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Fan Bing Bing is Back! The ‘Missing’ Actress is Ordered to Pay $130 Million & Apologizes on Weibo (Full Translation)

After months of silence, there is finally clarity about the situation of Fan Bing Bing: she is ordered to pay millions, and she is sorry.

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Chinese actress Fan Bing Bing, who has been “missing” for months since she was at the center of a tax evasion scandal, is back in the public eye. Hours after authorities issued the news that the actress has to pay millions in tax penalties, she returned to Weibo with an apology.

Fan Bing Bing (范冰冰), one of China’s most renowned actresses whose disappearance from the public eye has been at the center of a social media storm since July of this year, is back.

Earlier today, on October 3rd, news came out on Chinese state media that the tax investigations by authorities had been completed, with Xinhua News stating that the actress “has been ordered to pay taxes and fines worth hundreds of millions of yuan over tax evasion.”

Other sources said the actress had to pay 883 million yuan in tax fines; approximately 128,5 million US dollars. According to CGNT, the 37-year-old actress will not be held criminally liable if she pays the penalty in time.

 

The Tax Evasion Scandal

What followed after the scandal was months of silence and rumors.”

 

Earlier this year, the news that Fan Bing Bing allegedly received a total payment of 60 million yuan ($9.3 million) for just four days work on the film Cell Phone 2, of which she would have only declared 10 million ($1.56 million) to authorities, became a huge trending topic on Chinese social media.

The tax scandal first came to light when Chinese TV host Cui Yongyuan (崔永元) leaked two different contracts on social media; the one that allegedly showed that the actress was paid a total of 10 million RMB for her work, with another showing a payment of 50 million RMB for the exact same work. These types of contracts are called yin-yang contracts (阴阳合同), an illegal practice to avoid paying taxes.

What followed after the scandal was months of silence and rumors. The actress was last seen in public on July 1st, and social media rumors alleged the actress might have left the country or that she was banned from acting.

Last month, one particularly strong rumor surfaced, saying that Fan had been arrested in Wuxi, in Jiangsu province, where Fan’s studio is based.

Hours after today’s news on her penalty came out, Fan issued an apology letter on Chinese social media site Weibo, in which she expressed shame about her actions. Fan has 62,6 million fans on her Weibo, and the apology letter is the first time she has posted on social media since June 2nd.

 

The Apology Letter

Without the good policies of the Party and the state, without the love of the people, there would be no Fan Bing Bing.”

 

Full letter translation here in English (by What’s on Weibo):


Apology Letter

Over the past period, I have gone through unprecedented pain and suffering, and have done in-depth self-reflection and soul-searching. I feel deeply ashamed and guilty of everything I have done. Here, I want to express my sincere apologies to you.

For a long time, because of the fact that I did not correctly lay out the relations between the interests of the state, society, and myself, I used “split contracts” (拆分合同) for the film “Unbreakable Spirit” (大轰炸) and others, to evade the tax problem, and I am ashamed of that. These days, during the tax authorities’ tax inspections of me and my company, I have been deeply questioning myself the whole time: as public figures, we should abide by the law, and be a role model within the industry and society at large. We should not lose ourselves by putting economic interests first and loosening the supervision, which leads to breaking the law. Here, I sincerely apologize to society, to my cherished friends, to the public, and to the tax authorities.

After completing their investigation, the tax servation services have issued a series of penalties. I fully accept them and will try my best to overcome all difficulties and raise the funds and pay the taxes and fines in accordance with the tax authorities’ finalized penalty order.

I’ve loved arts since I was young, and because I was right on time for the booming developments within the film and TV industry, and thanks to the guidance of my seniors and loving support from the audience, along with my own continuous efforts, I have been able to acquire some achievements within the performing arts. As an actress, I am always proud of being able to showcase my culture in the international limelight, and I’ll do what I can to fight for that goal.

You could say that my every achievement is owed to my country and the support of its people. Without the good policies of the Party and the state, without the love and protection of the people, there would be no Fan Bing Bing.

Today, I feel very disquieted about my mistakes. I let down the country that educated me, the society that trusted me, and the fans who loved me. Here, again, I offer my sincerest apologies to everyone. Please forgive me!

I believe that, after going through this rectification, I emphasize rules, order, and responsibility. While offering everyone good work, I will also supervise the management of my company, engage in law-abiding business, keep my promises, and strive to have a company full of meaningful cultural content so I can bring out positive energy to the whole society!

Once again, to the society, to the fans who have always supported me, to the friends and family who care for me, I sincerely say sorry!

Fan Bingbing

October 3, 2018


On Weibo, Fan’s letter was soon shared more than 135,000 times (and ongoing), receiving ten thousands of likes.

 

The Criticism and Online Control

Especially when looking at my own small salary, I have mixed feelings about all of this.”

 

The comments underneath the letter, however, were severely restricted – by Sina Weibo or by Fan herself-, and only displayed the six reactions of five different people who showed their support and sent their love to the actress.

Elsewhere on Weibo, however, there are more critical responses to the apology letter, with people wondering why the actress did not get any criminal charges for tax evasion, and also questioning the decision to let this story come out during the national holidays.

“From now on, all actors can do tax evasion, and just fix it once it’s discovered,” some netizens respond, writing: “Especially when looking at my own small salary, I have mixed feelings about all of this.”

Others are not too confident that there is still a brilliant future ahead for the actress, although one commenter writes: “It’s ok, if she’s no longer able to perform, she could still be an internet celebrity and do some commercials.”

The more supportive reactions include those saying: “She knows her mistakes and she will correct them, I believe she will only do better in the future.”

The strict control of information flows surrounding Fan’s apology is also attracting attention on social media, with some wondering why the topic is not showing up on the ‘hot search’ or ‘trending’ lists, although it obviously is a big trending topic. “May I ask why such a topic that is all over CCTV is not on Weibo’s trending lists,” one Weibo user asked: “Has Weibo been bribed or something?”

 

The State Media

Those film and television companies and related employees who investigate themselves and correct any [open] tax payments before December 31st, can avoid any potential administrative penalties and fines..”

 

Xinhua News Agency issued an article on Weibo following today’s news, saying that “the case of Fan Bing Bing is a lesson for those in the film and tv industry to obey the law” (范冰冰案教育警示文艺影视从业者遵纪守法).

The article, by authors Bai Ying (白瀛) and Luo Sha (罗沙), was soon read more than 400,000 times.

It called Fan’s case the “biggest yet” when it comes to personal tax evasion in China, and also stated it played a strong role in being an “educational warning” for similar tax violating behavior of others.

Xinhua states that according to Chinese law, people who make false tax returns or evade tax payments for an amount that is more than 10% of the payable tax, can be sentenced to up to three years in prison, along with receiving payable penalties. If that amount is more than 30% of the payable tax, they can be sentenced to a maximum of seven years (and a minimum of three years) in prison.

But the law also states that people can prevent going to prison (or being “held criminally liable”), if they pay their tax payments and the full penalties tax payment within a proposed time frame. They can still be sentenced if they get another administrative penalty.

The state media article, noteworthy enough, further reveals that the State Administration of Taxation (国家税务总局) will carry out “special actions to regulate the tax orders within the film and television industry”: those film and television companies and related employees who investigate themselves and correct any [open] tax payments before December 31 of this year, can avoid any potential administrative penalties and fines (see screenshot of segment below).

Noteworthy segment in Xinhua article.

In other words; this might suggest that there are many other (albeit much smaller) Fan Bing Bing cases out there, and that those involved are now getting the chance to correct themselves in the coming three months to avoid the fines and penalties that Fan does need to pay; meaning that the renowned actress and her tax scandal is used a ‘killing the chicken to scare the monkeys’ (杀鸡吓猴) case, as the Chinese saying goes: punishing an individual to set an example to others.

On Weibo, a typical comment says that the way in which this entertainment industry case was handled “is not really fair to ordinary people,” with many saying: “If you do not have the money or the fame [like Fan Bing Bing], you would be treated as a criminal for much smaller issues.”

By Manya Koetse and Miranda Barnes

Full letter here in Chinese

致歉信

最近一段时间,我经历了从未有过的痛苦、煎熬,进行了深刻的反思、反省,我对自己的所作所为深感羞愧、内疚,在这里我向大家诚恳道歉!

长期以来,由于自己没有摆正国家利益、社会利益和个人利益的关系,在影片《大轰炸》和其他一些合同中出现利用“拆分合同”等逃税问题,我深感羞愧。这些天在配合税务机关对我及我公司的税务检查中,我一直深刻反省:作为一个公众人物,应该遵纪守法,起到社会和行业的模范带头作用,不应在经济利益面前,丧失自我约束,放松管理,以致违法失守。在此,我诚恳地向社会、向爱护关心我的朋友,以及大众,向国家税务机关道歉。

对税务机关调查后,依法作出的一系列处罚决定,我完全接受,我将按照税务部门的最终处罚决定,尽全力克服一切困难,筹措资金、补缴税款、缴纳罚款。

我从小喜欢艺术,又赶上了影视业蓬勃发展的好时机,在诸多前辈的提携和观众朋友的爱护下,加之自己的不断努力,这才在演艺方面取得了一点成绩。作为一个演员,我常为自己能在世界舞台上展示我国文化而自豪,并不遗余力为此冲锋。可以说,我每一点成绩的取得,都离不开国家和人民群众的支持。没有党和国家的好政策,没有人民群众的爱护,就没有范冰冰。

今天,我对自己的过错深感惶恐不安!我辜负了国家对我的培养,辜负了社会对我的信任,也辜负了影迷对我的喜爱!在此,我再次向大家诚恳道歉!请大家原谅!

我相信,经过这次整顿,我会讲规矩、遵秩序、重责任,在把好的作品献给大家的同时,也要监督公司管理,守法经营,诚实守信,争做富有文化内涵的好公司,为全社会传播正能量!

再次向社会,向一直支持我的影迷,向关爱我的朋友家人,真诚的说一句,对不起!

范冰冰

2018年10月3日

 

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1 Comment

  1. awrrw

    October 6, 2018 at 4:29 pm

    That`s how China does business, corruption to the max

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China Arts & Entertainment

Rocking it for a Decade, Beijing Band Namo Catches the Spirit of Their Generation

Beijing band Namo, that brings a fresh sound by mixing rock with Chinese traditional music influences, is celebrating its ten-year anniversary this year.

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Image via Sohu.com

Mixing traditional Chinese music with Western rock influences, Beijing-based band NAMO is one of Beijing’s new generation’s go-to bands. This fall, the band celebrates its ten-year anniversary with a new tour all across China. A short introduction (video here!) to Namo and its style by What’s on Weibo.

Although the Beijing-based ban Namo (Nanwu 南无乐队) has been already rocking it for over a decade, their star has especially been on the rise recently, with their upcoming anniversary tour, titled ‘Ruyi’ (如一) bringing them to concert halls all across China.

The start of ‘Namo’ – a term from Buddishm showing reverence and devotion – takes us back to late 2007, when lead singer Liu Xiangsong (刘相松, 1984), who was born and raised in Shandong, had come to Beijing and founded the band after graduating from the Sichuan Music Academy.

Liu’s education has had a profound impact on the band, with his focus on guitar performance, classical guitar, and Chinese opera. Liu also has a strong interest in Chinese traditional culture and Buddhism, which clearly shines through in Namo.

Namo, with Liu Xiangsong in the front.

Through the years, the band has seen some shifts in its line-up and now is a perfect coming-together of six people with their own strengths and backgrounds.

Besides Liu, the band consists of Zhang Lan (also known as Lanzi 张岚) on guitar and keys, Chen Ying (陈颖) on flute, percussion by Zhang Shuo (张硕), Daniel (丹尼奥) on bass, and drums by Shenzi Jun (申子俊) (主唱:刘相松/吉他手:张岚/笛子:陈颖/贝斯:丹尼奥/鼓手:申子俊/民打:张硕).

A little over two years after the band first came together, they were the first music group to perform at the Famen Temple (法门寺), one of China’s most prestigious pagoda temples, to open for renowned Chinese pop star Faye Wong. Shortly after, they became the first Chinese band ever to play at Japan’s Summer Sonic in 2011.

Namo won the “Best Newcomer Award” at Midi 2010. Since then, the band signed with the SX Music (视袭音乐) label, and have made quite a name for themselves, performing at music festivals across China, Japan, and Korea.

In 2014, Namo was invited to perform for the CCTV Spring Gala, where they played their song ‘Spring is Here’ (春来了).

In the first season of Chinese reality TV show ‘Sing My Song’ (中国好歌曲), in 2014, Liu Xiangsong also performed the same song on stage (see video below), which then gained in popularity.

Their music is inspired by Chinese music, but also uses influences from Western music styles, resulting in an original style that is both charming and humorous at times.

At Beehype, William Griffith describes the band as follows: “Combining Chinese culture obsessed, 80s nostalgic, vigorous lyric-based melodies, and crosstalk rock, a traditional Chinese comedic performance style, the band is a creation of their generation of youth.”

Namo is a representation of the Chinese post-80s generation (bālínghòu 八零后) in multiple ways. Their songs reflect on the urban stories of China’s modern-day society and the lives of young Chinese, and the overall style of the band also corresponds with what characterizes China’s post-80s; they are formed by traditional Chinese culture, but also grew up in a China that was quickly modernizing, transforming, and impacted by Western influences. Noteworthy is that Namo’s band members come from all across China.

 

Social Media & Online Channels

 

Recently, Namo and its band members have been growing more popular on Chinese social media. Their official Weibo account @南无乐队微博 has over 48,500 fans, but the individual members also have quite a following.

* Lead singer Liu Xiangsong currently has approximately 74,000 fans on his Weibo account: @南无刘相松.
* Band member Lanzi: @南无岚子 (48,400 fans).
* Namo’s Chen Ying: @陈颖小卡 (30,100 fans)
* Shenzi Jun: @申子俊 (10,150)
* Zhang Shuo: @南无张叫母 (4270 fans)
* Daniel: @丹尼奥帅牛哈哈 (2000 fans)

Listen to Namo on Xiami here.
On Douban here.
QQ channel here.

 

Tour Dates

 

Although the band has already been touring over the past year, they will still perform in many Chinese cities for the weeks to come. For those interested, we’ve listed the tour dates with links to further information on venues, times, and tickets.

November 9: Xi’an
November 10: Chengdu
November 11: Chongqing
November 14: Nanning
November 16: Guangzhou
November 17: Shenzhen
November 18: Xiamen
November 21: Wenzhou
November 23: Shanghai
November 24: Nanning
November 25: Wuhan

Don’t forget to check out What’s on Weibo’s latest video on Namo here.

Interested to read more? You might be interested in the following:
* Rock Hotpot: Why Chinese Celebrities are Opening Up their Own Hotpot Places
* The Early Days of Rock in China – Interview with Sinologist & Hardrocker Jeroen den Hengst: From copied tapes to a unique rock scene – Jeroen den Hengst was part of the Beijing rock scene when it first awakened.

By Manya Koetse


Directly support Manya Koetse. By supporting this author you make future articles possible and help the maintenance and independence of this site. Donate directly through Paypal here. Also check out the What’s on Weibo donations page for donations through creditcard & WeChat and for more information.

 

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©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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Backgrounder

K-Pop’s Recipe for Success: Why Korean Idol Groups Got So Big in China and are Conquering the World

The success of K-Pop in China and beyond is evident – the causes for its success are less obvious.

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K-Pop (Korean pop music) is one of South Korea’s most successful export products today. With bands such as BTS that are dubbed the ‘biggest boy band on the planet’, it is obvious that the locally produced K-Pop has become a globally well-liked phenomenon. Although its popularity is obvious, the reasons why K-Pop became so big, from China to the US and beyond, are less evident.

On coming Saturday, October 13, the South-Korean boy band BTS will perform in an Amsterdam area in front of thousands of fans who have been looking forward to this event for months. Ticket sales for the first concert of the 7-member boy group in the Netherlands were sold out within minutes, despite their relatively high prices, with people paying up to €250 ($290) in the official sales, or even €400 ($460) and more for a single ticket in the unofficial online sales afterward.

It is not just the success of the BTS European tour that is making headlines; the record-breaking views on YouTube on their videos – the latest being the song ‘Idol’, that had more than 200 million views in little over a month – is also attracting the attention of the media.

And BTS is not alone. Other Korean pop (K-Pop) groups such as EXO, BIGBANG, TWICE, Shinee, or Got7, have also broken records when it comes to online video views or Spotify plays.

Although the English-language media attention for the K-pop phenomenon is more recent, the Korean entertainment industry has since long been extremely popular in China and on Chinese social media. In this overview, What’s on Weibo explores the K-Pop popularity (focusing on its idol boy and girl groups), its short history, and success formula.

 

BTS and More: An Army of Fans

 

The pop group BTS (방탄소년단), also known as the Bangtan Boys (防弹少年团, lit: ‘Bulletproof Boyscouts’), is an award-winning seven-member South Korean boy band formed by Big Hit Entertainment that debuted in the summer of 2013. They are currently hyped as the “biggest boy band on the planet.”

Initial auditions for the band were held in 2010, followed by roughly three years during which the band was formed and prepared for their major debut, that was promoted on social media months before their actual launch in June of 2013.

The band consists of multi-talented young men. Singer-songwriter Kim Seokjin (Jin) (1992) was studying film at Konkuk University when he was invited to audition by Big Hit; rapper Min Yoongi (Suga) (1993) was an underground rapper before he was signed; dancer and rapper Jung Hoseok (J-Hope) (1994) was part of a dance team in his pre-BTS life.

Lead rapper Kim Namjoon (RM) (aka Rap Monster, 1994) was already active in the music scene as rapper and producer; dancer and vocalist Park Jimin (Jimin) (1995) was a top student as Busan School of Arts before joining; vocalist Kim Taehyung (V) (1995) is known to have one of the most expressing voices of the group; and main vocalist Jeon Jungguk (Jungkook) (1997) was only 12 years old when he auditioned for BTS, followed by three years of intense training.

BTS, formerly ‘Behind The Scenes’, is known for its strong social media presence, which helps to spread its music and connect to its fans, who call themselves an ‘ARMY’ (also stands for Adorable Representative Master of ceremonies for Youth). The band has more than 16 million followers on Twitter, 3.3 million fans on Weibo, 12 million subscribers on Youtube, and nearly 8 million followers on Facebook.

Although BTS is the band that is currently dominating the headlines, there are many more K-Pop bands that are extremely popular on Weibo and beyond. The nine-member South Korean–Chinese boy band EXO, for example, has dozens of fanclubs on Chinese social media. Band member Oh Se-hun alone already has almost 9,5 million fans on his Weibo page. BIGBANG has more than 7 million Weibo fans, the eight-member girl band Girl’s Generation (少女时代) is on the rise with 1,5 million Weibo followers, Super Junior over a million, and the list goes on.

 

CREATING SUCCESS

A Short History of K-Pop: Finding a Sublime Entertainment Formula

 

Besides media attention, there has been ample scholarly attention for the Korean pop culture phenomenon over the past decade. The year 2012 especially marked a special moment in the history of K-Pop, when the song ‘Gangnam Style’ by Korean rapper Psy broke all YouTube records and became a global hit.

But before K-Pop became a global force to reckon with – that seemingly rose out of nowhere -, it had already made its first international successes in neighboring countries China and Japan since the early 2000s.

In China, the success of Korean popular culture is defined as Hallyu (韩流)*, the ‘Korean Wave’ since 1997 (Yang 2012, 105). Hallyu encompasses far more than idol bands; it includes the boom of South-Korean dramas, films, celebrity idols, and entertainment programs. In 2002, for example, the South-Korean soap opera ‘Winter Sonata’ became a hit in both China and Japan.

The former Exo (formation has now altered): a Chinese-South Korean band formed by SM Entertainment in 2011, consisting of twelve members separated into two subgroups, EXO-K and EXO-M, performing music in Korean and Mandarin.

The early 2000s mark the ‘first Korean wave’ in China, that mainly revolved around TV dramas produced in South Korea and were liked by females above the age of 30. It was followed by the second wave from the mid-2000s to 2010, when the K-Pop music genre popularized in China.

The third period, after 2010, marks the moment when K-Pop was further incorporated into mainstream Chinese popular culture, with a ubiquity of K-Pop idols in everyday Chinese pop culture, and the launch of Chinese versions of Korean entertainment programs (Ahn 2014, 47). It was also in this ‘third wave’ that you saw the debut of pop groups such as EXO. Formed in 2012, that band incorporates both Korean and Chinese members, performing in both languages.

Although K-Pop from South Korea became somewhat less visible in the PRC during the past few years, mainly because the industry suffered from various politically-motivated bans on Hallyu in China, the genre’s influence on China’s mainstream pop culture is evident, with some Chinese groups, for example, also being modeled after K-Pop bands.

Entertainment Powerhouses

Many studies explain the foreign success of Korean popular culture in Asia, mainly China and Japan, through “cultural proximity,” saying that the success of K-Pop especially occurred in China and Japan because they have, for example, linguistic similarities and corresponding Confucian values (Ahn 2014, 47; Messerlin & Shin 2017, 412).

But the more recent global wave of K-Pop shows that cultural proximity is not the sole answer to the genre’s success. Besides, there is actually nothing traditionally “Korean” about K-Pop, which only emerged in the 1990s (Shin & Kim 2013, 256).

The genre’s success mainly lies in the big players that brought forth the first Korean pop idol groups and have excelled (and still do) in selecting the right entertainment “products” to invest in, with a strong focus on both on the production side and the market demand side.

SM Entertainment, JYP, and YG Entertainment are the first major and leading entertainment houses of the 1990s. Big Hit Entertainment, home to BTS, followed later; founder Bang Si-Hyuk (1972) used to collaborate with JYP Entertainment founder Park Jin-Young (1971) before going his own way in 2005.

-SM Entertainment, founded 1988 by musician and TV host Lee Soo Man (1952)
-YG Entertainment, founded in 1996 by musician Yang Hyun-Suk (1970)
-JYP Entertainment, founded in 1997 by musician and producer Park Jin-Young (1971)
-Big Hit Entertainment, founded in 2005 by producer/songwriter Bang Si-hyuk (1972)

What characterizes these entertainment houses is that they are/were small in terms of revenue and employees (very different from big labels such as Sony or Universal), and play multiple roles as intermediate between musicians and consumers, as well as producers.

Different from many international big players in the entertainment world, K-Pop entertainment companies integrate processes of artist selection, songwriting, management, signing advertisement deals, etc. in-house rather than leaving these processes to various parties outside their own studio (Shin & Kim 2013, 260). Significant about the founders of these entertainment powerhouses is that they all had ample experience in the music industry themselves before starting their studios.

Lee Soo Man, image via AllKpop.com

The story of SM Entertainment, which was founded by musician and TV host Lee Soo Man in 1988, is crucial in understanding the beginning of the K-Pop industry. Lee was inspired by the transforming American music market after spending time there in the 1980s, and decided to replicate US entertainment in a new way. In his first studio he brought together the right equipment, the right expertise, and the right talent all in one place to kick-start his business (Shin & Kim 2013, 263).

Although the first acts that came from SM’s studio were no instant success, Lee was determined in learning through trial and error until he found the right beat and image that struck a chord with young consumers. In doing so, he adopted a strategy in which teenagers were surveyed on what they wanted, and in which he focused on scouting new talent from all over the country to give them intensive training in dancing, singing, and acting at the SM Studio (Shin & Kin 2013, 264).

The band H.O.T. stood at the beginning of the K-Pop genre. (Image by Soompi).

In 1996, eight years after Lee Soo Man started his entertainment company, and going through years of changing, refining, and improving his strategies, the first success was there. The boy band H.O.T., consisting of five hand-picked members who each had their own strength, debuted in 1996 and became the first major success in the short history of K-Pop.

Companies that followed after SM’s initial successes further experimented in adopting new strategies and trying out new styles of music, but stayed true to the idea of in-house training of young, new artists, rather than selecting renowned artists with defined styles (Shin & Kim 2013, 264). With frequently held auditions and training programmes that can last for years, some trainees start as young as 5 or 6 so that they are fully equipped for the entertainment industry by the time they reach adolescence (ibid., 265).

More than being teachers, producers, songwriters, marketers, etc., these entertainment houses are also trend watchers; training their talents in various areas now in order to be able to place them in the right setting and format in the future, corresponding with (global) market demands.

Companies such as SM place an emphasis on the export of music, and focus on appealing to global audiences, making use of hundreds of composers and experts from around the world in doing so. In producing and performing the K-pop girl band Girl’s Generation’s song ‘Genie’, for example, SM Entertainment used a Japanese choreographer, a Norwegian songwriter, and Korean lyricist (Shim 2016, 38).

 

SHAPING SUCCESS

The Popularisation of K-Pop: A Digital Strategy

 

Although a main cause of K-Pop’s initial success lies in the (training) strategies adopted by the aforementioned entertainment houses, there are also other major factors that have contributed to its global influence.

The Korean government contributed to the initial success of K-Pop by developing a world-leading internet infrastructure (although the goal of developing that infrastructure, obviously, was not to promote K-Pop), which helped the rapid rise of the genre through online strategies.

According to some studies (e.g. Messerlin & Shin 2017, 422-425), Korean entertainment companies have been the first in the world when it comes to realizing the potential of the internet for the distribution and marketing of their performances; they were already long awake to its possibilities and were acting upon them, while many big players in Europe and America were still focusing on traditional album formats.

What also helped the spread of K-Pop at the time were the relatively friendly and equally balanced Korean policies on issues such as copyright, that were (and are) less protective and restrictive compared to America or the EU (Messerlin & Shin 2017, 421).

The first success (1997-2007) of K-Pop and other Korean popular culture products in China, Japan, and other countries within Asia, have also been called the first major Korean Wave, whereas the current period (2008-present), represents the ‘New Korean Wave,’ that is defined by the role that is played by new media technology and social media as a platform for K-Pop to reach every corner of the world (Jin 2016).

Online strategies were particularly relevant in the context of the (early) K-Pop industry because 1) it was dominated by relatively small businesses that did not have the means to invest in other major publishing platforms than that of efficient online distribution and 2) they did not have costly plants where they could produce CDs, DVDs, or vinyl. Having the high-tech Korean electronical market on their side, online strategies were thus a natural and cost-efficient solution to give publicity to their performances (Messerlin & Shin 2017, 426). More so than focusing on traditional album releases, the release of digital singles that come with visually attractive online videos, for example, is one important K-Pop production characteristic.

Probably the best example showing that this strategy works is the global success of ‘Gangnam Style’ that was made possible through YouTube. By now, six years after its release, the world-famous song by Psy, who was signed by YG Entertainment, has over 3,2 billion plays on YouTube.

The revenue of concert tickets for K-pop performances, its merchandise industry, the digital singles, advertisement income, the many brands wanting to associate themselves with the star industry that K-pop has generated, etc., makes K-Pop production a money-making machine that shows that the model that focuses on traditional (CD) album formats and promotional single releases has become outdated.

 

CONTINUING SUCCESS

Marketing more than a Band: Active Fans and Interesting Characters

 

While South-Korea’s innovative music enterprises were crucial for the international launch of K-pop, its worldwide fanbase has now also become a motor driving its continuing success.

Different from the initial spread of K-Pop in China or other Asian countries – where K-Pop has become common in everyday pop culture -, is that many consumers of the genre in the US, Europe, or elsewhere, fully depend on the internet and social media to access K-Pop, as it is not a genre that is prevalent in the mainstream popular culture of their own countries.

The fact that fans of K-Pop in these regions have to actively seek for the latest information and releases of their favorite groups, also means that they have become participatory and engaged consumers in the spread of K-Pop – almost turning them into the ‘soldiers’ of fandoms such as the BTS ‘army’. They have become part of enormous (online) subcultures in various countries across Europe and America.

More than just listening and watching K-pop, these fans become members of the ‘culture’ by translating material, circulating it to friends, or integrating it on their own social media channels (Jin & Yoon 2016, 1285).

TWICE

What further strengthens this fandom is that the successful K-Pop bands are anything but one-dimensional. More than just building on their synced choreography, flawless singing, fashionable looks, and visually attractive videos, the band members of groups such as BTS, EXO, or TWICE, have their own identities, voices, and goals that go beyond music; their various characters and roles within the group resonate with their different fans.

The fact that many K-Pop groups and members also have an androgynous and gender-bender appearance also makes them more interesting to many fans, with many K-pop boys being ‘pretty and cute’ and girls having a ‘strong and handsome’ look, breaking through typical male and female stereotypes.

Amber from F(x) has an androgynous look.

Heechul from boy band Super Junior.

Furthermore, more than pop bands, these K-Pop groups have virtually become ‘platforms’ with their own streaming channels, websites, television shows, merchandise shops, lively online communities, stories, and so on.

In their recent appearance on the US Tonight Show by Jimmy Fallon, BTS frontman RM explained the group’s mission in perfect English, saying: “It is about speaking yourself, instead of letting other people speaking for you. Cause in order to truly know ourselves, it is important to firstly know who I am, where I’m from, what my name is, and what my voice is.”

Many find their voice in K-Pop. And that is a sound, from a local Korean product to a global force, we can expect to grow much louder in the future.

By Manya Koetse

* For clarity: note that due to scope this article focuses on the development of the K-pop phenomenon, and does not explore the anti-Hallyu or anti-Korean wave movement in China, and the previous bans on Hallyu in the PRC.

References

Ahn, Jungah. 2014. “The New Korean Wave in China: Chinese Uders’ Use of Korean Popular Culture via the Internet.” International Journal of Contents, 10 (3): 47-54.

Jin, Dal Yong. 2016. New Korean Wave: Transnational Culture in the Age of Social Media. University of Illinois.

Jin, Dal Yong, and Kyong Yoon.2016. “The Social Mediascape of Transnational Korean Pop Culture: Hallyu 2.0 as Spreadable Media Practice.” New Media & Society 18 (7): 1277-1292.

Messerlin, Patrick A. and Wonkyu Shin. 2017. “The Success of K-Pop: How Big and Why So Fast?” Asian Journal of Social Science 45: 409-439.

Shim, Doobo. 2016. “Hybridity, Korean Wave, and Asian media.” Routledge Handbook of East Asian Popular Culture,Koichi Iwabuchi, Eva Tsai, Chris Berry (eds), Chapter 3. London: Routledge.

Shin, Solee I. and Lanu Kim. “Organizing K-Pop: Emergence and Market Making of Large Korean Entertainment Houses, 1980-2010.” East Asia 30: 255-272.

Yang, Jonghoe. 2012. “The Korean Wave (Hallyu) in East Asia: A Comparison of Chinese, Japanese, and Taiwanese Audiences Who Watch Korean TV Dramas.” Development and Society, 41 (1): 103-147.

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What’s on Weibo provides social, cultural & historical insights into an ever-changing China. What’s on Weibo sheds light on China’s digital media landscape and brings the story behind the hashtag. This independent news site is managed by sinologist Manya Koetse. Contact info@whatsonweibo.com. ©2014-2018

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