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Force of fandom: a case study of bts and army

Discussion about music fandoms never stray too far from the big names such as The Beatles, Beyonce, and, the most current one, BTS. Often deemed as the biggest boy band in the world, BTS has broken many records and done what deemed impossible with the help of its fandom ARMY, an acronym for Adorable Representative MC for Youth. Due to the massive size of the fandom and the global impacts they have, BTS and ARMY have been a permanent fixture in media of their home country, South Korea, and also many others around the globe in the past two years. Breaking YouTube record by gaining the highest views in a given day (more than 45 million views, beating Taylor Swift’s record) ; being the first Korean act to top Billboard’s top albums chart, the Billboard 200; peaking at no. 10 in American Billboard’s Hot 100 and no. 1 in Oricon Japan, which are the two biggest music markets in the world ; speaking at the United Nation General Assembly as an ambassador of UNICEF program, Generation Unlimited ; given a double-million certification in Korea and 5 certifications (equal to 3 million units sales) from RIAA or Recording Industry Association of America ; being nominated for a Grammy Award ; the list of BTS’ major achievements go on. It is safe to say that BTS is a worth-discussing phenomenon in popular culture.

Drawing upon theories of User-Generated Content, this essay examines ARMY’s activities as co-producer in convergence culture and the motivation behind it that resulted in BTS’ positive trajectory in global music industry. This essay will especially highlight content generated and created by ARMY and how it helps BTS as a brand grows. (TAMBAHIN LAGI KALO BODY UDAH KELAR, e.g. kesimpulan. KAYAK DI ABSTRAK2 ITU LHO)

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BTS is a seven-member South Korean boy group produced by a then small company called Big Hit Entertainment. In June 2013, the group debuted as Bangtan Sonyeondan, a Korean phrase meaning ‘Bulletproof Boy Scouts’. However, In July 2017, they introduced their new brand identity called ‘Beyond The Scene’ , supposedly to accommodate their rapid worldwide expansion.

BTS started to garner a significant number of fans in 2015 through their third EP, The Most Beautiful Moment in Life, Part 1. However, what introduced them to the rest of the world, especially the western hemisphere of the globe, was their winning Top Social Artist award at Billboard Music Awards 2017. BTS instantly attracted global attention following said event because not only are they the first Korean group invited and given an award at the American award show, they also broke Justin Bieber’s winning streak who had been the winner of the category for six consecutive times since its introduction in 2011. The victory was even more astounding because BTS won the fan-voted category with 300 million votes during the 21-day voting period . Naturally, media started paying attention to BTS and its high-powered fandom, considering BTS’ skyrocketing success primarily relies on ARMY’s rigorous effort in appreciating their idols’ artistry as well as propelling their popularity.

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The most common and basic assumption of fans are understanding them as a bunch of hysterical teenagers worshiping their idols as objects of reverence and mindlessly purchasing whatever items related to them. Fans were “associated with the cultural tastes of subordinated formations of the people, particularly those disempowered by any combination of gender, age, class, and race” . Fans were portrayed as victims of the industry: disempowered, and culturally appropriated. The first wave of fan studies focuses on arguing this notion. Scholars do not believe in dichotomy of power between fans and producers or the industry, because fans are not powerless. They are, on the contrary, active, conscious, and eager to interact with the objects they admire. Jenkins explains in his book Textual Poachers that fans establish a “particularly active and vocal community of consumers whose activities direct attention onto process of cultural appropriation” imposed by the producer fan object or the industry .

The study of fans then shifted to a broader idea. No longer discussing fandom as a site of power struggle, in this period, scholars state that fan culture reflects social hierarchies. This is caused by the change in fandom where more fans gather and create bigger, more solid community based on their interests and what they have in common as fans . Meanwhile the last wave zooms in difference in audience that indicates the fandom’s cultural currency . In this era, in contrast with the first wave, being a fan is now normal and very common. Jenkins in Convergence Culture describes the cause as media content being distributed without boundaries in various platforms with the presence of internet . Sandvoss adds that fandom and media consumption is a part of everyday life. Therefore, the scholars of the third wave highlights fan consumption in relation to fans’ identities and power distribution .

Due to the shifting stigma of being a fan as well as technological advances, interaction between fan and fan object is as high as ever, affecting in drawing the relationship between fans, the producer of fan object, and even the industry closer. It is now clear that fans’ influence is irrefutably massive and as powerful as the producer of fan object and the industry. Booth opines that the industry even observes fandom closely and assimilate how it works to achieve more fan interaction . Creating open communication among fans and between the industry and fans is beneficial, not only because fans are ideal pre-existing consumers, they are also the best co-producers that the industry can affiliate with to expand their brand. Hills supports this idea by explaining how the industry’s profit, and even survival, depends on fans’ consumption habit .

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The term co-production refers to the act of producing something jointly . Co-production should not be confused with value co-creation. Value co-creation refers to consumer’s ability to influence the value of the product. Consumers are seen to have the power to either make it or break it. Meanwhile co-production is defined by Lusch and Vargo (quoted in Gamble) as participation in the development of the product . Therefore, co-production can be understood as a collaboration between the producer, who provide resources and access for the consumer to be involved in creation process, and consumer, who is eager to be active and devoted to the object they admire. This essay will focus on user-generated content (UGC), especially from fandom members, to analyse their contribution in the co-production process.

User-Generated Content

UGC can be said as the present-time word of mouth that spreads via online platforms. UGC is defined as “a wide range of media and creative content types that were created or at least substantially co-created by “users”-that is, by contributors working outside of conventional professional environments” . UGC has two essential characteristics: firstly, it must be a production of original content or a remake of existing content. Secondly, it must be shared to others. Sharing entails redistributing the content. This is why it is important to distinguish user-generated content from user-created content . By this understanding, some examples of UGC are reviews on TripAdvisor, parodies on YouTube, threads of question and answer on Reddit or even comments on New York Times Online.

The word ‘user’ in UGC may cause ambiguation because it can refer to two entities. Firstly, the user of social media platform. By this definition, content provided on social media by media companies or producers are also considered as UGC. Secondly, user can also refer to an individual, as opposed to business or professional figure . However, since this essay focuses on fandom and their productivity, the objects of this study are fan-produced materials such as fanfiction, fan videos, fan tutorials, remixes, statistics and so on.


Production of fan-generated content (FGC) is a very common fan practice. Fiske established tripartite fan productivity model consisting of semiotic, enunciative and textual productivity. The first productivity is very general in the sense that it is not only interior but also related to popular culture as a whole . It is not necessarily related to fan activities.

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Enunciative productivity is described as interpersonal-level productiveness where fans discuss their fan object with someone else. This practice which Fiske refers as ‘fan talk’ is said to be “the generation and circulation of certain meanings of the object of fandom within a local community” . During this discussion, fans produce meaning of the fan object and share it with their fandom members. Of course the discussion does not only happen in convention or other oral medium. Nowadays most of the time the exchange of opinion takes place on the internet in various platforms. Other than discussion, fans’ attempts to construct their social identity that shows their membership of a fandom is also an example of enunciative productivity. Fans changing their looks to resemble their fan object, wearing the merchandise of their idols, recreating their fan object’s make-up are included in this level of productivity. For example, an ARMY might wear Generation Unlimited bracelet because this is a UN and UNICEF’s partnership campaign that BTS helped launched at the UN General Assembly September last year and that BTS members were seen wearing this bracelet in several occasions.

The third productivity is the most-discussed productivity level in fan studies. It relates to the act where “fans produce and circulate among themselves texts which are often crafted with production values as high as any in the official culture” . This productivity is essential in fan studies because this distinguishes between non-fan audience and fandom members. Fans are most likely involved in some kind of material production. The level of production within ARMY most certainly vary. Some fans simply cut their favourite bit of performance and zoom in what is interesting to them in the video. Some others put more effort by recolouring the video and make gifs out of it. There are also fans who translate the video into their native languages.

Through these fan practices, fans earn gratification and happiness. Leung quoted in Wang explained that the web provides a place for fandom to exchange meanings of their fan object and their desire. The web is also a place for fans to reproduce mass culture product and share it to other fans . Fa

Motives behind FGC

Before discussing ARMY and their produced materials, it is important to talk about why they are so devoted in creating content about their idols. Wang has conducted a research on fans’ motivations for producing digital content.

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