K-pop fans take up climate activism


Blackpink released a video telling its YouTube subscribers it was not too late to act on climate change. Photo: Handout

From petitioning to save forests to raising cash for disaster victims, a growing army of K-pop fans worldwide has emerged as the latest force in the global fight against climate change.

Young and tech-savvy, K-pop lovers have used their social media power to take up political causes, including mobilising funds for the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States last year and supporting Thailand's pro-democracy protests.

But the group is now increasingly vocal on climate change.

"K-pop fans are mostly millennials and from the Gen-Z generation – we want to fight for our future," said Indonesian student Nurul Sarifah, 21, who set up the Kpop4Planet movement in mid-January.

Using social media, it aims to become a platform for like-minded K-pop fans around the world to discuss and raise awareness on climate-change issues affecting their home cities, said Sarifah, a fan of top South Korean boyband EXO.

"Every day we are experiencing these effects: pollution, heatwaves, floods, wildfires. We can change this by doing good, just like how our idols did, so we can enjoy K-pop on a liveable planet," she said.

The movement is just one of the latest campaigns by K-pop fans seeking to make a difference for nature and the climate.

Star power

As K-pop became a global phenomenon in the last two decades, the philanthropic efforts of its South Korean stars – from donating to orphanages to planting trees – have pushed fans to adopt similar approaches to social and environmental problems.

Climate change has become an increasingly important issue and was highlighted in December when K-pop global sensation Blackpink released a video to raise awareness ahead of the United Nations climate summit, COP26, due to take place in Glasgow in November.

In it, the girl band told their nearly 60 million subscribers on YouTube it was not too late to act on climate change.

Fans of the mega-band BTS, known as ARMY, meanwhile have planted tens of thousands of trees in recent years in the name of their celebrities. They also raised funds for flood-hit communities in the Indian state of Assam last year.

"K-pop fandom does great things beyond borders and generations," said South Korean activist Kim Na-yeon, 15, from campaign group Youth 4 Climate Action, which last year sued the South Korean government for being slow to tackle climate change. She is a fan of of boyband NCT Dream.

The diverse backgrounds of K-pop followers – from North America to Asia – are seen as key to engaging fans in deeper discussions on a range of contemporary issues.

"K-pop fans are generally open-minded and outward-facing in their approach to the world. If they weren't, they'd listen to music from their own country in their own local language," said CedarBough Saeji, an assistant professor in East Asian languages and cultures at Indiana University Bloomington in the United States.

Disaster relief

In Indonesia, K-pop fans mobilised quickly to raise nearly US$100,000 (RM400,000) in January for those affected by floods in South Kalimantan and a powerful earthquake on Sulawesi island that killed about 80 people and displaced more than 30,000.

Indonesian K-pop fans last year also helped boost an online campaign to highlight rapid deforestation in Papua, by sharing the #SavePapuanForest hashtag on social media and making it a trending topic on Twitter.

Such momentum is what Sarifah of Kpop4Planet seeks to spur in her push for more debate on climate change and its impacts.

"Deforestation is one of the reasons why these natural disasters happen," she said. "It is relatable to all of us."

"The K-pop fan movement is big and if our idols also help (on climate justice), it will become even bigger," she added. – Reuters

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