From Co-Production to Broken Relationship: Agencies, Idols, and Fans in the Making of K-pop

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In this thesis, I argue that idols, talent agencies, and fans in K-pop constitute a triangle where idols and agencies, agencies and fans, idols and fans each has a double-directional relationship. I look into the relationship between agencies and fans, and idols and fans. In Chapter 1, I focus on the mutual effect between agencies and fans in the YouTube era and discusses what influence it has on K-pop music. I use the notion of “primary” and “secondary” production to talk about how agencies and fans of K-pop produce content on YouTube and how their productions are mutually constitutive. I also discuss that YouTube provides platform for K-pop and changes the listening experience of K-pop. In Chapter 2, I focus on the mutual relationship between idols and fans and reveal the dark side of K-pop which led to two tragic suicides. I argue that K-pop creates a fantasy to fulfill young women’s desire. It serves as a safe space for female fans to temporarily release their pressure due to the oppression of reality, thus sustain the highly stressful reality in a patriarchal society. In the establishment of fantasy, female idols in the K-pop industry are shaped to represent perfect images of women and function as the mirror for their female fans, thus enabling the fans to obtain a sense of satisfaction. However, the seemingly mutually beneficial relationship can be disrupted when “scandals” appear to destabilize that relationship. Whereas the agencies can borrow and adopt from fan’s secondary production, the idols’ real-world conducts become a site for disdain and disapproval from the fans. The two tragic suicides of K-pop stars point to the idols’ unwillingness to maintain this false sense of mutuality, or the fantasy world. It is more than just a scandal since by killing themselves, they refuse to participate in the fantasy world. The collapse of the fantasy world is a symptom of the larger problem of patriarchy and social hierarchy in South Korean society.





Gu, Jiahui (2020). From Co-Production to Broken Relationship: Agencies, Idols, and Fans in the Making of K-pop. Capstone project, Duke University. Retrieved from

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