Global Fandom: Thi Ngo Bich (Becky) Pham (Vietnam)
Greetings to fellow participants in Professor Henry Jenkins’s Global Fandom Conversation!
I am thrilled to have been invited as a representative of Vietnam, a country in Southeast Asia often culturally associated with the Vietnam War, or vibrant touristy images of beautiful landscape for contemporary Western audience. What fewer people might be aware of is Vietnam’s significant socio-political changes and strong economic growth over the past 30 years hailed by The World Bank as “remarkable” and “resilient” (The World Bank, 2021).
Joining this conversation, I hope to tell you the story about the Vietnamese “water buffalo youth” and “out-of-control” fans, to explain why K-pop (or popular music from South Korea) is such a dynamic and transnational force important to the context of Vietnam, and to engage in further discussion with you about the next steps for global fandom studies.
I am a female Vietnamese national who was born and grew up in Southern Vietnam, received my higher education and communication research training in Singapore, and is currently living, studying, and working in California, USA. My scholarship is located at the intersection of media studies and cultural studies. Adopting both qualitative and quantitative social science methods, I research the social and cultural implications of communication technologies on children, youth, and families, especially those in Asian communities.
Under this umbrella research agenda, I have been studying how young K-pop fans in Vietnam in the past decade navigated the tensions between nationalistic discourse versus transcultural fandom. Through a case study of mainstream online news representations of young Vietnamese K-pop fans and the fans’ online responses to their critics, I showed how as recent as 2011 and even until now, the Vietnamese public has stigmatized K-pop fans as “out-of-control” (see attached image of a K-pop Vietnamese fanboy that notoriously attracted Vietnamese media’s spotlight in 2012), “mixed-race”, and stubborn like a Vietnamese water buffalo (hence, “water buffalo youth”). My case study also revealed how the fans gradually gained more positive recognition due to the popularity of their K-pop dance covers on YouTube and their wins in international K-pop dance contests (Pham, 2022).
In my next co-authored fandom project, I hope to unpack how K-pop fans across the globe utilized Twitter as an empowering platform during COVID-19 to spread public health awareness through the hashtag #wearamask, while also examining the effects of disparities (such as political alignment and geographical locations) among the fans on their Twitter-based networks toward fandom-based call for social change.
I am certainly not the first Vietnamese researcher of fandom studies in Vietnam, but Vietnam-based fandom studies is still in its nascent phase, with little attention from scholars of Vietnamese studies (Hoang, 2017). So why this spotlight on K-pop, a foreign phenomenon originating from South Korea, in relation to the context of Vietnam?
As a developing country, Vietnam imports more than exports cultural products. Even as V-pop (or popular music from Vietnam) has started to surged across Asia (Souw, 2021), the popularity of K-pop within Vietnam is undeniable (Vietnamnet, 2020). Collectivistic and conservative Vietnam, highly similar to its neighboring China (see Chen, 2018), has had an ambiguous history of cultural policies and public reception pertaining to importing Korean Wave into the domestic market since the late 1990s (Pham, 2022). Policy makers in Vietnam have always had to balance between the economic opportunities and socio-cultural capital brought about by the spread of K-pop, versus the nation’s communitarian ideologies and expectations of patriotism on the younger generations who did not experience wars and societal upheavals like their parents and grandparents did.
The very few existing studies on Vietnamese fandom have unanimously focused on K-pop, its influence, and socio-cultural implications (see Duong, 2016; Ha, 2020; Pham, 2022; Phan, 2014). This speaks volume to the ongoing immense power of K-pop as a cross-cultural force within Vietnam (and maybe also within East and Southeast Asia), while also brings into stark contrast the tensions between nationalistic sentiments and the old-world order, versus transnational fannish identities and globalized consumerism.
In this regard, studying K-pop fandom should help reveal and complicate various cultural, political, and ideological subjectivities of contemporary Vietnam. Studying K-pop also poses new opportunities and challenges for cross-border dialogues about global circulation and consumption of East Asian popular culture, ultimately toward our increasing attempts to de-Westernize fandom studies.
I look forward to our fruitful conversations!
Chen, L. (2018). Chinese fans of Japanese and Korean pop culture: Nationalistic narratives and international fandom. Routledge.
Duong, N. H. P. (2016). Korean Wave as Cultural Imperialism: A study of K-pop Reception in Vietnam (Unpublished master’s thesis). Leiden University: Leiden, the Netherlands.
Hoang, H. (2017). Abstract of Mediated Intimacy: Fandom as a Way of Life. Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs. http://bellschool.anu.edu.au/sites/default/files/uploads/2017-10/abstracts_vu_for_website_0.pdf
Hoang, H. (2020). K-pop Male Androgyny, Mediated Intimacy, and Vietnamese Fandom. In J. V. Cabañes, & C. S. Uy-Tioco (Eds.), Mobile Media and Social Intimacies in Asia, pp. 187-203. Springer.
Pham, B. (2022, accepted pending revisions). Public reception of young K-pop fans in Vietnam (2011-2019): At the intersection of nationalistic discourse and transcultural fandom. Transformative Works and Cultures.
Phan, T. T. (2014). Asianization, Imagination, Fan Culture and Cultural Capital of Vietnamese Youth: A Case Study of K-pop Cover Dance Groups in Hanoi, Vietnam. In A. U. Guevarra (Ed.), Proceedings of the 1st AIKS Conference on Korean Studies: “Hallyu Mosaic in the Philippines: Framing Perceptions and Praxis”, pp. 150-170. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University.
Souw, R. (2021, March 31). Thai and Vietnamese pop music is surging across Asia – these are the artists to watch. South China Morning Post. https://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/entertainment/article/3127593/thai-and-vietnamese-pop-music-surging-across-asia-these-are
The World Bank. (2021). Vietnam Overview. https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/vietnam/overview
Vietnamnet. (2020, August 8). K-pop attracts huge number of Vietnamese fans. https://vietnamnews.vn/life-style/749323/k-pop-attracts-huge-number-of-vietnamese-fans.html
Thi Ngoc Bich (Becky) Pham is a Doctoral Student at the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Southern California, USA. She researches how children, youth, and families appropriate communication technologies, and how their media engagement shapes their worldview and lived experience. Her research has been published in the Journal of Children and Media, New Media & Society, Communication Research Reports, and is forthcoming in Transformative Works and Cultures. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit https://beckypham.com/.