How fake are K-pop views?

Courtesy of Henrik Donnestad

“When a new song dropped, I would wake up before school, turn on five or six different devices, and log-in using my mum’s, my sister’s, and my friend’s accounts. I would then just sit there streaming the song. I wouldn’t even really be listening to it. I was just making sure to stream it. I would then be really tired at school that day but, at the time, it felt worth it.”

I’ve noticed a trend this semester across my nine different university classes here in South Korea: there are fewer international K-pop stans than before. Of course, there are still those who are absolutely mad about the culture; those who can tell you the names of every member, the physical condition they were in when they shot a certain video, and how their personality changed between the release of album one and album two. But, at the same time, there is an increasing number of students who simply shrug their shoulders and express little real interest in the culture.

The main question on my mind: What percentage of the numbers we see associated with the promotion and validity of K-pop groups today are real and how much is fake?

When we think about culture, we often focus on the enjoyment that it brings people. A new movie or song comes out and we either enjoy it or we don’t. However, it’s more than enjoyment. According to W. David Marx, sometimes we watch and listen to things because doing so gives us status. And that status add value to the experience, whether we acknowledge it or not. We associate ourselves with different things to gain credibility.

K-pop is no longer the status-giver it once was during the heights of the pandemic. Then it seemed that mainstream television shows and broadsheet newspapers were rushing to feature K-pop and talk about it. A cool new trend, a beautiful fantasy, and a release from the existential tremors of a virus many thought might shut down the world. I could also see this in my university lectures and how Korean Studies more broadly quickly gravitated to embrace the trend. Suddenly 50-year old professors were desperately trying to explain a culture they knew little about to teenagers who lived and breathed it.

Now, however, we’re all back to normal. K-pop has returned to being a much-loved subculture, a fascinating capitalist product featuring highly manicured idols sent to the smartphones and messaging services of young women and beyond the knowledge or interest of the general person on the street. Of course, Illit’s “Magnetic” is still a banger and some of the tunes are on heavy rotation. But the interest in being associated with those four letters, sometimes hyphenated, sometimes not, is on the wane.

But the numbers? The numbers are still there for some groups. Videos of largely forgettable songs, that few beyond the fan group themselves would be able to hum, reach into the hundreds of millions of views. This pushes the group up the charts, forces newspapers like this to write articles about them, and, perhaps most importantly, makes a lot of money for the entertainment company that uploads the videos.

And still the question remains: how many of those views are real? Kendrick Lamar’s recent videos were a genuine cultural phenomenon: middle-aged people were talking about them on forums, people tried desperately to understand what was going on: who 카지노 had a child? Who beat who? Who is the big me? And the views? The first two releases got around 28 million. The real huge one “Not Like Us” featured in the papers reached 65 million. Really impressive, I’m sure you would agree.

Now name a BabyMonster song? In the last six months, four of their videos have reached 254 million, 233 million, 116 million, and 108 million views. Can you hum any of them? Did you read about any of them in a paper? Please remember this is not necessarily about BabyMonster. It’s about every K-pop group and solo idol. It’s about NMIXX. About Seventeen. And remember, in K-pop, if you like a group, their streams are real; if you don’t their streams are fake.

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