On August 21st this year, I presented a lecture entitled “Idol Shipping Culture: Exploring Queer Sexuality among Fans of K-pop” as part of the Korean Studies Seminar Series at Monash University. The presentation drew upon work I have been conducting on fans of K-pop in Japan, the Philippines and Australia and the role of K-pop fandom in shaping understandings of sexuality.
The talk was recorded and I am able to share a link to this video recording here.
The talk specifically focussed on the practice of “shipping” idols from the perspective of queer studies, seeking to understand this fan practice within the context of fans of BTS (Bangtan Sonyeondan) across many cultural contexts. Further, the talk sought to emphasise the importance of shipping to LGBTQ fans of both BTS and K-pop more broadly.
Here is the abstract:
The practice of imagining idols within romantic and sexual relationships known as “shipping” is central to the global fandom of K-pop, allowing fans to develop affective relationships with their favorite celebrities through creative practices such as the writing of fan fiction. In particular, shipping practices that reimagine the members of popular boy groups such as EXO and BTS within homoerotic relationships are especially common among both heterosexual female fans and fans who express queer sexualities as a method of both affectively articulating their fandom as well as exploring their broader sexual desires via K-pop consumption. This presentation explores the homoerotic practice of shipping idols as a lens into the broader study of gender and sexuality in relation to K-pop idols, demonstrating the importance of fans’ sexual desires and attraction to K-pop fandom culture. The presentation begins by charting the emergence of shipping practices within Korean fandom, exploring how K-pop production companies strategically drew upon Japanese Boys Love/yaoi culture to encourage young women to consume K-pop, thus producing spaces within Korea’s patriarchal society where women’s sexual desires can be safely explored. The presentation then turns to an analysis of international shipping practices, presenting a comparative case study of BTS shipping within Japanese and Anglophone fandom spaces. This comparative analysis reveals that while BTS shipping in Japan tends to draw upon rigid logics derived from Boys Love/yaoi culture that conceptualize homoerotic relationships between men via sexual practices and behaviors divorced from identity, Anglophone shipping tends to instead overtly deploy North American LGBT identity politics. Nevertheless, the presentation argues that both practices possess queer potentials that allow fans to affectively explore their sexuality, affirming their sexual desires for K-pop idols. The presentation concludes with a discussion of the role of shipping in affirming the presence of queer fans within global K-pop culture.