K-pop is a global phenomenon. It’s a multi-billion dollar juggernaut with a legion of devoted fans, some of the world’s most popular bands, and a seemingly never-ending production line of talent.
The connection with combating the climate crisis is therefore not immediately clear.
Especially when you take into account the main output of the industry. In the first half of 2022, more than 34.9 million physical copies of K-pop albums were sold and collectible photo cards are placed in each album to encourage fans to consume more and buy multiple copies.
Still, K-pop fans are known for fighting for social justice. When #whitelivesmatter was trending on Twitter after George Floyd’s murder, K-pop stans flooded it with fancams to block out the racist messages. And in June 2020, fans registered for thousands of tickets to a Donald Trump rally that they never intended to use, leading to large empty seats and preventing his supporters from attending.
So it was perhaps inevitable that they would soon become involved 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 a 23 year old K-pop fan from Indonesia. Together with two friends, she founded Kpop4planet in March 2021. It is a platform for people who love K-pop and Korean culture to fight together for climate justice.
“I am concerned about climate issues because I have experienced them,” she tells Euronews Green.
“I live in Jakarta and there are so many coal plants around that it affects the local population by causing air pollution. We also have floods every year and it’s becoming an annual event that makes me realize how the climate crisis really happens and how it affects me and my family.”
Nurul wanted to combine “the power of the K-pop fans” with climate activism. And thus kpop4planet was born.
As 21-year-old Portuguese member Carla Alexandra Almeida da Costa puts it: “K-pop fans are great, we do great things. So why don’t we use our power to save the world?”
What do K-pop fans think about becoming climate activists?
The move has proved popular with the fandom. What started as a volunteer position for Nurul has grown into her full-time job. Two others work full time for Kpop4planet along with 20 volunteer ambassadors from nine countries. The group is funded by Action Speaks Louder, an Australian-registered charity that lobbies to hold big companies accountable for their climate change pledges.
Kpop4planet gives fans concerned about the climate crisis a platform to take action and support each other.
Many young people struggle with it eco fear and feel overwhelmed by the magnitude and impact of the crisis. For Nurul, combining her two passions, K-pop and climate activism, keeps her grounded and helps her continue the fight for climate justice.
“K-pop is how we get through this madness,” she laughs.
What does Kpop4planet do?
Nurul and her colleagues have devoted most of their energy to six different climate campaigns. More than 33,000 fans from 170 countries participated.
The most successful of these is ‘No K-pop on a dead planet’. It called for K-pop albums to go green by selling digital rather than physical albums, minimizing and encouraging packaging low carbon performance.
The culture of buying physical albums is strong for many K-pop fans. It’s a way to show support for their favorite band, and it’s exciting to find a photo card of your “bias” (a K-pop fan term for your favorite member of a band) in there. It’s a culture that can lead to overconsumption when fans buy multiple copies of one album to boost their favorite band and collect as many photo cards as possible.
Carla believes their lobby has an impact on the industry. She points to the example of the band Victon. For the release of their album Chronograph, they gave fans the choice of purchasing the usual physical album or opting to receive just the photo card and receive a digital copy of the album.
The ‘No K-pop on a dead planet’ campaign also sparked discussions between Kpop4planet, the Korean government and the entertainment industry about adopting more sustainable practices.
“A few of them like SM Entertainment have joined the UN Global Compact and there is also JYP, they are 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 company,” says Nurul.
“This shows that companies, even government, are now listening to the voices of the fans, not only because they are the consumers, but because we really care about these industries.”
Aside from targeting the big companies, Kpop4planet has also tackled it deforestation. Fan gifts are popular in K-pop culture. Groups of K-pop fans gather to buy expensive gifts for their idols. Kpop4planet has started 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 attended the UN climate talks COP27 earlier this month in Egypt, where they urged world leaders to take steps to curb deforestation and participated in the Korea Pavilion.
Their performance followed superstar girl band Blackpink attending COP26 in Glasgow last year, 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 of Kpop4planet has the added benefit of challenging K-pop fan stereotypes.
The fandom has been likened to a cult and seen by some as obsessive and poisonous.
“I think Kpop4planet is a way for other people to see us from a different perspective, because we’re not crazy and fanatical kids. We also do beautiful things,” says Carla.
Nurul agrees: “One of the reasons why some fans are not so confident about talking about climate issues is because they are afraid of the stereotypes that exist about K-pop fans.
“We are so happy that our platform can be a safe place for K-pop fans looking for friends to work together on climate action.”