My god we are so late for the queue for free COVID reminders!
In fact, Glorietta Malls open at 10am on Saturdays (and Sundays), and it’s only 10:30am – not that late, really, but why are there so many crowds wanting to get in? Climb the escalator to 2n/a floor of Glorietta 4, we are shocked to see the winding lines of perhaps close to a thousand people hugging the security guardrails, retreating towards Glorietta 3. You can proceed to the SM wing on this same floor, the security guard says (perhaps because we were obviously elderly), and we emerge onto the Makati City Department of Health (DoH) satellite vaccination center.
At the vaccination center, there are about 150 people – DoH staff and patients – in a space of about 300 square meters. We are registered, vaccinated and out within half an hour. The DoH nurse tells us she expects less than 700 vaccinated for the Pfizer vaccines available today. Why are the thousands of people outside queuing? They don’t line up for COVID Booster injections!
What are you online for, we ask a young man dressed in a baggy shirt and skintight white pants, his short hair combed forward in K-pop style bangs almost covering his eyes. We are queuing for the K-pop store, he said excitedly. Why, what is it? There’s a sale today, 20% off all items, but people really want to buy limited edition CDs of K-Pop icons, with free exclusive photo albums – P2,900 a pop, for those K-pop collectibles!
In a phone interview the following day, the K-pop store manager claimed to have 3,000 customers on the day of the sale, while since their soft opening a month earlier, they have had an average of 1,000 customers a day. spending an average of P1,000 per person on the all-K-pop items the store carries.
What is this K-pop craze that has young people queuing for hours to spend P2,900 on a BTS CD album? Meanwhile, K-pop idol Jason Wang of boy band Masterz performed at the SM MOA Arena the day before the CD sale, to a packed hysterical audience who bought tickets at extortionate prices, ranging from P2,500 to P12,500 (depending on seating) – this must be the hypnosis of the crowd!
What is the face of this “fandom” (the hardcore fans, collectively, in all their ardour)? What has inextricably linked them to the image, perhaps, of who they can be or who they want to be – especially in these fragile times of relentless COVID pandemic and political turmoil and economics around the world?
At Glorietta Mall the queue moved so slowly (like maybe every 30 minutes only) because the K-pop store only allowed 10 customers in the small store due to the COVID requirement of social distancing. A security guard in a special uniform at the small entrance strictly monitored this. And yet, the waiting crowd was very patient, disciplined and silent. How old are you, we were asked the young man with the K-pop bangs? Twenty-five, John said. A dozen places in front of him, a young woman named Marsha said to be 27 years old. But of course ! K-Pop fans can’t be too young, otherwise how can they afford those expensive shows and K-pop memorabilia?
K-Pop fans aren’t limited to active young adults in their 20s and 30s, our dachshund’s shrewd vet Sandy said authoritatively. In fact, there is no age barrier for being a rabid fan (no offense served on the use of the word “rabid”). Our groovy, 40-plus-year-old vet says he’s been a fan since 2012, when PSY’s “Gangnam Style” video was first posted to YouTube. According to BBC News, “Gangnam Style” exceeded YouTube’s maximum view limit of 2,147,483,647, causing YouTube to rewrite that limit, which now stands at 9.22 quintillion.
And so, this “old man” (and someone who isn’t a K-pop fan yet) just had to watch boy group BTS perform their debut hit, “Dynamite” (Official YouTube MV: 1,535,120,651 views; it premiered on August 21, 2020). The seven “boys” look like teenagers (although their Google biography shows them to be between 26 and 29 today – the same general age as those lined up at Glorietta for K-pop in-store sales). Against this old man’s preconception of “macho”, they all look girlish, with small earrings on each earlobe, plucked eyebrows and pink lipstick. And the strictly the bangs of the K-pop hairstyle made them somewhat androgynous. Their dance moves are hip-hop slowed down, bodies rippling with the repetitive music reminiscent of rap, but languid and stretched – yes, the slow arching then abrupt jerks of K-pop dance might suggest the tension of passion that builds then bursts into Climax.
Blackpink is the highest ranked Korean female act on the Billboard Hot 100, the first female Korean group on Forbes’30 under 30 in Asia (2020); the first Korean girl group to win an MTV Music Video Award (2020), and hailed by former South Korean President Moon Jae-in as a global K-pop phenomenon helping to spread K-pop content to the world entire (2021). The four members of Blackpink are Jisoo, Jennie, and Rosé who are all 25 years old, and Lisa who is 29 today, but they all look like teenagers, just like the BTS boys. Their choreography is innocently playful, yet imperiously sensual in the swinging of the hips and the low dive – much like the nubile flirtation of a Lolita child lover. Cute and teasing “ready for the male gaze” observed. The lyrics to their song “Forever Young” are in American English, borrowing shamelessly from Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” (YouTube Official MV: Blackpink – “Forever Young”, 214,897,665 views since June 21, 2018) .
Perhaps the appeal of K-pop is that the “idols” seem to be frozen in time at that youthful perfection, as they deal with their angst and frustrations in detached abandon, as we see it in their movements and their songs. Some foreign critics decry that K-pop music has lost its cultural integrity through outright Westernization, forgetting the charm of mixed Korean and English lyrics, and becoming all-English (like BTS does in “Dynamo”). , and dressing all-Western clothes, like distressed jeans and casual outfits. But that’s precisely the secret to K-pop’s marketing success: its global reach and universal demand.
“K-pop has played an important role in transforming South Korea’s economy. In 30 years, K-pop has grown tremendously. Not only has the popularity of musical groups increased, but Korea’s economy South has also improved. Professor Kim Seiwan of Ewha Women’s University says that according to an official estimate, K-pop generates about $10 billion for the country each year. A group that is hugely successful and whose popularity continues to rise is BTS. In 2018, the Hyundai Research Institute (HRI) reported that BTS accounted for approximately $3.54 billion of South Korea’s GDP. This number has increased further in recent years,” says an article from the International Socioeconomics Laboratory, socioeconlabs.org.
South Korean President Moon has brought BTS to speak before the United Nations General Assembly in New York three times in the past five years – an inspired break from tradition to emphasize the role of youth in sustainable development. During their last “invitation” before the august United Nations General Assembly in September 2021, Kim Nam-joon, the leader of BTS, said, “I heard that teenagers and 20s today are called the lost generation of COVID. But I think it’s a stretch to say they’re lost just because the path they’re walking can’t be seen by adult eyes.” (YouTube: BTS Speech at the 75e United Nations General Assembly; 3,578,547 views as of September 21, 2021). They expressed their faith in the ability of young people to imagine a better world despite the pandemic. “Life goes on. We have to go on living.
And that’s how we “oldies” understand these crowds of young people, passionate about K-pop to know their anguish and strengthen their determination to survive and thrive despite the trials of life.
“Permission to Dance” was K-pop/BTS’s song and dance message on behalf of the youth, before the United Nations General Assembly.
Amelia HC Ylagan is a Doctor of Business Administration from the University of the Philippines.