K-pop is a global phenomenon. It’s a multi-billion dollar juggernaut with a legion of devoted fans, some of the most popular bands in the world, and a seemingly endless talent pipeline.
Its link to tackling the climate crisis is therefore not immediately clear.
Especially considering the industry’s major output. Over 34.9 million physical copies of K-pop albums have been sold in the first half of 2022, and collectible photo cards are placed in each album to encourage fans to consume more and purchase more copies.
Still, K-pop fans are known to fight for social justice causes. When #whitelivesmatter trended on Twitter following the murder of George Floyd, K-pop stans flooded it with fancams to block racist posts. And in June 2020, fans signed up for thousands of tickets to a Donald Trump rally they never intended to use, resulting in piles of empty seats and preventing his supporters from attend it.
So it was perhaps inevitable that they would soon be embroiled in one of the most important social justice issues of our time: the climate crisis.
Why do K-pop fans care about the climate crisis?
Nurul Sarifah is 23 years old K-pop fan from indonesia. With two friends, she created Kpop4planet in March 2021. It is a platform for people who love K-pop and Korean culture to fight together for climate justice.
“I cared about climate issues because I lived through them,” she told Euronews Green.
“I live in Jakarta and there are so many coal power plants in the area that it affects the locals by creating air pollution. We also experience flooding every year and it becomes an annual thing which makes me realize how the climate crisis is actually happening and how it is affecting me and my family.
Nurul wanted to combine “K-pop fan power” with climate activism. And so kpop4planet was born.
As 21-year-old member Carla Alexandra Almeida da Costa from Portugal puts it, “K-pop fans are amazing, we do amazing things. So why don’t we use our strength to save the world?
How do K-pop fans feel about becoming climate activists?
The move has proven popular with the fandom. What started as a volunteer role for Nurul has become her full-time job. Two others work for Kpop4planet full time with 20 volunteer ambassadors from nine countries. The group is funded by Action Speaks Louder, an Australian-registered charity that lobbies to hold big business accountable for their climate change promises.
Kpop4planet offers fans concerned about the climate crisis a platform to take action and support each other.
Many young people find it difficult to eco-anxiety and feel overwhelmed by the scale and consequences of the crisis. For Nurul, combining his two passions of K-pop and climate activism keeps him grounded and helps him continue the fight for climate justice.
“K-pop is how we get through this madness,” she laughs.
What does Kpop4planet do?
Nurul and his colleagues channeled most of their energy into six different climate campaigns. More than 33,000 fans from 170 countries took part.
The most successful of these was “No K-pop on a Dead Planet”. He called on K-pop albums to go green by selling digital rather than physical albums, minimizing packaging and encouraging low carbon performance.
The culture of buying physical albums is strong for many K-pop fans. It’s a way to show support for your favorite group and there’s excitement in finding a photo card of your “bias” (a K-pop fan term for your favorite member of a group) hidden inside. It’s a culture that can lead to overconsumption, as fans buy multiple copies of an album to boost their favorite band and collect as many photo cards as possible.
Carla thinks their lobbying is having an impact on the industry. She cites the example of the Victon group. For the release of their Chronograph album, they gave fans the choice of purchasing the usual physical album or opting instead to receive only the photocard and receive a digital copy of the album.
The “No K-pop on a Dead Planet” campaign has also led to discussions between Kpop4planet, the Korean government and the entertainment industry on implementing more sustainable practices.
“A few of them like SM Entertainment have joined the United Nations Global Compact and there’s also JYP, they’re joining the Korean Renewable 100 [a global initiative where businesses commit to running their operations 100 per cent from renewable energies]. They are the first K-pop company to join this,” Nurul says.
“It shows that now companies, even government, are listening to the voice of fans, not only because they are the consumers, but also because we really care about these industries.”
In addition to targeting large corporations, Kpop4planet has also tackled Deforestation. Fan gifts are popular in K-pop culture. Groups of K-pop fans will come together to buy expensive gifts for their idols. Kpop4planet has launched an initiative where they encourage fans to plant or adopt trees for their idols and fandoms to “show care for our forests.”
The group also participated in the UN climate talks COP27 in Egypt earlier this month, where they urged world leaders to take action to end deforestation and participated in the Korean pavilion.
Their appearance followed superstar girl group Blackpink attending COP26 last year in Glasgow, where they called on leaders to take urgent climate action.
What are the stereotypes about K-pop fans?
For Nurul and Carla, this increased recognition from Kpop4planet has the added benefit of combating stereotypes of K-pop fans.
The fandom has been compared to a cult and is considered by some to be obsessive and toxic.
“I think Kpop4planet is a way for others to look at us from a different perspective because we’re not crazy, bigoted kids. We also do beautiful things,” says Carla.
Nurul agrees, “One of the reasons why some fans aren’t so confident in talking about weather issues is because they’re afraid of the stereotypes that exist about K-pop fans.
“We are excited that our platform can be a safe space for K-pop fans looking for friends to work together on climate action.”
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