Recently, I sat down with one of my friends who has been a K-pop fan for over a decade, and she convinced me to watch the best video she could find of the 2008 SBS Gayo Daejun (song festival). She is on a mission to make the world of ‘newer K-pop fans’ appreciate how lucky we are to have fallen in love with K-pop now that it has gone global and easy to access thanks to social media and the internet. Let me tell you, she is NOT wrong.
This year, SBS Gayo was almost four hours long, with diverse groups, interesting stages with lots of props and costumes, and I got to stream the entire thing in HD from my bedroom. However, back in 2008, things were different. First of all, there were fewer groups to share the limelight. Altogether, the broadcast (which was in 360p, by the way) lasted only about two hours and forty-five minutes. That time allowed for each group to perform was usually more than one song per group but also gave time for every group to be involved in at least one or more special stages or collaborations.
Something that I found that shows how much more popular K-pop is now is that during SBS Gayo 2008, idols were all seated in one small area on chairs that looked like those uncomfortable plastic things your grandma probably has sitting in her backyard somewhere. With popularity and exposure to the world, idols these days have the benefit of a little bit of comfort while they wait for their turn on stage. Watching that festival also got me thinking about a few things, least of all being how much it seems like the fandom has changed in recent years. Back in 2008, most K-pop fans knew almost every group and every song (at least title tracks) that were out because there was just LESS of everything to go around. These days I hear people say things like ‘I can’t keep up.’ or ‘I don’t think I’m gonna get into that group. I like this group better.’
As current fans, I think we are blessed. We aren’t sitting here with only a few groups to choose from, searching the internet for every performance we can find in gritty quality. Translations come to us within days, or even hours if we are part of a fan base with a lot of international fans. The luxury of connecting through the internet and social media on a global scale makes our lives as fans so much easier, and because we can support groups from all over the world effortlessly now, it becomes much easier for those groups we love to grow their fan bases and succeed where they might have struggled to reach an audience in the past. International fans are influencing the K-pop market heavily, but I think it is important for us to not take for granted all of the work that was done by previous generations of fans. The first generation K-pop idols helped lead us to the content we get to enjoy today.
How long have you been a k-pop fan? Were you around for what my friend likes to call ‘The Dark Times’? Let us know when you came into the fandom in the comments below!