Who, What, Why: Angela Huang’s investigation of K-pop and J-pop fan markets

Angela Huang, a second-year graduate student in the Lauder Institute, examines the evolution of K-pop and J-pop in fan markets.

Person holding headphones in front of mural that reads 'Music'
Angela Huang, a second-year student in the Lauder Institute of Management and International Studies.
    • Who

      Angela Huang, from Novi, Michigan, is fascinated by stans—aka, super fans. “The amount of work they do—the fan labor, that concept is incredible,” Huang says, observing how many fan groups manage websites, create merchandise, and more. “I saw that coming into play at a startup I worked for, where we were thinking about and working with ‘long-tail’ indie creators and influencers, and so most of the artists we worked with were smaller, but their fans were so passionate.” As an Asian-American woman, she says, she’s also been curious about the increasing internationalization of music. At Coachella this year, she points out, headliners range from Bad Bunny to Blackpink, a South Korean girl group. She wanted to better understand these changes in the music industry from a historical and business perspective.

    • What

      As part of the Lauder Institute of Management and International Studies, a dual-degree program combining a Wharton MBA with an MA in international studies in the School of Arts & Sciences, Huang is tasked with completing a Global Knowledge Lab research paper. As a student in the Chinese track in the program, and mindful of her previous experience in the entertainment industry, she sought out knowledge about how Chinese K-pop and J-pop fan markets emerged in the 1990s onward. She interviewed academics, former K-pop and J-pop stars, and fans. In writing her paper, she split her findings into two categories: economic and cultural. Her findings, in brief: When the CD market collapsed in the ’90s, she says, K-pop sought to expand and found receptive ears in China, which was more open to distributing Korean pop music than Japanese pop for many deep-seated political reasons—primarily related to nationalism. Moreover, coming out of the Cultural Revolution, China had a high demand for cultural imports while it re-upped investment in its own homegrown talent.

      Many East Asian countries, Huang also adds, became highly networked with phones and computers early on, lending themselves well to a pop-music culture in China built around aesthetics, like K-pop and J-pop. “I think they got really lucky in a sense,” she says of K-pop’s particular success.

      “There’s a lot of strategy, hard work and money behind it, too, but it’s the confluence of these elements combined with the fact that K-pop is now synonymous with the soft power of Korea.”

      What may influence Chinese fan markets in the future, she says, is China’s 2021 regulatory law prohibiting the presence of “girly men” on television.

    • Why

      Huang is interested in music, television, movies, and streaming, and how she can combine these areas with her past experience in human-centered design and business strategy. She ultimately wants to make international content more accessible. “It’s easy to think America is the locus of all cultural innovation or trends, but I think in the next decade or two, we’re going to see that’s less and less the case. The innovative sounds and cool, emerging artists are not coming exclusively from the U.S., but from broader parts of the world: Korea, Japan, and China included,” she says. “And for me it was a good exercise to remember there is a whole cottage industry of fan communities outside the U.S. Now I’ll have not only a super Western-only view of it as I go into the industry.”

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