FAN culture has always been a strong force for bonding communities and creating friendships. From Star Trek fans (or Trekkies) in the 60s, to Star Wars fans in the 70s, to Korean pop fans around the globe today, sharing a love of a specific piece of entertainment has been a vital way for outcasts throughout society to feel like part of a likeminded community.

Meetups for local geeks in the basements of cafes and comic book shops have long been hubs for fans to meet each other and, often inadvertently, create citywide communities around their shared interest. Scotland has its fair share of these niche communities, but one of the fastest growing has to be the society revolving around the worldwide phenomenon of Korean pop music, a genre better known as K-pop.

As someone who has been a K-pop fan and involved in the Glasgow scene since 2015, Katy is well versed in how K-pop creates tightknit friendships as she’s found herself unwittingly become a large part of the community’s foundation. This isn’t something she expected or even wanted to be and was a mere matter of opportunity and coincidence.

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She explains: “I was writing for UnitedKpop which is the biggest UK K-pop news outlet and then I was added to be an admin of the Facebook page and eventually I got complete control of it.”

When Katy inexplicably became the head of the page, the power she had to make the group a hub for the Scottish K-pop community was something she was alarmingly aware of. Due to the sense of duty that came with this power, she decided she should make some changes.

Making sure the group was now active on social media, hosting online quizzes and watch parties, and rebranding the page as K-pop Scotland, the group had flourished into a budding community for K-pop lovers. “We created all of that during the pandemic,” she explains. “A lot of people were talking about how they were feeling really isolated and lonely, and that K-pop is the thing that makes them feel like they’re a part of a community.”

This sense of community goes without saying, as the group’s membership doubled from around 500 people to over a thousand.

Nowadays, Katy and the rest of the admin team are focused not just on keeping the group active online, but in real life. After the pandemic’s restrictions eased, they decided they should organise meetups for members in Glasgow in venues such as comic-book shops, bubble tea (a popular tea-based drink from Taiwan that is extremely popular throughout East and Southeast Asia) cafes, and the Korean restaurant Bibimbap.

Of the meetups, she says: “They’re just really casual, playing games, chatting, getting bubble tea. It’s fun because you find out that people who met at the Bibimbap night are best friends now.”

After experiencing the loneliness of isolation, Katy wants to take up any opportunities she can to help people socialise and make the most of the community she’s helped build. She also emphasized the importance of having physical spaces to go to, something she feels Scotland’s K-pop community lacks.

However, there are a limited number of events available. One option is SeoulRush, a monthly club night held in Glaswegian venue Room 2 that just marked its 10-year anniversary. Despite the genre’s popularity, it is currently the only regular K-pop club night in Scotland. This is something Lottie Townend and Emma Hall, the heads of the University of Glasgow’s K-pop society, hope to add to.

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In March, the society held a combined event: an afternoon consisting of a dance show and an evening packed full of Korean club tunes in the university’s Queen Margaret Union. This project was a major undertaking but is one that the girls hope to continue doing at least once a year alongside the many other events they hold.

Offering this variety of events around the many facets of Korean culture and pop culture is something they believe is integral to forming the large community they have amassed. Lottie explains: “We combined with the Korean Society so we’re able to look at Korean culture and the language and offer cooking classes.

“It is different people who go to the cultural or the dance-related events but everyone kind of knows each other so I feel like everyone’s then learning about Korean culture and K-pop together”.

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By offering such a large range of events and meetups, from dance classes where fans can learn their favorite songs’ choreography (in K-pop, a song’s performance is arguably as important as the song itself), to club nights, to quizzes, the girls are assured that everyone who is interested in Korean music and culture will have a place to go to feel included.

They, like Katy, stress the power of the Glasgow K-pop community to enable strong friendships. “I definitely found that as soon as people said ‘oh I like K-pop’ then suddenly you have this huge topic that you can talk about and that leads down to other stuff- there’s so many branches from that,” says Emma.

After meeting one of her best friends through a mutual love of the boy group BTS – who have undoubtedly become the world’s biggest K-pop group – that surfaced when Emma had just begun to listen to the then up and coming band, Emma is more than grateful to the genre and the community around it.

She explains: “I remember her sitting down at the table in school and asking, ‘oh is that BTS?’. She had been a fan for longer than I had, and she was introducing me to all of their other music.”

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However, the society understands that while making friends and curating a community is important, not everyone can attend in-person events. To compensate for this and make their community as expansive and accessible as possible, they offer online spaces for K-pop fans to congregate and converse within. This was especially important during the pandemic, as the society became a hub of social interaction for its expanding membership.

Despite this, the organisers know that even with the return to pre-Covid norms, having online spaces are still integral to any community. Lottie elaborates: “We started our Discord server and I feel like there’s a lot of people that are quite active in that that I’ve not necessarily seen at society events. If they prefer communicating online then that’s a good platform for them to know there’s still people in Glasgow who share their interest in K-pop.”

As Lottie graduates from university, Emma will be left to take on the duties that come with managing the society. From her many years in the society and her time running it alongside Lottie, she is more than prepared. As she plans events and stalls for fresher’s week, she hopes that the society can continue to expand and help K-pop fans create life-long friendships.

The society that has formed in Glasgow around K-pop is simultaneously large yet tightknit and anyone who is involved in the scene knows that friendship is at the core of the community. Just as the city is known for its friendly people and communality, this extends to its various sub-cultures. Whether they are organised by K-pop Scotland, the University of Glasgow K-pop Society, or anyone else, K-pop related events as well as the online spaces that accompany them are places where geeks can come to feel less alone. Having a niche interest is something that can feel isolating; but finding a community around it is the most inviting thing in the world.