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Studying K-pop fandom cultures

Learn about Yeok-jogong, the jogong culture of K-pop fandom.
jogong

1.Jogong culture /조공 문화/

If you are a K-pop fan, you may have heard about the jogong culture. But, what is exactly jogong?

The dictionary meaning of “jogong” (tribute in Korean) is the tribute or gifts paid periodically by one state or ruler to another as a sign of dependence. In K-Pop fandom, however, it is a term that refers to individual and collective sending of gifts to idol singers to express affection. Usually, fan communities fundraise over certain periods of time, and the management of the communities buy gifts and send them on behalf of fans to the agencies of idol singers. A related expression is “carrying the ball”, which refers to taking the initiative in fan activities. Some see such distinctive gifting activities in K-Pop culture as a fun, productive, hands-on form of “consumer participation”. However, there is a risk that these gifting activities might render the relationship between fans and the stars more asymmetrical, as the original meaning of jogong implies.

Relatedly, from another negative standpoint, several media outlets have pointed out the lists of gifts made by different fandoms are often compared with one another online, fuelling competition between the fandoms and eventually leading to the gifts becoming luxury items, designer clothes and accessories, contributing to rendering the jogong as a showing-off culture.

Several fandoms are increasingly aware of such critique, and so recently have started replacing large fractions of jogong with acts of “goodwill” instead, making donations to charities and not-for-profit organisations and volunteering for the social goods, with a view to lowering the negative public perception towards jogong. In particular, K-Pop bands such as BTS, NU’EST, and Seventeen have publicly announced that they will refuse any gifts other than handwritten letters from fans, so their fandoms tend to focus more on charitable activities.

2.Yeok-jogong /역조공/

©Apink, PLAN A ENTERTAINMENT

In K-Pop culture, “jogong” is used as a slang for fans sending gifts to idol singers to express their affection. “Yeok-jogong”, where the prefix “yeok” means “contrary”, therefore means the opposite, and is widely used in K-Pop fandom to describe K-Pop bands or idol singers giving gifts to their fans.

For instance, BTS, Hyuna, Suzy, and IU offer fans at their concert or fan meetings such gifts as: “dosirak” (도시락; packed meals and snacks), clothes and cosmetics (in the case of Hyuna); goods from the brands for which they model (in the case of Suzy); T-shirts or photo cards with their names or photos on (in the case of BTS Suga); and rings to commemorate the 10th anniversary of their debut (IU).

References:

● YTN (2018). ‘팬심의 진화, 조공 문화의 모든 것’, YTN, 28 Jun [Online]. Available at: https://www.ytn.co.kr/_ln/0102_201806281632125857

● Cho, W. and J. Tae (2018). A Study on the Sociocultural Implications of ‘Gift Culture’ [‘조공문화’에 대한 사회문화적 함의 연구]. 글로벌문화콘텐츠학회 학술대회자료집, 2018, pp.219-223.

● Han, S. (2021). ‘그룹 여자친구, “손편지 제외한 팬 서포트 안받는다”…조공 거절한 아이돌 누구?’, TopStar News, 13 Jan [Online].Available at: http://www.topstarnews.net/news/articleView.html?idxno=855793

● Kim, J. (2019). ‘“내 팬은 내가 챙긴다” 아이돌 스타들의 ‘역조공’을 아시나요’, Donga Ilbo, 27 Nov [Online]. Available at: https://www.donga.com/news/Culture/article/all/20191127/98550262/1

● Kim, J. H., Yu, J., Sya, K., & Son, S. H. (2021). K-Culture Glossary: 100 Terms to Get You Started with Korean Popular Culture. Jikim Publishing Limited.

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