The Fandom of Hallyu, A Tribe in the Digital Network Era: The Case of ARMY of BTS

WoongJo Chang, Shin-Eui Park

Abstract

Hallyu, the Korean Wave, has entered another stage with the emergence and dramatic success of BTS, a seven-member South Korean boy band, and its uniquely engaged fandom. The band’s fan club, ARMY of BTS, through their social media presence and other internet activities, is a significant factor in the band’s success. Unlike traditional fandom, ARMY has built a huge base of support by championing the message that everyone must find their own personal taste and voice, demonstrating in the process the tribal power of global fandom as a far-reaching cultural phenomenon that exceeds the scope of traditional fan clubs. Adopting a grounded theory approach through our ethnographic research, we identified four primary dimensions of this emerging fandom: (1) digital intimacy, (2) non-social sociality, (3) transnational locality, and (4) organizing without an organization. We found that, in conjunction with Maffesoli’s concept of the “tribe,” these four dimensions help us to understand how the relationship between BTS and ARMY transforms the private realm of the tastes and desires of their fans into cultural, political, and economic expression in the public realm. Thus, this global fandom, the tribe in the digital era, potentiated by the internet and the new forms of sociality created by social media, is effecting tectonic sociocultural change on a global scale.


Keywords

ARMY; BTS; digital era; fandom; Hallyu; Maffesoli’s tribe

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.13185/2986