Fan Perspectives: Interview with an 'Uncle' Fan

I am a 52 year old white American man raised on Led Zeppelin, The Who, Pink Floyd, The Beatles, etc. I've served in the military, owned my own business, and currently work as a manager at a large company. I have been listening to almost nothing but Kpop for almost three years now.

What was the first Kpop song you remember hearing?

SNSD's “The Boys.” I clicked on a link to a CNN story about them on shortly after they performed at Madison Square Garden. Since that day I’ve listened to little else other than Kpop.

Who are your favorite artists?

I pretty much like every girl group. If I had to pick a favorite it would be between SNSD and After School. Both because of the quality and quantity of their respective bodies of work. Individually, Min from Miss A is at the top of my list. She does so many thing well, and always seems to be having so much fun. I’m also a big fan of Tayeon, Raina, Bohyoung, and Ailee. All so talented.

From what you've told me, you've had a long history of listening to popular American music. What makes Kpop special? How is it different / the same?

I've spent a lot of time thinking about this question. I have always had a love for the female voice. Some of my all-time favorite singers are Sarah McLachlan, Dido, Chrissie Hynde, Debby Harry, Dolores O'Riordan, and Shirley Manson. I grew up during a time when Motown girl groups such as Diana Ross and The Supremes and The Shirelles and Martha and the Vandellas dominated the music industry. So I guess you could say I was pre-disposed to like the girl group/female vocalist concept from an early age. But the bottom line is that Kpop provokes an emotional response in me that no music has for a very long time. It mostly makes me happy, but songs like “We Were In Love” from the T-ara/Davichi collaboration and “I’m OK” from 4Minute conjure up very different emotions. But whatever the emotion, the point is that it makes me feel.

If Kpop is provoking an emotional response in you, do you think there is something about American music that has lost that emotional quality?

It’s hard for me to say. I don’t really listen to much American music. The last song from an American group that I really liked was “Sex on Fire” from Kings of Leon. Not really pop. I like some of Taylor Swift’s stuff, but not enough to ever purchase any of it. So I’m really not qualified to answer that question.

What does "Uncle Fan" mean to you?

An older male fan of Kpop girl groups. It’s what I am by strict definition, but I abhor the image of the creepy, leering pervert that seems to have been attached to it. I get it – and it is probably true in some cases. I absolutely cannot and will not deny that the physical beauty of these performers is a part of why I became interested and remain interested in this genre. But mainly what has kept me into it for the last three years is the music. I have access to the internet. I certainly do not need to watch Kpop videos to satisfy any prurient interests that I may have.

Do you think that the unfair stigma associated with Uncle Fans (and Ajumma Fans too, somewhat) keeps older fans from being more active? Do you think it perpetuates an image of Kpop as music for young people only?

Well, it’s pop. It’s made for pre-teens and teenagers. I think most older people wouldn’t even consider it music. So I don’t think it has anything to do with the stigma, it’s more about it just not being the kind of music that interests most older Americans. Personally, I have considered whether or not I would go to a show if one was somewhere near enough for me to go. As I said earlier, I got into this right after the SM Town show at Madison Square Garden. There hasn’t been anything like that near me since. But I would have to really think about going due to the fact that I am older. I worry about it being too awkward among thousands of screaming teenagers. I do have one experience being around Kpop fans, and surprisingly it wasn’t uncomfortable at all. I got some funny looks, but once people realized I wasn’t some kind of weirdo they didn’t treat me any differently. But that was almost three years ago, and I’m not getting any younger. So it would be a difficult decision.

And again, I don’t think the stigma perpetuates an image that Kpop is for young people only. It’s just a fact that young people are the primary demographic for most popular music.

Girls' Generation Mr. Mr.

Have you found a sense of community through Kpop? If so, what does that community mean to you?

Somewhat. When I first got into this I had nobody to talk to about it. My teenage daughter was horrified by it, my wife thought it was just silly, and there really wasn’t anyone else I wanted to share it with. So I turned to Soshified initially and then /r/Kpop as my exposure to other groups increased. I enjoy discussing the newest releases and whatnot on these various forums, but I often have to remind myself that I am interacting mostly with people from a completely different generation. So I steer clear of arguments or heated discussions. But hardly a day goes by that I do not check in to see what the latest news is.

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