Of the Fans, by the Fans, for the Fans:The Republic of JYJ
In summer of 2011, a large K‐Pop extravaganza featuring the teen idols of the SM label, the largest entertainment management company in Korea, was held in Paris. Some 12,000 fans attended SM Town Live and a similar concert played to a sold‐out audience in Madison Square Garden in New York City. Back home in Korea, the public watched rapt as footages of screaming French girls dancing and crying to the music of K‐Pop flooded the evening news. The state‐managed television stations as well as conservative news media outlets took the opportunity to celebrate Korean national competitiveness in the era of transnationalism and globalization. SM was singled out and praised for contributing to the “cultural conquest” not only of East and Southeast Asia but of the “West,” and for finding an effective way to marry capitalism and patriotism in a potent formula mediated by teen idols. SM rode the wave of such favorable publicity all the way to the bank as the company’s value soared in the Korean stock market. These nationalist celebrations, however, hide uncomfortable and troubled reality of the Korean entertainment industry. Far from being a paradise for aspiring young artists, SM Entertainment is powerful, industrial machinery that maintains complete control over the products it manufactures—the dancing-and-singing teenage boys and girls who are carefully marketed as “idol groups.” The problems associated with this business model erupted into visibility in 2010 over the litigation filed against SM by three members of TVXQ (Tongbangsin’gi), one of the most successful idol groups in the history of SM whose early success in Japan helped pave the way for the global reach of today’s K‐Pop phenomenon. Claiming the invalidity of the “slave contract” that they had signed with SM as minors, Jaejung, Yuchun, and Junsu left the group and formed JYJ. Despite the court ruling in favor of JYJ, the powerful entertainment management industry headed by SM continues to pressure the media against their former protégés, blocking JYJ’s television appearance and excluding their music from K‐Pop charts.
It is in this context of a sustained confrontation between artists and management companies that the role of fans has taken on an unparalleled importance. The JYJ fandom offers a fascinating case study. Organizing both on‐ and off‐line to protect the artists they love and defend their rights as consumers, the fans have catapulted JYJ’s album to the second spot on the year’s list of best‐selling albums. They have also initiated a remarkable array of self‐policed activities, ranging from publicity campaigns to consumer boycotts, against SM. This paper examines the JYJ fandom as an emerging social movement and analyzes both the mechanisms and logics internal to this movement. Moving beyond, the analysis further addresses the connections that this movement forges with other subversive social movements, paying particular attention to the way the JYJ fandom troubles a clear distinction between mainstream popular culture and counterculture. Through such analysis, the paper complicates the nationalist‐driven representations of the K‐Pop as the newest cultural export to ride the Korean Wave.