Qualitative Research Methodology: Interviews
Interviews were conducted with three different people who subscribe to a Korean boy band fan culture to know their thoughts on the reception of boy band music, how gender and identity are constructed for the artists on the basis of their appearance, and how gender and sexualities are constructed for the fans of these artists. The first interviewee Ms. Angela (name changed) is a 23-year-old student pursuing a master’s degree in Industrial Psychology who has been listening to K-pop music for about 9 years and is a part of multiple Korean boy band fandoms. The interview conducted was a telephonic interview as a direct face-to-face interview was not possible because of her living in a different city. The second interviewee Ms. Diya (name changed) is a 22-year-old Psychology major who has been a part of a Korean boy band fandom for 3 years. A written interview was conducted with her owing to her tight schedule. Interview questions were mailed to her and the interviewee responded through emails. The third interviewee Mr. Faizan (name changed) is a 15-year-old school student who has been a part of a Korean boy band fandom for 4 years. A face-to-face interview was conducted with this interviewee.
When asked about the general stereotypes about Korean boy bands, Ms. Angela and Ms. Diya responded in a similar way. They said the most common stereotype was that they are ‘girly’ and ‘gay’. Ms. Angela also said that people mock Korean boy band music, which is also popularly known as K-pop, as ‘gay-pop’ because they use makeup and jewelry. She also said that people think that those who are fans of Korean boy bands are attracted by their good looks and not their music. This shows that the primary stereotype of a boy band is that of a group of ‘good-looking boys’. According to Ms. Angela, people lack exposure and openness and want to put everything they see and know under labels. What K-pop boy bands do is very different from American and European boy bands and they do not know which label to put them under so their narrow-mindedness makes them categorize K-pop boy bands as ‘gay’ and ‘girly’. Ms. Diya talked about how K-pop artists face racial stereotypes and are associated with words and phrases like ‘chinky’, and ‘ching chong music’ along with stereotypes of gender and sexuality. She also made a statement that different countries have different beauty standards and we have to respect such differences. It shows that she is unaware of the issues of beauty standards as she stated that each country has its own beauty standard which needs to be respected. However, it also shows that Western standards of appearance are appreciated and preferred on a large scale giving way to derogatory racial stereotypes, and gender and sexuality constructions.
Ms. Angela and Ms. Diya both believe that fandoms of K-pop boy bands are gendered. Ms. Diya talked about how people believe only women can be fans of boy bands and male fans are criticized for being a part of a Korean boy bands fandom and are also derogatorily called ‘girly’ or ‘gay’ (note: the use of the sentence ‘derogatorily called girly or gay’ is not intended to mean that these identities are derogatory but it is only reflective of the derogatory way in which these identities are talked about in the context of the construction of gender and sexual identities of Korean boy bands) and when male fans imitate the costumes, accessories, makeup and styling of these boy bands, they are given a constructed gender identity of being ‘feminine’ and sexuality of being ‘gay’. She also talked about how artists of Korean boy bands are often associated with the adjectives ‘pretty’ and ‘cute’ which are typically descriptive of women and their appearances. This shows that the fandoms of boy Korean boy bands are gendered. The general notion is that only women can be a part of a Korean boy band’s fan culture and if a male happens to be a part of it his sexual identity is questioned and if he happens to imitate the artists’ fashion statements and styles his gender identity is questioned.
Ms. Angela gave a visible account of the composition of men and women in a Korean boy band fandom. She spoke about the screening of a concert film of the Korean boy band, BTS, in India on the 2nd of February 2019. She said that the screen she watched the film in had just one male audience. She also said to have seen a few young boys, who were also fans, going to the screen nearby with merchandise headbands and posters. The fact that more young boys are openly being a part of the fandom could possibly be either because of their unawareness of societal constructs that are yet to influence them and their thought processes or it could be because of the changing perceptions of boy bands and K-pop music.
Mr. Faizan, on the other hand, believes that the fandoms of Korean boy bands are not gendered at all. He agrees with the fact that there are more female fans than male fans but states that there are also many male fans as the music of these artists are so good that it attracts everyone regardless of their gender. He also said that people often criticize male fans for reasons similar to what Ms. Angela and Ms. Diya have spoken about but the fandoms embrace all fans of all gender identities and sexual orientations. All three interviewees are of the opinion that K-pop boy band fandoms welcome male fans very warmly mainly because they are very rare and have gradually started breaking presumptions to join the fan cultures.
When asked about people judging them for being fans of Korean boy bands and how they deal with it, Ms. Angela talked about the practice of clubbing all South East Asians under one umbrella term ‘Chinese people. She said people do not bother learning or knowing about their different histories, countries, cultures, festivals, traditions, and practices and group all of them on the basis of their race and classify all South East Asian music as ‘Chinese music’ and derogatorily try to mimic the phonetics of the Chinese languages (Mandarin and Cantonese) in order to mock the fans of K-pop artists. She said that she has often heard people call her ‘childish’ and say that K-pop boy bands cannot be compared with American boy bands like One Direction and Maroon 5 but she is very vocal about what she likes and dislikes and does not pay attention to people’s judgments as she believes that nothing much can be done about it. Ms. Diya is said to try her best in changing people’s opinions about K-pop music and boy bands but if they fail to see her point she does not bother altering their judgments. Mr. Faizan said that some people feel weird about the whole concept of K-pop and its boy bands, some people are amazed and some people judge him for being a fan of this phenomenon. He said he actively promotes the bands among his friends but does not care about what others have to say about him and his music preferences as he believes that the support he gets from the K-pop boy band fandoms is more than enough.
The interviewees also shared that people’s perceptions of Korean boy bands are gradually changing. According to Ms. Angela, people are becoming more open-minded as years go by because of which the image construction of boy bands and of K-pop artists is becoming less rigid. Ms. Diya states globalization which facilitates sharing of cultures across geographical boundaries as the reason for which people’s perceptions are changing and to Mr. Faizan, it is the combination of good music and other talents of K-pop boy bands that has enabled the changing perceptions.
While talking about how Korean boy bands are different from American/European boy bands, Mr. Faizan spoke about the inclusion of more than just music in their performances. This aspect was also discussed in Chapter 2 of the thesis. He said that Korean boy bands give equal importance to vocals, rap, dance, and fashion at the same time in order to present a full-bodied stage performance that reflects what is shown in the music videos, unlike American/European boy bands who stick to singing with a little bit of dance moves here and there or have a guest artist to perform a rap sequence. Ms. Angela talked about how people think everything done by the Americans are cool and blindly try to mimic them and their constructs making K-pop boy bands be derogatorily called ‘girly’ and ‘gay’. Now that these boy bands are making their mark in the American music industry and there is a growing number in their fan bases, the West is slowly starting to be more open to the music of South Korea and China parallelly making the rest of the world be more open to them as well.
Summarising the data received from the surveys and the interviews from a bird’s eye view, we can clearly see how people construct gender identity of being ‘girly’ or ‘feminine’ and sexuality of being ‘gay’ for Korean boy’s bands and their male fans. Their female fans are mostly associated with adjectives like ‘crazy’, ‘childish’ etc., and are often criticized for it along with the criticism that they become fans of Korean boy bands because of their ‘good looks’ which is the general stereotype surrounding any boy band. It also shows how the fans of Korean boy bands form solidarity regardless of their gender identities and gain support from their social identities when it is threatened by the social identities that are constructed for them by those who criticize them. The research also has gathered that people are more open to K-pop music and boy bands and are more appreciative of fan cultures than they were in the past which shows a positive possibility of reception of South Korean boy bands in the music industry which is dominated by English language music.