Jasmine Proctor


With the steady rise in global popularity of the Korean music group BTS, the South Korean government and surrounding industries have swiftly begun utilizing their image and international recognition for specific nation branding purposes. While K-pop soft power strategies are not novel to the South Korean state, what is new is the rapid speed at which BTS have become a beacon for South Korean culture, language, and symbolism in the international arena. However, few scholarly works have sought to investigate the role fans have played in this heightened position for the group as state representatives, with minimal research conducted into the work fans do within the framework of ARMY fan culture. This paper will thus aim to fill the gap in scholarship on ARMY as an organized labour network, focusing on the role fans play as labourers in online spaces that work to promote, disseminate, and cultivate wider recognition for BTS as artists. Through the conjunct engagement of a political economy framework and theories of participatory culture, this paper will explore the manner through which the free labour of ARMY, premised on affect, has constructed the fandom as active agents of soft power alongside BTS themselves.

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