NewJeans: Evolving K-Pop Fandom Culture and How to Lead the Change
Updated: Apr 13
February 14, 2023
By: Jin Wu Nam
“Let’s go”—says a K-pop idol to an online hater in her own music video. The destination they’re heading to is a psych ward, where her group was dancing to the song a few seconds ago. This controversial scene is from a post-credit sequence of K-pop girl group NewJeans’ recent music video, "OMG". With their debut in July 2022, NewJeans has become one of, if not the most, promising rookie artist in the K-pop industry, already showing off their presence in the Billboard Hot 100 chart this January.
Screenshot, Last scene of NewJeans ‘OMG’ MV
The responses to this post-credit scene varied. Magazine Zenerate’s editor Do-heon Kim criticized the scene, saying NewJeans and their label ADOR turned their gun against K-pop fandom culture and labeled diverse opinions of fans as "mental". On the other hand, film and pop culture critic Dohoon Kim showed enthusiastic support for the scene, interpreting the message as the K-pop entertainment agency’s effort to protect their artists and to prevent further tragic events (referring to the loss of SULLI and Gu Ha Ra).
While heated debates continued between the critics, NewJeans’ recent music videos (‘Ditto’ side A / B and ‘OMG’) became increasingly popular, thanks to their ambiguous yet deep hidden messages. YouTube feeds are flooded with plot and mise-en-scene analysis videos, with some reaching millions of views. Cine21, one of the most prestigious movie critique magazines, included interviews with Hee-Jin Min, ADOR’s CEO, and Executive Art Director, and Woo-Seok Shin, director of the controversial ‘Ditto’ and ‘OMG’ music videos.
Screenshot, YouTube KR search results for ‘NewJeans MV analysis’
Compared to other frenzies on K-pop idols, this ongoing discourse on NewJeans and their music video stood out to me. Fans and the general public are putting more effort into understanding the holistic process and output of the group’s work instead of focusing only on the individual members of NewJeans. The spotlight is also on ADOR CEO Min who founded her company to create the music that she pursues, music video director Shin, and the composer 250 who began as an indie producer and was recently nominated as Musician of the Year in the 2022 Korean Music Awards. Along with NewJeans, they are all crucial parts of "Team NewJeans," a collaborative entity of artists to break an existing frame of female K-pop musicians as fantasized pretty girls and to deliver a fresh story to their audience.
Courtesy of Melon Magazine
NewJeans’ unique approach and message reach even further than BTS’ heartwarming motto, "Love Yourself," and touches on more complex, or even existential contemplations of the idol industry itself, such as the fictive nature of the idol-fandom relationship depicted in the "Ditto" music video.
Despite the controversial message, NewJeans was successful due to changes in the K-pop girl group market. Nowadays, K-pop girl groups can't survive off of only targeting male fans who may desire to see their "ideal girlfriends" within idols. Recent news shows that the purchasing power of male fandom in the girl group industry is decreasing, while most loyal consumers are female fans. 65% of the listeners of NewJeans’s debut EP’s title song ‘Attention’ were female, while the female listener percentage rose higher than 75% in the younger age group (~29 years old) (WowTV). Stats also show female fans purchase more physical albums and goods for K-pop girl groups (Star In News).
With this new target market in mind, instead of depicting distorted female representation, idols should be confident and able to speak up for themselves. Specifically, for NewJeans, their CEO and Art Director, Min, implement a 90s retro vibe for their visual concept to target the X-generation who have high purchasing power. This consumer base appears to enjoy the confidence and pride that New Jeans expresses, whom they see as a "딸내미" (affectionate phrase for daughter) or "갓기" (God+Baby) figure. This strays away from the "innocent" or "fragile" female archetype that was commonly seen in older K-pop markets.
Courtesy of ADOR
According to director Shin, he wrote the controversial last scene of "OMG" while worrying
about NewJeans' future. He spoke in an interview that as NewJeans became more publicly exposed, he was concerned that their behavior may be misinterpreted. His wish is that NewJeans is able to express themselves and their individuality, free of constraints to their artistry (Melon). Thus, he hopes to protect the young, aspiring artist that is NewJeans; and it seems many Bunnies (NewJeans' fan club name) feel the same way.
NewJeans is not just a performance group that replicates ‘idols’ as ideal yet distorted
illusions. Under the philosophy of Hee-Jin Min who created ADOR to “point out the paradox
of the idol industry and to break the existing system,” NewJeans reframes K-pop as a
new, collaborative art format. As the stakeholders CEO Min, the MV director, composers, lyricists, and idol members gather together for a single project, the world gets to see the unique and bold characteristics of NewJeans. The production model of NewJeans manifests the ambition to effectively adjust to, or even accelerate and lead, the evolving needs of K-pop fandom culture.
Jin Wu Nam is a Sophomore at Stern concentrating in Marketing & Management and pursuing minors in BEMT and Japanese. He studies subculture & film critique in his free time and has a lot of interesting takes! Look forward to more content from Jin Wu!