Over the last decade, Korean pop culture (K-pop) has swept the United States with unexpected and unprecedented popularity. However, an investigation behind the supra-ethnic and cross-border nature of this explosion of interest is almost nonexistent in literature and within Virginia research universities where the Asian student population has grown dramatically in recent years.
To look closer at this phenomenon, Byunghwan Son in Mason’s Global Affairs Program was interested in creating an intellectual space where systematic research on contemporary Asian and Asian American studies subjects could be nurtured and fostered. To do so, he turned to a 4-VA@Mason Collaborative Research Grant for funding to build on data he had already collected between 2019-2021. His objective was to conduct additional interviews necessary to glean a more in-depth understanding of the cross-ethnic and -racial nature of K-pop. Son’s plan was to coordinate faculty at Mason and UVA to recruit and advise graduate and undergraduate students to conduct the work, providing rich research opportunities. These opportunities would include collecting, cleaning, and coding interview data of K-pop fans in North America.
Two of Son’s colleagues at Mason — Dae Young Kim, Associate Professor in Sociology & Anthropology and Young A Jung, Assistant Professor in Modern and Classical Languages –- supported the student research and acted as mentors. Senior Lecturer Yoon Hwa Choi at UVA joined the project to do the same. “We were committed to galvanizing and enhancing the scholarly collaboration between Mason and UVA researchers at both the faculty and student levels,” explained Son.
Armed with the 4-VA grant, the team got to work. Nine students at Mason and two at UVA were recruited to undertake the goal of interviewing 50 fans of K-pop music to provide more insight for their research. “The success of our project was due in large part to the effectiveness and competence of the research assistants. They were key to this effort,” says Son.
The research revealed interesting results. “We recognized a number of important commonalities amongst the K-Pop enthusiasts — these fans found untraditional types of genders in K-pop artists, were torn between their own racial identities and their loyalty to the artists (which often didn’t align very well), lean liberal ideologically but remain reluctant to make direct political actions and have found a new place of belonging in the fan communities,” notes Son.
Mason students participating in the research were graduate student J. Orisha and undergraduates Kennedy Pendlebury, Janai Byrd, Alexus Kelley, Sarah Lepre, Nida Nawaz, Pilar Gore, Kiah Percy, Sohee Kim, and Yoo Jeong Seong. At the time of the research both Kim and Seong were students studying on the Mason Korea campus.
Working with Choi at UVA were undergrads Anusha Choudhary and Jessica Caroline Ross.
“This grant gave us the opportunity to collect an exceptionally rich amount of interview data on K-pop fans. Not only is our interview data larger in numbers and wider in scope than any previous study we know of, but each of the interviews also engages the fans in significantly deeper and more intricate ways. We attribute much of this innovation to the cross-university collaboration of 4-VA as it enabled us to reach some of the interviewees that we otherwise would not have recruited.”
A paper outlining the research was presented to the Eastern Sociological Society (ESS). Currently, the PIs are submitting their data to peer-reviewed academic journals.