BTS, Taylor Swift and the influence of pop music fans

Swifties and the like have proven they can exert their influence for political and social change

Taylor Swift performs on the 'Eras' tour
Taylor Swift performs at Lumen Field in Seattle
(Image credit: Mat Hayward / TAS23 / Getty Images for TAS Rights Management)

A pop star's fandom can be hugely influential—and not just in the world of music. The biggest year of Taylor Swift's career has underlined that power, resulting in congressional action in the United States and politicians treating Swifties like a demographic to be targeted. But Swift's fandom is not unique. In recent years, we have seen the way large fandoms, especially those in the world of pop music, can exert genuine political or social influence, either at the direction of the star or on their own.

In the ARMY

Any discussion of modern pop-music fandom must begin with the BTS ARMY, the name for fans of the South Korean boy band BTS. ARMY stands for Adorable Representative M.C. for Youth, and the group is known as being among the most passionate and organized groups of fans around today.

So what happens when these fan communities direct their efforts toward other causes? It can have a real impact, as we saw in 2020 after BTS donated $1 million to Black Lives Matter. Members of the ARMY subsequently launched a campaign dubbed #MatchAMillion to match the band's donation, and they raised $1 million in just over 24 hours. When the Dallas Police Department asked followers to submit "video of illegal activity" from protesters during Black Lives Matter demonstrations that year, K-pop fans flooded the department's iWatch Dallas app to the point that it went down due to "technical difficulties." K-pop fans also claimed to have registered for tickets to a Donald Trump rally in 2020 with no intention of attending in an attempt to sabotage the rally's turnout. 

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In 2018, fans of BTS formed an organization called One In An ARMY, which regularly organizes campaigns for non-profit organizations. Most recently, the group launched a campaign to donate to The Thurman Perry Foundation, which provides "direct giving, educational assistance, and advocacy to assist incarcerated women in returning to and rebuilding their lives."

The Swiftie demographic

Taylor Swift is one of the biggest artists on the planet today, and her fans, known as Swifties, are quite the powerful bloc in their own right. 

Swift was largely an apolitical figure until 2018, when she endorsed two Democrats in Tennessee. She also endorsed President Biden in 2020, and after Swift encouraged fans to register to vote in September 2023, received more than 35,000 registrations. There may be a limit to Swift's political influence considering the Tennessee senate candidate she backed in 2018, Phil Bredesen, handily lost his election. But it's possible her endorsement could have made a difference in a tighter contest. California Governor Gavin Newsom believes the singer will be a "profoundly powerful" figure in the 2024 election, and the New Jersey Monitor noted many politicians are going out of their way to appeal to Swift's fans, recognizing them as a "key demographic."

Recently, fans of both Swift and BTS have been organizing against far-right candidate Javier Milei in the presidential election in Argentina, where Swift was set to perform. Swifties are a "major hurdle" to Milei's election prospects, according to The New York Times, given Milei is relying on the youth vote in the Nov. 19 runoff. In 2022, a group called Army Help the Planet, which appealed to BTS fans, helped contribute to a historic number of young people registering to vote in the Brazilian presidential election that saw the defeat of incumbent Jair Bolsonaro, according to the MIT Technology Review.  

But there is a dark side to this, as the might of fans can be used for abuse just as it can be used for charitable purposes. Swift fans have often harassed her perceived enemies en masse, and journalists have described receiving death threats for criticizing the singer. 

So why is it that fans of pop music seem uniquely capable of making a difference and achieving their goals? For one, these fans' experience organizing to boost music on the charts and voting in online polls means there's often already an established network, involving fan websites and social media accounts, all of which can used for another purpose. The future might just belong to the stans. 

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