Indonesia’s K-pop devotees accuse politician of exploiting their fandom ahead of polls

Tria Dianti
Indonesia’s K-pop devotees accuse politician of exploiting their fandom ahead of polls A girl wears a hairband featuring K-Pop band Black Pink, as she arrives to watch the music group’s concert in Jakarta, March 12, 2023.
[Adek Berry/AFP]

Indonesian presidential candidate Ganjar Pranowo may have hoped to boost his ratings by jumping on the K-pop bandwagon and asking for suggestions on which Korean band he should invite to the country. 

But his attempt mostly backfired as many accused him of trying to use Korean pop music’s massive appeal in Indonesia as a political tool and trying to exploit “K-pop stans” – as the genre’s near-obsessive fans are known.

Ganjar was quick to respond to the backlash, a day after he floated a message via Twitter asking for suggestions about which K-pop stars to invite.

“This is not related to politics,” tweeted the ruling party’s candidate for the February 2024 presidential election and governor of Central Java province.

“We appreciate your feedback and advice. We believe that K-pop can boost Central Java’s economy and tourism.”

Ganjar wasn’t the only politician tuning in to K-pop’s astonishing popularity in Southeast Asia’s most populous country.

In March, several political parties announced giveaways of tickets to see K-pop band Blackpink, which performed in Jakarta. 

The Gerindra party asked fans to pose wearing Blackpink merchandise with a billboard of its leader Prabowo Subianto, who is the defense minister and a presidential frontrunner. The Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI) said it randomly selected winners from those who followed its account and reposted its tweet. 

The National Mandate Party (PAN) last year hosted an event featuring Astro, another K-pop group, along with local artists. 

And during the 2014 election campaign, then-candidate (and now President) Joko “Jokowi” Widodo proclaimed his love for heavy metal music, particularly the band Metallica.

Central Java Gov. Ganjar Pranowo waves to journalists after he was selected by the country’s largest political party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, as its candidate for the 2024 presidential election, in Bogor, April 21, 2023. [Aditya Aji/AFP]

It’s common sense. 

Indonesia topped the list for the most number of tweets about K-pop for two years in a row, in 2020 and 2021. The music genre’s likely fanbase in the country is millennials and Gen-Z, who are expected to make up 60% of the electorate in 2024.

But many K-pop stans are having none of it.

Maryam Jamilah, a fan of BTS, the most popular K-pop group in the world, said she would not tolerate her idols being used for political campaigns.

“They have nothing to do with Indonesian politics,” Maryam, 35, told BenarNews.

“I don’t mind if they are used for social issues campaigns, such as anti-violence, child protection, gender equality, health etc., as long as they have a positive social impact.”

She said she would not attend any concert that is linked to a political campaign or vote for anyone who uses K-pop idols as bait.

Another K-pop fan, 47-year-old Dewi Indah Mirananda, said using her idols to attract votes only showed that parties lacked substance in their political programs. 

“Is that the only way to get young people’s votes?” she said to BenarNews. “They should focus more on their programs instead. Be more creative.”

A fan poses for photos during an exhibition of artwork on K-Pop group BTS in Jakarta, June 15, 2022. [Goh Chai Hin/AFP]

K-pop is more than just a form of entertainment for its fans, said Ranny Rastati, a researcher on K-pop culture at the National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN).

“K-pop has built a strong bond between fans and idols through its appealing music, lyrics, performance and fan service,” she told BenarNews.

“Many lyrics address issues such as mental health, self-acceptance and bullying. These lyrics seem to accompany the inner struggles and life dynamics of the listeners.”

Similarly, Indonesia’s young voters demand honest and clean leaders who will fight corruption and have a better understanding of issues such as climate change, said a study by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

Therefore, bringing K-pop idols to Indonesia is a valid strategy for attracting public and fan attention, as long as it does not break the campaign rules, said Idil Akbar, a political science lecturer at Padjadjaran University in Bandung.

“Presidential candidates see K-pop fans as a source of votes for them,” he told BenarNews.

“They want to relate to young people by catering to their interests and preferences.”


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