K-pop is taking over the charts and for good reason, the instantly earwormy songs, the throngs of screaming fans, the gorgeous, meticulous videos that will send you down a rabbit hole. K-pop is absolutely addicting and the community surrounding the genre is incredible. Over the past couple of years, we've seen K-pop grow to be a worldwide phenomenon and their fans have become unstoppable, raising money for charities, trolling Donald Trump, BTS fans are called "ARMY" for a reason.
We talked to NYA Fangirls, a group of best friends, about how they first fell in love with K-Pop and why you need to be paying attention to it.
How did you start becoming a fan of K-pop? What was that moment?
Kat: For me, it was Carolina's fault, she sent me videos for years, and I was just like, "No, It's okay, it's fine. I won't like this type of music." I have a super obsessive personality. There was the Jonas Brothers and One Direction, and I was already so deep into that hole and when One Direction went on hiatus. She pushed it to me again, and I was like, "Okay, fine." Then it was down the rabbit hole. A straight shot into this beautiful world of K-pop, then two months later we went to K Con. It was fast.
Cynthia: late 2010, 2011, with one of our friends, was heavily into K-Pop. Specifically, SHINee, and she would always send me videos. It sounds like a cult now that I think about it. I didn't fully get into the fandom because that's another long process. I saw BTS "Dope" during a YouTube reaction video. I was going through a lot of personal things, and I needed a distraction. I fell deeper into it. Here I am, seven tours later.
Terrica: When "Gangnam Style" came out, I had a World Music class, one of the debates was, "Is this music?" and the class was really split, and we talked about it, and I was like, "Yeah, this song is a bop," but I never got back to it. Like Kat was saying, I was already deep into other things. I was really into 5SOS, and another friend sent me YouTube videos to watch and dance practice videos. I stayed up the whole night watching videos. That was in 2015, and here we are!
Carolina: I was on YouTube in the late 2010s, and I saw a video "Taeyang's "Wedding Dress," and I thought, "Who is this gorgeous man? and what is he singing, and why am I feeling emotions when I don't even know what he's saying?" I found BIGBANG, 2 PM, Super Junior. I saw SHINee's "Replay," the Japanese version. It wasn't until like 2015. I would always listen to the same songs. I just wanted to know what was new. I was in the 5SOS and One Direction world. Then I got into it. I started being in the fandoms. It felt like a safe world for me.
What initially drew you to K-pop?
Cynthia: When you see K-pop, they take a concept, and the album is in that theme, the photoshoots, the photo book, the cards, the video. It takes you into this big world, and they pay attention to such small details.
Terrica: There's a whole storyline, different comebacks in music videos. It's really fun, so people come up with different theories. You get the visual, the music, and the story too.
Carolina: That's also a cool thing that gets you. Nowadays, not a lot of people buy albums; they stream music. With K-pop, you get albums that are so elaborate, and they bring so many things, you open it, and it's its own little adventure. It's a little world. I like that with Western artists, not to dog on them, but with K-pop, you get multiple comebacks and new music way more. They're continuously releasing new music.
Tell me about the start of NYAFangirls. How did it all come together?
Carolina: We started NYAFangirls in 2012; it was concert blogs, 5SOS, One Direction. Fast forward to meeting Terrica in 2015. We meet online and hit it off, and then we became besties. We'd go to shows together. In 2018 we were all together at an IHOP, just talking about shows, and we jokingly, "We should start a podcast."
Cynthia: Then we went home and ordered mics off Amazon and thought, "How hard can this be." Little did we know…
Carolina: We just thought, how would we make this fun? Our first episode is a hot mess. We didn't know what we were doing, and podcasting wasn't a big thing yet. It was just starting up. We took our brand of NYA Fangirls and rebranded it. We started from square one and expanded what we wanted to do. We joked about it, the typical person that says, "We should start a podcast." We did that while eating pancakes.
What does "Not Your Average Fangirls" mean as a title?
Kat: Carolina and I talked a lot about the channel's name when we first started it. There's that negative connotation with the word fangirls. We are fangirls, and we're so proud of it. Carolina went to school for PR. I play music. We wanted it to be professional fangirls. We're not just acting out of emotion like this is what we love and what we do. Music is everything to us.
Carolina: I remember, before we started posting videos, there's a Playlist Live convention for YouTube, it was here in Florida, and we went to it. I remember talking to YouTubers about our idea. What we've always noticed is I can meet celebrities, and it's like yes, we're fangirls, but we know that everyone's human. People always think fangirls are crazy.
Do you think fangirls are becoming less stigmatized?
Kat: Personally, I think fangirls are powering music. You have a solid fanbase, most of the time, let's be honest, of females. Girls are music-driven. That's such a powerful thing, me and my homies we love this group so much that we got them to #1 on Billboard, like what have you done? You don't help your team win the Super Bowl. I feel powerful using "Fangirls" it's such a dope thing to be one. The culture around it, the people you meet. I have four of my best friends because of that culture. To me, it's never felt like a bad word. Why do hoards of screaming girls for this person bother you so badly that you have to put a negative stamp on the word?
Terrica: To piggyback off Kat, with how powerful fangirls are, I think people are taking more notice of that. Now recently, with everything that's been going on, people have been donating and raising money. BTS donated a million dollars to Black Lives Matter, and their fans are like, "cool, let's match that." They got together and campaigned and spread awareness, and raised money. Whether it's for activism or charity, I know a lot of people get together and donate money for their favorite member's birthday. The media is starting to take notice. These girls aren't just backing their artist from a music standpoint but also social issues. Fangirls make things happen.
Carolina: I've literally been working on street teams and for different clubs for different groups. I've always seen myself as a professional fangirl. When people say, you can't say that, when you're working in music. It just means I'm knowledgeable about this artist and this culture. I'll know about the artist's latest single. I'll know what worked and what didn't, and also, I have the word of the fans because I'm part of the fandom. We have that knowledge because we're passionate.
Cynthia: People always thought that fangirls were mindlessly following someone because they're cute boys or cute girls, but what they don't think about is that it's not mindless following. You feel so connected to them, and what they're doing and what they stand for. That's why you follow them.
I feel like it took K-pop a long time to break into American charts. Why did BTS eventually top the charts here?
Terrica: We were already in the fandom world with One Direction, 5SOS, Jonas brothers. When we didn't have that anymore, we had to search other places. On the K-pop side of things, they're so interactive with their fans. There are so many ways that you can talk to your artist or feel like they're invested in you. They have so many chat groups and the way they utilized social media to connect with their fans. Not only did you have that boyband feel again, but you felt like they really connected with you and saw you as a person and not just a dollar sign. I think that's something K-pop does that draws people in. You feel like you're part of a family.
Carolina: One Direction going away was a big part in becoming such a big thing. When we got into it, people knew about it, and there were some shows happening. It just wasn't mainstream here. Then with "Gangnam Style," people used it as a joke and didn't take it seriously, but the boybands filled the void. With BTS, I feel like they used social media in such an amazing way. Western artists aren't as communicative. I feel like I really know BTS. That's the selling point, and they were the underdogs, and everyone loves an underdog story. They came from a small company. They weren't successful at the beginning. Their social media set them apart, and they were able to get an international fanbase.
Kat: The culture of K-pop in general, you're not just a fan; you join this community of people. And there's so much talent in K-pop in general. Not just artists but dance covers, song covers, fan art, there's so much. Girls do makeup looks for certain groups and clothing. It gave people not just a music outlet but a creative outlet. The fashion at these concerts, it's insanity. It's just an uplifting community. There's a negative side to everything but the positive side of it it is really beautiful. It's boys, girls non-binaries uplifting each other. There's also a group for everyone, no matter what you like. Even now, they're doing video calls with fans. You get to interact so personally with these artists.
Carolina: The community was a lot of what brought K-pop to be mainstream, and now people aren't scared to say they like K-pop. I'm 28; when I was in high school, I had a Jonas brothers lunch bag, and people made fun of me, but I didn't care because they were my boys. Now, I feel like there's more acceptance. We're older, so we REALLY don't care, but the sense of community brought it. BTS, they had it all. They're incredible guys, they had good music, and they get their fans involved.
Why do you think there's still that bias around K-pop as a genre? Why isn't it taken seriously?
Kat: I would say that you have to do your research. People are going off like that; they just look pretty. But if you research these groups, they have whole vlogs and videos where they show themselves in the studios, training, writing songs, producing, and having a say in their concepts. Some of the newer groups aren't afforded that luxury, but that's just like any other group when you're starting out as an artist. As they establish themselves, they start to have more say in their music. I think those views are just based on ignorance. I think that what people are unfamiliar with, they write it off. Not everyone is going like it, just like everyone doesn't like rock, or pop, or hip hop, but I'm not going to think it's dumb just because I don't know about it. It's the stereotypes that get people.
Cynthia: Each member trains for a long time. Sometimes from a young age, for years, vocally, dance, culture, acrobats sometimes. They train years before they get formed as a group, and then you train as a group, and THEN you debut, then you start from zero. As a trainee, you're not supposed to be shown to the world. You don't know if you're going to make it or not. These groups have been in the game for a long time; Jungkook started training when he was 12. People don't understand that it's a lot of work. To touch on people saying they don't know what they're saying, music transcends language. If I bop, I will bop. I listen to music from India, from Dubai. If it has a sick beat and I'm vibing, that's it. Imagine if you were like, "Why do you like Opera? You don't speak Italian?" there are people who listen to Spanish music and don't speak Spanish, and I don't get mad at it.
Carolina: People think K-pop is manufactured, like sure, back in the day, a lot of the groups were being told how to act and their role in the group. But, not everybody in the music industry wants to write and produce. A lot of them just want to perform, and being able to perform somebody else's work and do it well is a talent in itself. Now, the artists want that creative freedom, and we see that more often.
How has this podcast helped you stay together as friends?
Kat: We have our meetups at concerts, I think our podcast, we want you to feel like you're listening to your best friends talk about K-pop, and I think our relationship has grown even more since we started that podcast. Since we're best friends, we can have an open discussion, and we can argue with each other because we ARE such good friends. We're kind of an indestructible force.
Carolina: It helps us connect more and be excited about things to all about and helps us communicate better. We're best friends, but we don't have to agree on everything. It's helped us stay together and continue discussing different things in the K-pop world.
Terrica: It's a safe space, with your best friends, you know that they're there and they're going to support you and respect what you're saying. We're all comfortable with each other so we can talk about serious things and then we can talk about the music side of things.
And finally, what song would you recommend to people right now?
WEEEKLY - Afterschool
Hero - Lucy
DPR IAN - Scaredy cat
Blue Hour - TXT
Replay by SHINee
Music aficionado and editor-in-chief at The New Nine. I'm most at home at festivals and concerts. I would love to start a band of all Kanye covers all on keys. I'm a dedicated Jack White fan and when I saw him in concert it changed my life. I'd never seen someone so passionate about music and preserving its history. Every project he does I just worship. Follow me on Twitter and Insta: @etreadgold