1 1.1 Media and Culture

Learning Objectives

  1. Understand the impact pop culture has on society.
  2. Discover historical and current music and other events and their global reach.

Pop Culture Mania

Figure 1.1



In 1850, an epidemic swept America—but instead of leaving victims sick with fever or flu, this epidemic involved a rabid craze for the music of Swedish soprano Jenny Lind. American showman P. T. Barnum (who would later go on to found the circus now known as Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey), a shrewd marketer and self-made millionaire, is credited with spreading “Lindomania” through a series of astute show-business moves. Barnum promised Lind an unprecedented $1,000-a-night fee (the equivalent of $28,300 in 2009) for her entire 93-performance tour of the United States. Ever the savvy self-promoter, Barnum turned his huge investment to his advantage by using it to create publicity—and it paid off. When the Swedish soprano’s ship docked on U.S. shores, she was greeted by 40,000 ardent fans; another 20,000 swarmed her hotel (Barnum). Congress was adjourned specifically for Lind’s visit to Washington, DC, where the National Theatre had to be enlarged to accommodate her audiences. A town in California and an island in Canada were named in her honor. Enthusiasts could purchase Jenny Lind hats, chairs, boots, opera glasses, and even pianos. Barnum’s marketing expertise made Lind a household name and created an overwhelming demand for a singer previously unknown to American audiences.

The “Jenny rage” that the savvy Barnum was able to create was not a unique phenomenon, however; a little more than a century later, a new craze transformed some American teenagers into screaming, fainting Beatlemaniacs. Though other performers like Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley were no strangers to manic crowds, the Beatles attracted an unprecedented amount of attention when they first arrived in the United States. When the British foursome touched down at New York’s Kennedy Airport in 1964, they were met by more than 3,000 frenzied fans. Their performance on The Ed Sullivan Show was seen by 73 million people, or 40 percent of the U.S. population. The crime rate that night dropped to its lowest level in 50 years (Ehrenreich, et. al., 1992). Beatlemania was at such a fever pitch that Life magazine cautioned that “a Beatle who ventures out unguarded into the streets runs the very real peril of being dismembered or crushed to death by his fans.” The BBC publicized the trend and perhaps added to it by highlighting the paraphernalia for fans to spend their money on: “T-shirts, sweat shirts, turtle-neck sweaters, tight-legged trousers, night shirts, scarves, and jewelry inspired by the Beatles” were all available, as were Beatles-style mop-top wigs.

In the 21st century, rabid fans could turn their attention to a whole swath of pop stars in the making when the reality TV program American Idol hit the airwaves in 2002. The show was the only television program ever to have snagged the top spot in the Nielsen ratings for six seasons in a row, often averaging more than 30 million nightly viewers. Rival television network executives were alarmed, deeming the pop giant “the ultimate schoolyard bully,” “the Death Star,” or even “the most impactful show in the history of television,” according to former NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker (Carter, 2007). New cell phone technologies allowed viewers to have a direct role in the program’s star-making enterprise through casting votes, signing up for text alerts, or playing trivia games on their phones. In 2009, AT&T estimated that Idol-related text traffic amounted to 178 million messages (Poniewozik, 2009).

These three crazes all relied on various forms of media to create excitement. Whether through newspaper advertisements, live television broadcasts, or integrated Internet marketing, media industry tastemakers help shape what we care about. For as long as mass media has existed in the United States, it’s helped to create and fuel mass crazes, skyrocketing celebrities, and pop culture manias of all kinds. Even in our era of seemingly limitless entertainment options, mass hits like American Idol still have the ability to dominate the public’s attention. In the chapters to come, we’ll look at different kinds of mass media and how they have been changed by—and are changing—the world we live in.


Barnum, P. T.” Answers.com, http://www.answers.com/topic/p-t-barnum.

Carter, Bill. “For Fox’s Rivals, ‘American Idol’ Remains a ‘Schoolyard Bully,’” New York Times, February 20, 2007, Arts section.

Ehrenreich, Barbara, Elizabeth Hess, and Gloria Jacobs, “Beatlemania: Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” in The Adoring Audience: Fan Culture and Popular Media, ed. Lisa A. Lewis (New York: Routledge, 1992), 84–106.

Poniewozik, James. “American Idol’s Voting Scandal (Or Not),” Tuned In (blog), Time, May 28, 2009, http://tunedin.blogs.time.com/2009/05/28/american-idols-voting-scandal-or-not/.

BTS: everything you need to know about the astounding success of the world’s favourite K-Pop band

Image by Ak Graphics from Pixabay.
Published on TheConversation.com October 12, 2018
by Professor in Brazilian Studies, University of Leeds, and
PhD Candidate, University of Leeds

South Korean boy band BTS are in the middle of a sell-out world tour, performing to tens of thousands of people in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany and France. But in case you’ve missed their meteoric rise, here’s what you need to know about the latest K-Pop phenomenon.

Simply put: BTS are huge. Jimmy Fallon recently introduced them on The Tonight Show as “the biggest boy band on the planet”, and he might be right. In May this year, they became the first Korean band to top the US Billboard charts with their album Love Yourself: Tear. They have sold more than 2.5m copies of the follow-up compilation album Love Yourself: Answer since its release in August – that’s twice as many sales as One Direction’s last album.

BTS broke onto the scene in Korea with the hit song I Need U in 2015, gradually building momentum through album sales and endless public appearances. Since then, they have bagged all of the most sought-after awards at home: Mnet Asian Music AwardsSeoul Music Awards and the Golden Disk Awards.

Japan can’t get enough of them – there, they’ve played sell-out stadium tours and their albums have achieved double-platinum status. This is an impressive achievement, considering how lucrative the Japanese market is, how it has its own homegrown pop movement (J-Pop) and given the historical tensions and mutual suspicion between the two countries.

Slick and polished

Like all K-Pop bands (or “idols”, as they are known), they look good, move well and know how to sing. They are groomed, micro-managed, slickly packaged and unmistakably K-Pop in look and sound, combining soft masculinity with US-inspired pop genres. They will have endured the usual gruelling training programme before being “debuted” in 2013.

Like other bands, BTS make creative use of social media to communicate with fans in a seemingly more intimate way – from starring in good-humoured “variety shows” on their YouTube channel, to sending positive messages about the need for self-care on Twitter, BTS are so big on social media that Twitter created an emoji just for them. On September 25 they addressed the UN Assembly to launch a campaign to encourage young people to speak up about bullying and abuse.

Here is a Tweet posted by UNICEF with a video from the band.

BTS have built on the success of more established K-Pop bands such as Super Junior and Girls Generation, extending beyond the East Asian market into the US and now, tentatively, into Europe. News, gossip and video footage of the band is sought out and shared on social media, much of it translated and subtitled by K-Pop fans into Mandarin, English and even Portuguese (K-Pop artists regularly perform in Brazil, one of their largest markets outside East Asia).

But above all, BTS are big because they are “different”. Managed by Big Hit Entertainment, BTS are reportedly allowed to contribute creatively to the band’s style and sound – a freedom not always afforded to successful K-Pop acts. Big Hit has a relatively good reputation, in an industry known for its ruthless treatment of pop stars. With their well-publicised focus on mental health issues in songs, tweets and their work with UNICEF, BTS seem to have struck a chord with Western audiences.

Fan army

Not a fan club: an ARMY. The word ARMY is the acronym of the rather clumsy “Adorable Representative MC for Youth”, a term chosen by managers Big Hit and readily embraced by the fan base. Like the Beliebers and Swifties, the ARMY is an essential part of their band’s marketing machine.

Their recent success in the US was partly driven by the three million votes accrued through a fan-driven campaign on social media to ensure their success at the Billboard Music Awards. Members of the ARMY are active on social media and have been instrumental in spreading awareness of the band’s UNICEF-sponsored “Love Myself” campaign.

Groups of anonymous fans have also set up support groups on Twitter to help anyone struggling with mental health issues: the biggest account of this type is @BTS_ArmyHelpCentre, where anyone can DM to access mutual support and help regardless of gender, age and nationality.

So, what can you expect from a BTS concert? A tightly choreographed, energetic performance with pitch-perfect harmonies and very fast rapping. Expect the fans to know all the dance moves to their hit songs: they will have been rehearsing too. The noise will be deafening: as well as the music, you’ll hear famous fan chants, in which all the band members get a name check in time to the rhythm of the songs. Check out this YouTube video from a show in 2018 to experience a taste of it.

Most fans, regardless of nationality, will know all the words of the songs (sung mostly in Korean) and what they mean. They’ll all have a BTS light stick, used to keep rhythm and to create complicated light-based choreography. And expect screaming, plenty of tears, exhaustion and the odd fainting incident. There will likely be a crowd of enthusiastic fans (mostly teenage girls) outside the venue: the concerts sold out in minutes and not many could afford the four-figure resale prices on e-Bay.

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The Far Reach of Mass Media

  • What are some other examples of pop culture phenomena from the past or current day that you have witnessed make an impact in the United States or around the world? How did they impact different people’s ideas and tastes?




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