The activist side of K-pop in Peru

Image from BTS Perú Sede Chiclayo‘s Facebook page

Adriana Velásquez initially wrote this article for La Antígona, it has been edited, translated and republished by Global Voices.

The term K-pop is no longer foreign in Peru despite the country's distance of over 16,000 kilometers from South Korea, where this musical genre originated. So, it is no surprise that fan clubs, or fandoms, which often rally around social causes, are becoming more successful at mobilizing large crowds for social and political demonstrations in Peru.

K-pop fans are active around the world. During last year's Black Lives Matter protests following the murder of George Floyd in the United States, the donation of one million dollars from the K-pop band BTS made global headlines. A little over 24 hours later, a set of the band's fans, One in an Army, raised an additional million dollars for this cause.

K-pop activism has also spread to Latin America. In 2020, Peru faced a political crisis after President Martín Vizcarra was removed from office in what some Peruvians considered a coup. The government then repressed mass protests against his successor Manuel Merino, leading to two deaths and more than 100 injuries. To support the protesters, kpoppers used Twitter to stop an attempt to discredit the demonstrations against Merino, who held office for only nine days. They used their numerous Twitter accounts to take over the #TerrorismoNuncaMás [NoMoreTerrorism] hashtag, which sought to delegitimize the protests, by posting the tag along with spam and, as a result, preventing any negative publicity from tarnishing the protestors’ image.

Miguel Sánchez, journalist and professor at the Catholic University of Peru, points out the unique characteristics of kpopper cyberactivism such as fandom structure, common objectives, and the use of public space.

On the other hand, social psychologist and K-pop fan Sandra Rivas indicates that the kpoppers’ predisposition to protest in cyberspace is based on the experience of making their groups trend using the social networks’ algorithms. These skills are then replicated when dealing with topics of social or political interest.

According to Rivas, K-pop fandoms have two important characteristics different from typical Western music fan clubs: the construction of collective identity and K-pop industry marketing. Rivas describes this collective as a tight-knit community where each fandom has its distinguishing name and color.

Image from BTS Perú Sede Chiclayo's Facebook page

[Image translation: Hello … ! We are BTS Perú site Chiclayo| Today we put our hand on our chest to unite in this noble cause | #HelpUsHelp | Oxygen of Hope Campaign “Today we will raise 800,000 soles to buy an oxygen plant for Lambayecano” | Organized by the Chiclayo Bishopric, Caritas Chiclayo and Parishes | From February 14 | As a fan club we hope for your support and moreover the commemoration of this month for J-Hope's birthday.]

“Korean Wave” Arrives in Latin America

There is no doubt that K-pop and South Korean culture are becoming more relevant on this side of the world. The “Hallyu” or “Korean Wave” refers to the global expansion of South Korean culture that began in the 1990s. South Korean entertainment quickly rose in popularity thanks to novels, television shows, music, and dance.

In Latin America, however, the expansion was more gradual. Little by little, the first K-pop fandoms were formed, although they lacked visibility.

According to the digital marketing expert Fernando Vega, in 2020, Peruvian kpoppers were responsible for up to 15 K-pop trending topics on Twitter in 30 days. “This K-pop boom, even though it's not new, surprises with the strength of its metrics,” he states in the blog article. “In 90 days, there were 70 million mentions in Spanish in all of Latin America's Spanish-speaking world.”

Fabiana Tequenquea, a member of BTS Chiclayo staff, joined a fandom in 2015. K-pop fandoms often organize diverse social outreach activities to commemorate their idols’ birthdays or their favorite groups’ anniversaries. Tequenquea recalls that as early as 2016, they were able to carry out their first social outreach project, A Chocolate Christmas, thanks to new fandom members. They distributed chocolate, panettone, and toys to the homeless. As BTS became better known in Chiclayo, more members joined the fan club. As a result, more social outreach activities were carried out.

Image from ENHYPEN Perú's Facebook page

[Image translation: Christmas Chocolates | Bangtan Perú, Moa Perú and Enhypen Perú have joined forces with ‘Changing Lives Peru’ to bring children happiness in a Chocolate Christmas where donated gifts will be handed out. | Goal: 90 gifts for the children of Villa El Salvador | Types of donations: toys, food and money | Gifts and food delivered on December 12 and 17 at Campo de Marte (previous coordination) | To make a deposit, DM/Inbox your respective fan club for bank account details.

But, without a doubt, there was one donation that surpassed the rest. It was the largest donation at the national level from the ARMYs, one of the most established BTS fandoms, whose letters stand for Adorable Representative M.C for Youth. Three thousand soles (approximately 760 US dollars) were donated to implement an oxygen generator in Lima to commemorate the birthday of BTS member J-Hope. Organized by BTS Perú Projects, Peruvian ARMYs from different sites helped raise the money. “It was a great source of pride because K-pop fan clubs are sometimes overlooked and insulted for their taste in music. And it was an honor to have this effort positively recognized at the national level,” Tequenquea recalls.

For Tequenquea, the message BTS members share through their music is an inspiration to improve oneself, support others, and live in a better world. “As they have said: we are all equal, we all deserve support and respect,” she said.

Emphasis on Social Outreach

Thanks to social media and K-pop globalization, more and more Peruvian fandoms are being formed and organized even before a band actually debuts. This phenomenon allows them to begin social outreach activities right away. This is the case with ENHYPEN, a K-pop group that sprung from I-LAND, a reality show competition. They debuted in November 2020, and before this, they already had a fandom in Peru.

For Keyla and Hienka, members of ENHYPEN PERÚ staff, it was clear they wanted to do social outreach from the start. “We have members who work in NGOs, so we always keep this in mind for activities we want to carry out on the band members’ birthdays,” Keyla says.

One of the most memorable activities was the Chocolate Christmas carried out last year with the NGO Cambiando Vidas Perú (Changing Lives Peru). “We asked for donations of money and food. We bought toys for 100 children, and as there were a lot of food donations, we made baskets that were raffled among those present. It was a lot of fun,” Keyla recalls.

It is worth noting that activism and social outreach are nothing new for kpoppers. Older fandoms already carried out small projects to help the community. Fiorella Mucha, a member of SONES Perú staff (a fandom of the band Girls Generation), says social outreach projects have been going on since 2011. In the beginning, there was an interest in helping animals such as collaborating with dog shelters. “SONES Perú is known for its love of animals,” Fiorella says.

​”A K-pop fandom not only focused on it [K-pop], but it also supports our society with the fact that we have something in common,” Hienka says.

A playlist by “val” on Spotify that mixes BTS songs with Peruvian cumbias.

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