Recently, I was part of a conversation between my sisters and a person outside of our friend group. The subject of K-pop came up, and this person who was clearly not a fan looked at me and said “you must be patient zero”. I’ve heard this term used before, mainly in a derogatory way, with the meaning of “the first person to be exposed to K-pop, who then spreads becoming a fan as a disease among their friends and family”. At first, I was a little annoyed, but as I thought about it more and more, I realized that he was unknowingly paying me as well as the industry of K-pop a massive compliment.
The truth that has to be acknowledged to understand why, though, is the sometimes uncomfortable and avoided fact that K-pop is very much an industry, and groups are very much a product. Fans don’t like to discuss this much, but it’s a fact that cannot be denied. K-pop groups are products created by corporations to sell to consumers. Many antis will use this as a reason to not enjoy K-pop, saying for instance “it’s too fake and manufactured, where companies decide members of groups instead of letting them come together naturally”, however the reality is that much of American media is the same. K-pop is very self aware in being an industry, and will even present straight to the fans that they are consumers of a product. Idols will say that the company won’t let them say or do things that would pull fans away, such as dating bans or bans on using dialect. There are TV shows such as Fluttering India, a show where members of K-pop groups were sent to India to research the market for K-pop, essentially filming and packaging the research companies do in America for a new product as entertainment. There are even TV shows made into survival shows such as No Mercy or Pentagon Maker which show the making of the group product, choosing members who work well together and have the talent necessary, almost like a Shark Tank where the judges are the companies and the products are human lives. The K-pop industry is just that, and industry, and the companies will cater to the consumers through fan-service and fan events. Being aware of such a fact is important to understand, and it doesn’t make your enjoyment of the industry a bad thing. It means that you understand that even in American culture, actors and TV celebrities and singers are products who you support and spend money on, and you as a fan have abundant power in such matters.
This is important, though, because you now understand that K-pop is an industry and not a disease. And like any other industry, the strongest tool that is utilized is word of mouth. Humans have a natural crowd mentality, and sites such as Amazon or Yelp utilize this mentality, showing you ratings and reviews in order to convince you to buy products. Youtubers and Instagrammers will buy followers to convince followers to go with the crowd. When you take a survey for any reason, for a store or a restaurant alike, what two questions are always there? “How did you hear about us”, “Would you recommend us to a friend?”. You see, K-pop is an industry, and by saying that it is an industry that is known to be infectious like a disease, spread from person to person, you’re only saying that K-pop has achieved something most product distributers only dream of - a product with value and appeal enough for a successful complete spread of word of mouth through people from all languages, all cultures, all races, all backgrounds, and all walks of life. And by saying that I am patient zero you’re saying that I am a distributer to an entirely untapped friend group, family, an untouched market, and that I as a consumer am increasing the profits of an industry that I genuinely enjoy partaking in, that my support as a fan of a group that speaks a different language in a different part of the world than me is at the very root valuable and valued and sought after from companies and idols alike.
So let that be a reminder to fans who are tired of hearing “they will never know you exist” or “you don’t even speak the same language”. Not only is your enjoyment valid, it’s also necessary and important in making K-pop and your favorite bias group become a worldwide trend until the biggest argument the haters can put forth is that it appeals to too many people.