K-Pop’s Unlikeliest Fans: Middle-Age Males

K-pop girl-groups aren't just for teenagers—and the men who love the music insist that's not creepy

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Han Myung-Gu / WireImage / Getty Images

Members of South Korean girl group Crayon Pop perform during the SBS MTV 'The Show' at Walkerhill Hotel on July 26, 2012, in Seoul

Those who observe the Korean pop-music phenomenon from a distance may have ideas about who listens to the music. PSY, the YouTube star whose hit “Gangnam Style” help popularize so called K-pop in the U.S. and elsewhere, is big enough to have fans across all age groups. But the boy bands and girl groups who otherwise dominate the K-pop scene target a young teenaged audience in the same way teen pop stars on these shores—from David Cassidy to Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez—play to middle- and high-school students, particularly the girls.

So it may come as a surprise that in the audience at a many a K-pop show are older males. They’ve become such a presence they’ve earned their own nickname: “uncle fans.”

(MORE: Beyond PSY: 5 Essential K-Pop Tracks)

Uncle fans—also called by the Korean word for “uncle,” commonly written in English as “ahjussi” or “ahjusshi”—are defined as male K-pop fans who are 30 or older. One of those fans is Stephen Knight, a 47-year-old Nashville lawyer who runs the website kpopularity.com and was recently chosen to participate in a show about the wide array of K-pop fans out there:

Knight’s love of K-pop came about by accident: he had long made an effort to find interesting music to play in the car when he drove his children, now 10 and 13, to school. Time spent in Japan after college had left him with an appreciation for Japanese pop; looking for such music kept turning up Korean music instead—when PSY made it big last year, Knight took the plunge. Soon enough, he was a serious K-pop fan. A few months ago, he came across the term “uncle fan” and realized that that described him—which left him with mixed feelings.

For one thing, he knows that some people think it sounds weird—or worse.

“It worries me a little bit because I know that some people look at ‘uncle fans’ as something creepy, but in a way it is a pretty good description of the relationship between the performer and the fan, right?” Knight says. “You could look at it as the way an uncle might look at a niece, interested in what she’s doing and a supporter, but it implies that there’s not any sort of romantic aspect to it.”

On the other hand, as K-pop bloggers have pointed out, the pop-music industry isn’t exactly a world that sells modesty. The girl idols of K-pop are often presented as scantily clad, winking adolescents—some wonder if “uncles” are freed by a wholesome label to gaze however they choose.

But Knight insists that the only reason for those fans are labeled is that they don’t fit a stereotype, and that such examination will turn up that there’s nothing automatically amiss about being an “uncle.” Just like any piece of pop culture, a world where people are more likely to feature younger, attractive people, K-pop has all sorts of fans. Yes, the K-pop fan industry is structured on a teen-heartthrob model, but that’s a factor of marketing rather than music appreciation, Knight believes. “There’s this thing in K-pop about your ‘bias,’ who’s your favorite group and who’s your favorite boy or girl in that group that you’d want to marry,” he says, pointing out the difference between the way a teen is a fan and the way someone looking for music to listen to with his kids is a fan. “To some extent, there’s projection. This kind of obsessive attraction to the idols that a younger teenager might have, some people maybe assume that older fans feel the same way about groups they might follow.”

Though Knight says there were some negative comments on his video for the K-pop fan show, suggesting that it’s creepy to see a grown man confess his love of K-pop, many other comments are from fellow fans who commend him for being brave enough to admit that he listens to and loves K-pop (and in Nashville, of all places).

(MORE11 Suspiciously Sound-Alike Songs)

Plus, he adds, he’s personally seen more of an “uncle” fan culture for the K-pop groups that tend to project fun rather than extreme sexuality. In addition to catchy music, he says, they offer listeners a carefree moment; the groups that are meant to be super sexy tend to keep straight faces rather than smiling. One group he singles out as an example is Crayon Pop, the quintet whose song “Bar Bar Bar” has been shooting up the K-pop charts; Crayon Pop has, according to Knight, one of the most visible “uncle” fandoms.

But just because there are lots of “uncles” who are fans doesn’t mean that older men are likely to become K-pop idols themselves any time soon…at least not these guys.

83 comments
RickyNoa
RickyNoa

I am 66 this year and like their music.

Now, this is what many younger fans do not understand about older fans and maybe see this as unusual but you have to remember we have been listening to music even before the creation of Rock'n'Roll and have lived through many fazes and changes in the music industry.Elvis Presley and then the Beatles broke new ground in presenting music never heard of before and we were dancing to beats unheard of before us

We witnessed the advent of live  concerts and screaming fans and musical greatness that can never be repeated .


Sixty years on we have great musical experience our ears are in tune to all sounds and all beats and when we hear something we like we listen and we even get up and dance and pay for it in the morning with a sore back.

Crayon Pop has appeal to us because they present a number of things which reflect back into our past.

Strong thumping musical beats that you can dance to and a personna of role model behaviour we would all had liked as parents to see in our children.

Don't think we are old perves or what ever, you just have to realise we have been on this planet for a while and have seen massive changes in the music Industry and we appreciate good music whether its, Rock or even Opera.

Personally i like heavy Metal and one of my favourite groups is Metallica and Evanescence so it should come as no suprise that I like Crayon Pop and not just for their music ,but for the manner I see in them from Crayon Pop TV and their attiudes and personalities.

UncleFan
UncleFan

am 56 year-old and i listen to T-ara......SUE ME!

koco2199
koco2199

@seyeonweon @django900 저는 젊은애들 노래나,한류 등, 국위선양에 이바지 하는 "걸, 보이" 그룹을 기성세대로서 절대 폄하 하고싶지 않지만,일베와 크레용의 관계를 아주 무의미 하다고 보이진 않읍니다.그럼 수고~

Chilly
Chilly

"winking adolescents"?  

SISTAR, miss A, Brown Eyed Girls, 2NE1, f(x), 4minute, BoA . . .

Seriously?

respectnatedogg
respectnatedogg

@seyeonweon @realrudeka 미국 음반시장에는 (요새 우리나라 음반시장에서 흔히 보여지는) 로리타적인 섹시 코드는 절대로 먹히지 않아요... 물론 매니아층이 있는 건 사실이지만 아티스트의 성공을 좌지우지할 만한 규모는 절대로 안되죠.

Scurrilous
Scurrilous

I'm a fifty-something male who has been listening to K-Pop for years. I've morphed from Hendrix, the Stones, and the Who to Girls Generation, T-ara, and the Brown Eyed Girls. Sue me! LOL


aarondaebak
aarondaebak

Thank you for this article Lily. Reading it I felt like the 12 year-old whose parents tell him masturbation is ok.

kikukaken
kikukaken

Once KPop You'll Never Stop

It happens to me. I'm 27 and I listen to it. I just love the catchy music, eventhough I don't understand any single Korean language. LOL.

seyeonweon
seyeonweon

@danpyunsun 검색에 걸린 트윗 하나. "크레용팝지나가는데경호원아저씨환하게웃으면서1위축하해요~화이팅하세요!함ㅋㅋㅋ대밬ㅋㅋㅋㅋ그러고선얼굴빨개진채로쫓아가심ㅋㅋㅋ" 여기엔 그 어떤 성적인 코드도 없겠죠? 실제로 대부분의 크레용팝 삼촌팬들이 그러함.

seyeonweon
seyeonweon

ㅎㅎ 기사의 댓글에서 삼촌팬의 정체에 대해서 열심히 토론 중이네요. pedophile 주장도. ㅠㅠ

p56741944
p56741944

Japan was one of the biggest targets of K-pop promoters.
A lot of Japanese loved K-pop very much while they were feeling strange about their deceptive marketing.
But Korea seems to have changed their aim to the US from Japan to see the boom is ending in Japan.

ekoroji
ekoroji

@drighk it's very interesting to read this article. in fact, here in Japan, there're so many 'uncle fans' you can find so easily, though...

robcuzican
robcuzican

@ButtercupD KPOP...ha ha. I will share with my friend in LA who goes to the concerts. So funny! He is not alone....

Sable28326
Sable28326

The fact that this article is trying to prove that there are more demographics, when it comes to Kpop fans, than just teenagers, is in-of-itself unbelievable. To assume that Kpop is just for teenagers is insulting to begin with. Kpop isn't just for teenagers. The worldwide age demographics of Kpop fans span from ages 8 to people well in their 90's, from countries all over the world, and are comprised of every religious background, culturally heritage, and country you can think of. Kpop has a global reach unlike any genre the world has ever known. Its been an underground movement since 1993 and with the globalization of PSY's "Gangnam Style" the non-fan populous only got a single solitary glimpse into what makes Kpop and the Hallyu Wave such a true phenomenon.

Uncle fans and Noona fans (fans over 30) and Grandma and Grandpa fans are just as dominant as teenager fans. The highest percentage of Kpop fans, worldwide, are in the age ranges of 20-35. The fact that Time used a 47 year old white male lawyer, who only got into to Kpop because of PSY's "Gangnam Style", as an across-the-board example of older fans is insulting to every older Kpop fan across the world. Kpop fans didn't come into this genre because it was popular or because one artist broke a Guinness Book of World Record for the most views on YouTube, they came into this genre because what it had to offer was something new, unique, clean, and catchy. There are fans, like myself (a 36 year old white female from the SE USA) who have been a fan of Kpop for well over a decade or more  and who have worked hard to increase the globalization of Kpop and its message to the world. The entire length of my career has been spent on progressing the global reach of Kpop and helping to secure its rightful place as a valid and extraordinary genre that deserves its proper recognition. 

Kpop isn't just about the music, its also about the culture. Kpop fans are so passionate about this genre that they strive every day to learn more about the country its from, it's people, it's history, and it's culture. The more involved they become, the more they wish to see that others experience what Kpop really is. Kpop fan culture is one of the most impressive things I've ever seen in my entire life. They take something that they love, learn as much as they can about it, nurture its progression in the global market by spreading the word, and show a dedication unlike any other. To the Kpop fan, its not about hot guys and hot girls gyrating on stage to an uptempo pop track with lyrics that have absolutely no depth -unlike other popular forms of pop culture. Its about showing the world that on an international stage, Korean's have just as much talent as any other culture and that their pop culture is worthy of recognition outside of "fad" movements like "Gangnam Style". Kpop embraces the worlds culture and integrates it into theirs with the belief that using influences from all over the world, combined with their own culture, they can show that Kpop is for everyone -which it truly is. There are many styles of music under the Kpop banner and there is something there for everyone -you simply just need to take the time and look. 

 To truly know a thing: you must learn about it, experience it, and live it. Only then will you understand what Kpop really is. 

Avidan2006
Avidan2006

This is getting old fast (lulz!). On a more serious note, though, I always find it amusing when people say stuff like this is creepy. It's as if, as a culture, we're becoming more open minded about boundaries and gender roles, while tightening our traditional belts in other ways. I guess there's always going to be some kind of stigma when it comes to what older guys might like; either due to society's lingering masculinity issue, or the idea that all men are just sex crazed perverts. You know, girls aren't the only ones who just want to have fun, folks.

seyeonweon
seyeonweon

@koco2199 @django900 크레용팝 소속사가 일베를 "반사회적 반인륜적 사이트"라고 했다는 것은 아시죠?

seyeonweon
seyeonweon

@respectnatedogg @realrudeka 크레용팝이 평균 나이 24세가 넘으니 나이론 로리타가 아닌데... ^^ 사랑스러운 조카딸 컨셉 같은 것은 원래 없는 건가요? 타임지 기사를 보니 가능할 것 같기도 하던데... ㅠㅠ

seyeonweon
seyeonweon

“You could look at it as the way an uncle might look at a niece, interested in what she’s doing and a supporter, (계속)

Delam
Delam

@Sable28326 This 77 year old grandmother fan agrees with you. When I retired at 68 and came to Los Angeles, I lived for a while in Koreatown and I would take my granddaughter to the Korean malls to shop and eat. I would heard the music being played in one of the small shops and I asked about it. It took me back to some of the disco musical beats that I use to hear at clubs in San Francisco back in the 80"s. Under KPop there is R&R and some of my favorites back in the 80"s were Johnny Gill, Babyface and Boys to Men. Today with KPop I get the same with Bi Rain, 2PM, G-Dragon, Big Bang and B.A.P. Strangely I fine PSY a bit on the square side, still I enjoy him. Now I am learning the Korean Language because one of my great forms of entertainment these days and has been for some years is the Korean Drama. I am a Dramafever Addict. Do I need to say anymore??????

Sleepy01
Sleepy01

@Sable28326 I agree with 99% of what you say. But it sounds like you are discounting new fans who started exploring Kpop because of PSY. I don't think it's fair to say that they became fans because PSY is popular or broke a record. As you say, PSY gave many people a glimpse of what makes Kpop great. Some became Kpop fans and some just waited for PSY's next release. Longtime fans deserve recognition, but Kpop need lots of new fans to "secure its rightful place."

Also, there is more to Kpop than Gangnam Style, but PSY has been a great ambassador for Kpop. Oddly, I think he doesn't always get the respect he deserves from longtime fans.

Sleepy01
Sleepy01

Thinking is probably the wrong word. You should try it, though.

Dd_Dawnz
Dd_Dawnz

@DGbhogz erratum bhogs: mo ask unta ko nimo "is dz for real?" but na kulangan ug word na 'real' ako tweet. hahaha lols

LizzieParker
LizzieParker

@JamesTurnbull Have you looked at the dynamics of the Crayon Pop fandom though? It's really interesting. Lots of oppa and uncle fans.

LizzieParker
LizzieParker

@JamesTurnbull Felt the exact same to be honest. My mum sent me it because of Crayon Pop haha but yeah it's a fairly terrible piece!

koco2199
koco2199

@seyeonweon @django900 무진장 크레용팝과 회사를 좋아하시는데 전 싫다고요..그러니 상대편에게 강요하는 그런 행동 삼가하시고,앞으로 글 보내지 마세요..게속 이런 행동하시면 블락하고,신고합니다..그냥 뜻 맞는 분들이랑 노세요..이상

respectnatedogg
respectnatedogg

@seyeonweon @realrudeka 실질적인 나이가 문제가 아니라 미국 사람들이 흔히 '성숙한 여성'으로 바라보는 신체를 기준으로 봤을 때 충분히 로리타 코드를 지니고 있습니다... 미국에선 그런류의 가수는 성공 사례가 없다고 봐도 무방하죠.

seyeonweon
seyeonweon

but it implies that there’s not any sort of romantic aspect to it.”라고 이 47세 백인 변호사 분이 말을 했네요. 저의 경우도 그렇고, 제가 본 다른 크레용팝 삼촌팬들도 그렇고, 정확한 분석임.

Sable28326
Sable28326

  @Sleepy01 @Sable28326 Fans that come to Kpop because of PSY, and have then branched out further into the genre, have my respect. Its those new fans that only like Kpop because of PSY and don't take the time to get to the know the genre better. All Kpop isnt like Gangnam Style and all Kpop artist aren't as silly. Kpop artist are serious musicians through and through, and for them to be labeled as a "fad" or just some quirky nuance in the world's music scene is not only extremely insulting to the artist themselves, but also all the fans who support this genre wholeheartedly. 

DGbhogz
DGbhogz

@Dd_Dawnz not so sure.. pero aq na.observe sa ubn kpop c0ncerts makakita jd kag mga ingun ana sa audience!!!whahahaha!!!

JamesTurnbull
JamesTurnbull

@LizzieParker Actually, I haven't heard or seen any of their songs yet(!). But I'm sure you're right about their fans though.

JamesTurnbull
JamesTurnbull

@LizzieParker I know it's difficult to believe, but I haven't heard or seen any of their songs yet. I'm sure you're right about fans though.

respectnatedogg
respectnatedogg

@seyeonweon 가능성은 모든 곳에 존재하죠. 하지만 귀엽고 어려보이는 아시아 여성 그룹이 성공하는데는 말씀드렸다시피 여전히 크나큰 장애물들이 존재합니다. 게다가 요즘 미국 음반시장에서 여성 그룹은 꽤나 유행이 지난 것으로 여겨지거든요 ㅠ

seyeonweon
seyeonweon

@respectnatedogg ㅎㅎ 약간의 가능성은 보시는군요. 책도 하나 나왔으면 좋겠어요. "크레용팝 + 삼촌팬 현상"에 대한... 물론 저는 본업이 바빠서 할 수가 없지만... ^^

seyeonweon
seyeonweon

@respectnatedogg 그건 미국 사람들이 아직 미개인들이라서 그렇습니다. ㅎㅎ 물론 농담입니다. ^^ 저는 "크레용팝 + 삼촌팬"이 전혀 새로운 한류 콘텐츠가 될 수 있지 않을까 하는 생각까지 하고 있어요. 존재하지 않았던 것이니 오히려...

respectnatedogg
respectnatedogg

@seyeonweon '100% 안된다!' 라고 할 순 없습니다 당연히. 그러나 언어의 장벽을 넘어 문화의 차이와 취향의 차이까지 넘어야 되는 셈이니... 앞으로 갈 길이 멉니다. 하지만 그 길을 뚫는다면 역사적인 사건이 되리란 건 분명합니다 :)

respectnatedogg
respectnatedogg

@seyeonweon 저도 걸그룹을 응원하는 삼촌팬들의 마음을 십분 이해합니다 ㅎㅎ 바라만봐도 형용할 수 없는 두근거림 같은 기분이 샘솟죠. 하지만 그러한 컨셉을 이해 못하는 미국 사람들에게 여자 아이돌의 음악이 통용되기까진 크나큰 장애물들이 존재해요

seyeonweon
seyeonweon

@respectnatedogg 하여간 무척 특이한, 제가 보기엔 전혀 새로운 문화 현상입니다. 이거 심리학자들이 본격적으로 연구 좀 했으면 좋겠어요. 저만 해도 점잖음 그 자체인 사람인데, 이렇게 공개적으로 걸그룹 응원을 하고 있어요. ^^

seyeonweon
seyeonweon

@respectnatedogg 예, 딱 한 사람이. ㅠㅠ 그런데 제 주변을 보면 전혀 그런 맘이 아니거든요. 크레용팝을 두고 조금이라도 '여성'을 생각하면 거의 범죄시함. ^^ 젊은 남성팬 일부는 그런 맘도 (물론) 있는데, 꽁꽁 숨긴다고... ^^

respectnatedogg
respectnatedogg

@seyeonweon 미국에선 '조카딸을 보고 흐뭇해하는' 느낌 자체가 존재하지 않는다고 보시면 되요. 실제로 그런 마음을 갖는 것 자체가 범죄로 여겨지니까요. 기사 댓글에서도 보시면 몇몇 사람들이 이런 여자 아이돌을 보고 좋아하는 사람들을 가리켜

seyeonweon
seyeonweon

@respectnatedogg @realrudeka 그렇군요. 무작정 진출해서 애들 고생만 시킬 것이 아니라, 유튜브 등을 통해 충분한 검증이 필요하겠네요. 그리고 크레용팝 팬들은 대개 크레용팝을 여성으로 안 보더군요. 그냥 딸이나 동생으로 봄. ^^

seyeonweon
seyeonweon

@seyeonweon 제가 다시 짧게 요약하면, Kpop은 다양한 장르를 포함하고 있지만 공통적인 점이 하나 있군요. "바깥 세계의 문화를 받아들여 한국의 문화와 잘 융합하고, 다시 세계가 더 잘 받아들일 수 있도록 내놓은 것."이네요.

seyeonweon
seyeonweon

Sable28326라는 36세 백인 여성분이 쓴 장문의 댓글은 왜 Kpop이 세계적으로 인기가 있는지 잘 요약을 해놓았네요.

seyeonweon
seyeonweon

정말 글로벌한 세상이 되었네요. 미국 사람들이 이렇게 크레용팝 삼촌팬에 대해서 토론을 하고 있다니... 신기해요. ^^

aarondaebak
aarondaebak

@LizzieParker @JamesTurnbull I'm not a big reader of your blog but I can assure you that Uncle Fandom is NOT about some knee jerk feminist construct but something else - mainly that there is a lot lacking in Western pop culture which k-pop entertainment companies are not figuring out how to exploit

LizzieParker
LizzieParker

@JamesTurnbull It's interesting cuz they're one of the least sexualised groups to debut last year. You're missing out (well;.. maybe haha)

LizzieParker
LizzieParker

@JamesTurnbull I've never seen a fandom with so many male fans! All their fansites are run by men as far as I can see which is very unusual