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The K-Pop (Social Media) Olympics?

In the buildup to the 2018 PyeongChang Games, everyone was talking about how these games will be a place to showcase one of South Korea’s most prominent cultural exports: K-pop.

To investigate how influential K-pop and its fans were, I analyzed data from the official #PyeongChang2018 hashtag over several weeks and found that a large amount of the conversations have been focused on discussing various music artists. For example, dating back all the way to January 20th, the boy band BTS official Twitter account (@bts_twt) was already the fourth most important node in the #PyeongChang2018 network. Examining the network image below, one can see highlighted in red those conversations directly connecting to BTS’s account. In fact, the BTS account outperformed the official account for the Olympic Games (@Olympics) as well as prominent news media such as @cbcsports. connecting to BTS’s account.

For a little bit of context, BTS is probably one of the most widely recognized K-pop acts in the world right now, with their recent album Mic Drop having received Double Platinum certification in Japan, and Gold certification in the U.S. The band even recently was on the daytime show Ellen in America to perform one of their singles “DNA” live. While BTS clearly dominated the early networks before the Olympics, the real K-pop explosion happened during the Opening Ceremony that was held on the evening of the 9th in South Korea. Looking at the network image below, the highlighted red conversations are those involving people discussing the use of BTS’s music during the event. While the network was certainly bigger and involved more actors than in the days leading up to the games, BTS still managed to be one of the most central and prominent points of discussion.

At the same time, it needs to be acknowledged that BTS was not the only band to receive a great deal of attention from fans. Another South Korean boy band group named Exo, also enjoyed a central role in the #OpeningCeremony network. In fact, Exo (@WeareoneEXO) not only had their official account as the 4th most important account in the network, but also a Twitter account dedicated to reporting their appearance schedule was the 6th most prominent as well. The span of conversations of both of these accounts can be seen in green in the network image below.

A final anecdote about how popular K-pop has been as part of the build up to the Olympics can be found in the networks over the last week. Over the last week, one Twitter account (@wea) with almost only 50 followers and 3 posts over the last 8 years moved into a place of prominence, as many fans of EXO accidentally misspelled the official account name and tagged in this mostly unknown account. However, as fans continued to repeat this error or retweet messages with the error, the account quickly rose to prominence despite the fact that the owner has not been active since 2012, and is also not involved with the band or any discussion of the Olympics.

Looking at the network from the opening ceremonies, one U.S. based BTS fan posted a tweet that stated how excited they were to hear BTS’s music being used during the event.

This tweet was widely retweeted by others who are part of the #BTSArmy group, and this individual fan skyrocketed to become the 14th most important account in the entire #OpeningCeremony network. How prominent did they become?

They ended up beating media accounts such as @CNN, every official Olympic team account other than @teamcanada. Overall, of the top-15 accounts during the opening ceremony, 2 were accounts for K-pop groups, 1 account was a fan group account, and 5 were individual fans discussing the use of K-pop during the ceremonies. From this, one could say that this may indeed be the K-pop Olympics when it comes down to discussions of the games on social media.