pop culture, but such pop culture is not as internationally successful as Korea's."

    So are you saying that Korea's popo culture is largely confined to a small country or an international success?

    Korea's pop culture scene strikes me as very interesting for sure. The fervor of the fans seems simply unreal, which seems to be a distinguishing factor from almost every other pop music market around the world. You never hear of Taylor Swift fans stabbing Kanye West. That aside, though, I think many countries around the world have vibrant, successful pop music scenes that are limited only to them or their immediate neighbors. The Spanish speaking countries in particular come to mind.

  2. I think he is trying to say that there are no other countries(with similar size to Korea) that has had the same success with pop culture.

    What is your take on the invasion Korean television by idols? Are idols not only hogging the music spotlight but also the televison spotlight? It seems like there are a lot of idols on variety shows and dramas now. It might be just be my sources because I like reading up on k-pop news.

  3. Feisty,

    Actually the original article was not so great. But you are correct also -- it was not the most careful translation either.

    As to Korea's pop culture, the MARKET is confined to a small country. But the IMPACT is internationally successful. In other words, while K-pop stars are selling well internationally, their viability is utterly dependent on how well they do in Korea's domestic market. And the fact that they need to survive in that small market first seems pretty unique.


    No questions on the comment board please.

  4. Hong Kong's pop culture was fairly successful in the late 80's and early 90's and had a mild following even in South Korea (mainly because of movies I assume). Sometimes I hear references to Leslie Cheung's music in television programs. I've also heard that there were tours by other HK artists to SK during that period. Taiwan has fairly popular artists that is also popular in around Asia, think Jay Chow, Wang Lee Hom, Amei, David Tao are on that list.


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