Streaming culture in Kpop: Do the targeted views really matter?

Today we’re talking about the two very distinct views about the streaming culture in the K-Pop industry. Take a look.
Poster celebrating the achievement of BLACKPINK Rosé's On The Ground crossing 100 Million views on YouTube Streaming culture in Kpop: Do the targeted views really matter?
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Away from the ‘manufactured idols’, ‘plastic girls’ ‘made in factory’, lies another elephant in the room of K-Pop that is both great, and the worst. The Streaming Culture. Since long, K-Pop fans have avoided the ‘streaming culture is toxic’ noise by actually making it more toxic. How? By focusing and streaming harder on their precious idols’ songs. But, that’s also one way for them to show their love to the idols they can never meet.

 

With the advent of the Hallyu Wave spreading across the globe in 2020 like a storm, new fans were introduced to the power of ‘streaming’. Starting out in the fandom, one might even wonder why it would even matter - but constantly being pushed by the fandom to stream and award shows/music charts encouraging it by giving trophies to a certain number of streams achieved, quickly gave fans the reasons to continue doing it. So while major K-Pop bands break records like ‘most watched music video’ or ‘crossing X millions of views in a single digit number day’, aside from the fandom in general, not many people believe in it. 

 

Major reasons for not believing in the ‘popularity’ of these K-Pop groups, is because for many, streaming is just another target that they have to achieve. Having said that, streaming isn't easy. It's pretty difficult. Fans have to strategically make playlists, stream 24x7, play it on multiple devices, help others with a step-by-step guide, basically run a whole campaign in order to break other group's records. All of this makes sense for a K-Pop fan, as streaming culture is extremely intense and holds a key role in the Korean music industry. But why? It's cecause it offers exposure, it offers recognition, control and sometimes power, to the groups who stand on the group. Companies realise their fandom's potential and offer them deals. These deals make the groups more well-known in the market, giving fans (who always yearn for their idols) more products and newer things to love and obssess over. With multiple music charts such as Soribada, Melon, Genie, Naver Music and many more offering awards as a part of crossing a number of streams, the competitions between idols and their fandom does get more intense. 

 

Where earlier the recognition only fit according to the physical sales as there were no internet or digital files, the chances of an idol to break free into the market was less. With the onset of the digital medium, fans make sure to give their beloved idol group the recognition they deserve - especially after all the hardships they’ve been through. Hardships whether in the face of lack of recognition or racist comments or the hard work they put in to create music. If fans can’t go to meet them or buy albums/merch (which are expensive), the least they can do to show their love is to continuously stream, make them reach the top of the chart and receive an award. 

 

However, there are many fans who do not believe in the streaming culture and find it toxic. These fans are found everywhere, inside and outside the vast K-Pop fandom too. At the end of the day, just because a group crossed a billion views on a song, it doesn’t mean that the music is great or the group, it just means that there was a target which the die-hard fans achieved. As much as fans think the billions of views will gain them exposure, some of them backfire too. And there are many reasons for it. One, once a song crosses a certain number of views, its expectations are raised higher and if the song really isn’t that catchy or good, it tarnishes the image of the band and the fandom. Two, because most of them ‘robotically’ stream it, it isn't considered organic. It sounds more like a target that a person had to achieve. No matter whether the song is good or bad, streaming makes sure it is in the people's face for a longer time.

 

Organic views are the ones that, for example, were for Psy’s super hit song ‘Gangnam Style’ - that made him break the record for the most number of Youtube MV views in 24 hours. There was no target. There were no fans ‘streaming’. People watched it because they genuinely enjoyed it. Another point that they raise is that do charts and awards then even matter? If it’s all about streaming digitally, and fans work (sometimes force) each other to stream non-stop, does it matter? Many comments and discussions I've read through also point out the fact that the biggest Western music artists don't generally 'break' records. They have average views but that doesn't mean people don't enjoy their music. However, the other side of the coin is that for K-Pop fans, numbers and popularity go hand-in-hand. It offers them the chance to get their groups some exposure into the West-dominated music industry.

 

Also, let’s not forget the toxic fanwars that arise due to the ‘streaming culture’. Fans force each other to stream, to upload a “proof” of their actual streaming count to let them in on an event or a group. It goes to an extent where they even bully each other as ‘not a true fan’ just because they can’t or won’t stream the songs. 

 

Both the sides have well-established points. On one hand, streaming helps the band get international recognition and win awards. On the other hand, it gets difficult to actually credit the artists enough for their hard work as they could break records only because there was a bunch of fans behind the screens, playing their music continously.

 

In my opinion, what matters more is the physical album sales, the merch sales and the tour sales. How K-Pop is still keeping the 'buying physical album' phase still alive. Now that's a comparison and recognition that would really matter!

 

Also Read: #KPOPUNPOPULAROPINIONS takes over Twitter; Here are our best picks from Netizens' unpopular Kpop opinions

 

Which side are you on? Do you think streaming culture is toxic? Let us know in the comments below!

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this letter are those of the author.

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