End the duopoly

How BTS fans became a force in US politics

Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the BOK Center in Tulsa on June 20: only 6,200 went through the turnstiles. © John Lie teaches at the University of California, Berkeley, and is the author of “K-pop: Economic Innovation, Cultural Amnesia, and Popular Music in Contemporary South Korea.”

U.S. President Donald Trump’s rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on June 20 imploded beyond his enemies’ wildest dreams. Over a million people registered electronically and perhaps 100,000 were expected to show up — but only 6,200 went through the turnstiles at the BOK Center.

Were leftist protesters blocking the entrance, as some in the Trump camp alleged? Did Oklahomans and their neighbors worry about COVID-19 transmission? One unlikely answer, as the media have reported, were Korean pop music, or K-pop, fans, who had decided to make the event a flop by applying for tickets then not turning up, in disgust at Trump’s words and policies.

Music fans have long combined their passion with political activism, but rarely on this scale or with this public an effect. How K-pop fans came to be a political force and how they capitalize on social media to take action is worth understanding.

In South Korea in the mid-1990s, […]

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