One of the questions I get asked most as a k-pop fan living in Korea is “How can I help support ________ even though I live overseas?” Back when I first moved here, the answer was very simple: You can’t. The only thing that international fans could really contribute to was physical sales, which were a paltry 5% of the total with most rankings. However, things have been changing over the past couple of years, and sometimes loopholes have formed in the need for change. So, lets go over the many ways that international fans can support their groups.
Step One: Register With DaumBeing registered on Daum is a really easy process. Once clicking on the “New member” link, it will prompt you to add your email address. Once you have put that in (and validated it, clicking the button to the right of the box), you proceed to the next form. All they ask you in the next section is to confirm your username (they take your username from the email address you have, but you can change it to whatever you please) and then add your new password and your name. Once you have filled in those simple steps, you will be sent an email verification to finish the application. You have 12 hours to complete the registration. Once you have done that, you will have access to all of Daum’s services.
Overseas, Daum is best known for their “cafes”, which are the online communities which cater to any and all needs. A combination of a website and a forum, these pages helps connect people of similar interests together. Almost all major idol groups have official cafes, which can be found linked to on their website. If they do not have an official café (I don’t believe SM runs official cafes) there are active, fan run cafes which offer most of the same services (which is providing schedules and helping people plan things for comebacks.)
Keeping your café active is important. If it falls quiet, the ranking slips dramatically. However, if there is no international fan section, or you are not confident enough to post elsewhere, it can be difficult to help there. Most cafes do have a “Line board” which is pretty much like a twitter board where you can post one line comments. This is where people tend to spam things, so it’s a safe place to get some activity in without any prying eyes. However, the most important part of the café activity is the voting button found in the left side bar. This button is your daily up-vote. You can only vote for one group a day per computer, and this is only for official idol groups. There are daily rankings from these votes. The rankings on Daum and the Daum activity are one of the ways that television shows rank “internet rankings”. Doing your best to keep the café active and voting as much as you can is the best way you can help in terms of online scores long term.
This is an example of a daily vote widget. Clicking the pink button helps add your support to the group’s fan page. This widget is for the U-Kiss/Kiss Me Cafe.
Step Two: Digital Music and Streaming
Hands down, the most important part of supporting an artist in Korea is downloading and streaming the official releases. The vast majority of weekly show awards are made up of the results from the streaming websites. Melon is the most influential of the music streaming sites, however there is also Soribada, Bugs and the MNet website. This is where international fans find themselves at the biggest disadvantage, because there is no easy way to register for any of these sites. The reason for this is simply copyright and distribution rights. Many of the albums are not registered for worldwide distribution, and so they keep the accounts limited to Korean accounts. However, there are ways to support if you can.
The easiest way to help with digital downloads is through the English Soribada site. You can log in through your Facebook account. Creating an account is simple because the site is all in English. Not all groups are represented on there. However, downloads through the Soribada English site do count towards the charts on the Korean Soribada charts. While albums are available on iTunes, they do not count towards the ranking as directly as Soribada because iTunes doesn’t actually offer music downloads in Korea, so there is no comparison. Downloads on iTunes do support your group financially, but if you have to choose between Soribada and iTunes, Soribada should be your first choice.
There are those who have found loop holes to register for sites like Melon, but they are not flawless. Since it has been made illegal for companies to ask for social security numbers as a form of identification, Korean companies have been trying to find new ways to make sure people don’t mess with the system by making dozens of accounts. Currently, Melon is depending on either cellphones or email addresses. If you have a working ability in Korean, you might be able to come up with some answers (real and fake) that could help verify your account. Once you have a Melon account, you would need to try registering your credit card with the account. Sometimes it can refuse the cards, but then later will accept them. If you really want to help your group, making a Melon account and a Soribada account are the best things you can possibly do.
After streaming through the official Korean music sites, the next best thing you can do is watch the OFFICIAL video on Youtube. Bringing up views on the video will help the single do well with Inkigayo’s rankings, which has more focus on online charts than the other shows. Remember, when watching the video, the views don’t count if you simply continue to click “Replay” or refresh the page. The easiest way to help drive your single’s views up is by making a continuous playlist made of two videos so they loop between the two. Then, the page will load new each time, and each view will count.
Step Three: Voting
Voting is a small but important step for many international fans. The online polls don’t count for much, but it’s better to at least try and dominate those sections than lose them to someone else.
To vote on the Inkigayo polls, you will need the SOTY application. This can only be found on the Korean iTunes (but anyone can register for a free iTunes account in Korea. It is the same as registering for a free account in your home country.) The SOTY application can be found here for Apple products and here for Google products. You will then need to go to the Inkigayo panel on the app, log into your SBS account, and then vote. You can vote daily!
Show Champion, the newest music show that airs on Wednesdays, goes through the Melon website. You will need to register for a Melon account, and then vote on this page. You can vote three times a day. This is a voting system that is dominated by Koreans, however this is mostly because international fans don’t seem to know much about the Melon site.
M!Countdown also has a voting section. This is one that international fans know well. If you go to this page and log in, you will be able to vote for your group.
Outside of these three, there are other things that can be voted on, however they are usually one-time competitions. You will hear about these through your group’s fan sites, because not everyone qualifies. Award shows often have voting sections, and these numbers can fluctuate by the day as fan sites decide to do a vote bomb. Keeping vigilant on voting is something that can easily become part of a routine and only take 5 minutes of your day, but can make a big difference in terms of grabbing a decent percentage to add to their sales and streaming numbers. As international fans, this is your best option.
Step Four: Buying your Physical CD at the RIGHT TIME
Of course, the most obvious way to support a group is to buy a physical copy of the CD. It’s the best way to ensure that you have a legal copy, and many sites can tell you that they are helping with the rankings. However, what many don’t seem to realize is that CD purchases are specifically targeted by the agency for what they might consider the week they have the best chance of winning.
Most international fans will order their CDs in advance, and will want to make sure that they have their CD as soon as possible. However, if you are buying your copy digitally through Soribada as well, having a physical copy is not an urgent matter, but simply a need for a collection. The best way to know when to buy a CD is to see when the agencies are planning their fan signs. When fan signs are announced, this triggers the sales of THOUSANDS of domestic CDs to be sold. However, the international fans have usually bought their CDs one or two weeks before, and so the efforts of the two groups are not united.
If your fandom is fortunate to have people living in South Korea, they may be able to organize bulk buys. If they are run properly, the person shopping for the fandom can go to the specific chains that the agencies are targeting and make sure the timing is just right that it matches up with everyone else, so that the international fans are being as effective as possible.
Another option that is developing is the MWave Meet and Greet option. This new platform through the global MWave site creates an online fan sign for international fans. While it is currently not clear if the CDs count towards the rankings, or when they do rank, the signing seems to take place a week or two after the release of a CD, which goes along with the normal targeted time of physical sales in Korea.
Of course, there is also the option of shopping through GMarket or Interpark. While this is the most expensive, shipping wise, it is also the most certain way to be sure your purchase influences the charts, because you will be buying directly from the three major shops in Korea (Hot Tracks, Synnara, and Evan Records)
Step Five: Organized Internet Manipulation
Rankings mean everything in Korea. This is why we obsess over getting groups to #1, why families spend 20% of their income (on average) on hagwons, and why the pressure to do well on the CSATs causes the highest student suicide rates in the world. So finding out that the rankings on a search engine can influence the internet scores for shows like Inkigayo is no surprise.
Google holds surprisingly little power in South Korea. Used mostly by the foreign population and people looking to search in English, Google is overshadowed by three other search engines in South Korea: Naver, Daum, and Nate. Naver is the biggest search engine in Korea. Daum comes in second, and Nate is third. Each site has their own search rankings, which are updated in real time.
With fandoms that have large international fandoms that can do little else but online efforts, mass searching on Korean search engines is a way of influencing the Korean search engines to put their group in the spotlight. The ideal time to do these search times is right after a group has performed on a music show, between their performance and the end of the show. The goal is to have people search the group name at the same time from different computers until it makes it into the top 10.
There are questions as to how much these kinds of rankings actually affect the system, however, when there is little else fans can do, a community effort such as this can both help unite an international fandom and help fans from all over the world feel like they are influencing something in Korea.
As K-pop continues to internationalize and become more global, the opportunities for fans around the world to help influence the charts in Korea may continue to grow. It may seem a financial or time burden, however, keep in mind that if you were living in South Korea, as a fan you would be expected to do all of this AS WELL AS stream legally, and try and take part in as many tapings as you can. Being in a fandom does not have to be expensive or time consuming, but helping your group get to #1 is not something that simply happens. The fans have to work just as hard as the idols involved to support their efforts.