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Feb 14, 2024, 6:45pm EST
Southeast Asia
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How K-pop played a role in Indonesia’s presidential election

Insights from Reuters, MIT Technology Review, Korean JoongAng Daily

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Women pose for a photograph with a cutout depicting Presidential candidate Anies Baswedan during the Humanies Cup Sleeve Event at the Kopi Nako cafe in Jakarta.
REUTERS/Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana
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The News

Indonesian presidential hopeful Prabowo Subianto looked set to win an outright victory Wednesday in an election that saw candidates vie for the support of young voters by tapping into their passion for K-pop.

The former general’s Gerindra Party held a lottery for free tickets to see BLACKPINK, a K-pop girl group, during its Jakarta stop last year – and requested entrants take photos in front of Prabowo billboards and share photos on social media.

Another candidate, the former governor of Central Java, Ganjar Pranowo, received criticism after he canvassed for suggestions of Korean bands online to invite to Indonesia. Fans accused the presidential candidate of weaponizing K-pop’s mass appeal as a “political tool” during the election.

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Gen-Z voters worldwide have adopted K-pop fan tactics to organize for candidates

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Sources:  
MIT Technology Review, Reuters, Los Angeles Times

The Indonesian election saw accounts run by political supporters of former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan pop up on X, posting in Korean about the campaign activities of their candidate. Anies fans also organized gatherings to make cup sleeves – typically made to celebrate an idol and traded by fans – emblazoned with the candidate’s face, inspired by fans’ crafting meet-ups for their favorite K-pop groups, Reuters reported. K-pop fans have riffed on what they learned campaigning for their idols: They create “viral social media posts, host events … build community, and connect people on the basis of common interest,” the MIT Technology review noted, pointing to how supporters rallied around Chile’s now-President Gabriel Boric.


Indonesian K-pop fans join growing movement to mobilize for social good

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Sources:  
Instagram, TIME, MIT Technology Review, Al Jazeera, NME

K-pop fans are increasingly mobilizing as a force for social justice, Al Jazeera reported, including in Indonesia. An instagram fan account named @army_indonesiaa, devoted to K-pop boy band sensation BTS, organized a fundraiser for humanitarian aid for Palestinians in October, raising more than $65,000. “Fandom is inherently a competition: a group’s supporters want their favored idols to have the most streams, the most tickets, the most video views. That competition ends up bleeding into other fandom actions, too, including charitable giving,” a TIME reporter wrote.

Previously, K-pop fans have matched $1 million in donations from BTS for Black Lives Matter, and provided families in Tanzania with clean drinking water. Others disrupted a Trump rally through organized ticket-purchasing. While K-pop fandoms have strength in outreach, there is some doubt about how these campaigns transfer to long-term public engagement. “Their weakness is that they are only trying to get citizens to do one very discrete thing at a particular moment,” a fellow with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace told the MIT Technology Review.

K-pop idols themselves avoid public shows of political support

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Sources:  
Korean JoongAng Daily, TIME

“It’s not a surprise when entertainers [in America] come out in support of a politician. In Asia, it’s not something you do,” Tamar Herman, a K-pop analyst, told TIME. During elections in South Korea, K-pop idols are careful to stay neutral. They post photos of voting to encourage civic engagement, but avoid actions such as holding up peace signs, as it symbolizes the number two, which could indicate a candidate’s assigned number on the ballot, or wearing blue or red, which represent the Democratic Party and People Power Party, the Korean JoongAng Daily reported. This caution is due to previous public backlashes – and potentially because the most recent election lacked an obvious “who’s ‘good’ and ‘bad’”, compared with the 2017 vote that followed the impeachment of former President Park Geun-hye, a professor of pop music and media studies at George Mason University Korea told the paper.

“Idols are expected to have the virtue of being pure and detached from worldly issues,” the academic added, but that is changing, as groups like BTS speak up about racism and climate change. “Mentioning something that is directly a point of contention in domestic politics is still frowned upon,” he said.

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