#KStreetSpotlight: A scholarly path with K-Pop (Part 1)

Entering the cafe in a Girls’ Generation t-shirt with a matching tote, one would be surprised that Erik Paolo Capistrano is a professor of business at the University of the Philippines.

Erik graduated cum laude from the University of the Philippines in 2004 with a degree in Business Administration. In 2008, he completed his Masters in Business Administration, and in 2015, he finished his Ph.D. in International Management at the National Cheng Kung University in Taiwan.

But in the middle of his impressive academic feat, he is a passionate fan of Girls’ Generation and is slowly being recognized as a thought leader in the Filipino K-Pop community.

From g.o.d to Girls’ Generation

Erik’s exposure to K-Pop began early in 2001 with Arirang as the only Korean channel. He admitted being a casual fan of g.o.d, one of the first generation boy groups. The group launched the careers of soloist Kim Tae Woo, variety personality Park Joon Hyung, and actor Danny Ahn. But it was on April 10, 2010, when he fell in love with Girls’ Generation (소녀시대).

“I broke my glasses and had to undergo Lasik surgery. My cousin, who was younger than me, showed up with his laptop music videos of Gee and Genie,” Erik recalled in Filipino. “Since I was under house arrest, I looked up their variety show, Hello Baby.” Two weeks later, he began memorizing each members’ names and faces. In two months, he found Soshified, the official forum of all things related to Girls’ Generation.

When asked what reeled him into the group, his initial reply was that he didn’t know at first and that he had been asking himself for a long time. “First, everyone’s pretty. And then, nakita ko kung gaano sila kakalog in variety shows,” said Erik. “So I asked myself, ‘Why are they so different [off stage] compared to when they are performing on stage? The more I got to know more about them – as cheesy as it sounds – the more I fell in love with them, especially [with] Tiffany.” He then shared reading an account about Tiffany, who passed by a shivering elderly along the streets. She, with her manager, then went to the nearest convenience store, to buy the old man cups of coffee to keep him warm.

The more I got to know more about them – as cheesy as it sounds – the more I fell in love with them, especially [with] Tiffany.

Despite the influx of girl groups over the years, Erik said that he has never seen a girl group complementary to each other. “Sobrang defined yung roles nila – especially during their early years – but when they are together, everybody can shine. I have never seen another girl group with that kind of chemistry or charisma.

He admitted that it took him some time to listen to present-day artists, but girl groups Red Velvet and G-Friend have caught his attention. “[The] biggest risk of any K-Pop fan [is] ‘if you don’t want to fall in love with your idol, don’t watch their variety shows,’” said Erik with a laugh on the Red Velvet’s Level-Up Project. As for G-Friend, he found them impressive for a girl group to dance with so much energy and difficulty at par with Girls Generation Into the New World. 

It was difficult to pinpoint one memorable experience from the 12 concerts (and counting?) he had attended – mostly in other countries in Asia. “February 12, 2012 – SNSD’s 2nd Asia Tour in Bangkok… It was the first concert I attended,” Erik recounted, “I was studying in Taiwan and one of my classmates, who I was helping out in doing her thesis, helped me get a ticket to the [said] concert. By coincidence, the classmate’s brother works for SM’s Thailand partner.” And as if it was anything more meant to be, his seat number at the concert was G-9. “I was near bawling when I first heard the chords to Into the New World. It was the first time I have seen and heard it live, which in my opinion, was the best debut album of a girl group ever.”

At Girls’ Generation 2nd Asia Tour in Bangkok, Thailand

Fast forward to many concerts he attended after, the girls’ 10th Anniversary Fan Meeting was a bittersweet memory. “It was very personal, and looking back, it was then I realized they had already made a decision,” recalled Erik. “They” pertained to Seohyun, Tiffany, and Sooyoung, who months later decided not to renew their contracts with SM Entertainment and pursue individual careers.

At Girls’ Generation 10th Anniversary Fanmeeting in Seoul, South Korea

Pursuing K-Pop as an academic subject

In 2018, KStreetManila published an article about a published comparative study on Taiwanese and Filipino fans on their preferences on K-Pop. The research, titled “Non-Korean consumers’ preferences on Korean popular music: A two-country study,” marked Erik’s beginning on researching about K-Pop.

This year, his empirical discourse on Understanding Filipino Korean Pop Music Fans was published in the Asian Journal of Social Science.

However, it wasn’t without challenges.

“In that comparative study [on Taiwanese and Filipino fans], we have experienced seven rejections in two years,” recalled Erik. “They said it wasn’t globally impactful and that the K-Pop market is a niche market.”

Presenting the study he co-authored at the UP VSB Seminar Series in UP Diliman

Such reasons are also experienced by his students, having doubts on pursuing K-Pop as their research interest.

“We are in research. We can research on any topic we like,” Erik encourages. “I would like to inspire other people to pursue research topics that are of their interest. What started as a simple fanboying became more academic and more productive.”

I would like to inspire other people to pursue research topics that are of their interest. What started as a simple fanboying became more academic and more productive.

To date, Erik is the Principal Investigator of the University of the Philippines Korea Research Center (UPKRC). The organization aims to gather all related academic materials that could propel in promoting and developing Korean studies at the university and in the country.

His advice to students who want to pursue K-Pop in the long run? “Go beyond K-Pop. What worries me is when that passion for one group dies. Use K-Pop as a springboard [to study what is beyond.]”

In Part 2, we have asked Erik on his opinion on the general public’s perception of K-Pop as well as the noticeable change in Filipino fandom behavior.