Women perform on stage in a pop band. One throws her hand in the air.

Can K-pop stars wield their celebrity to influence climate action?

K-pop band Blackpink put out a climate change video expressing concern for the environment. Soon after its release, they were named cultural ambassadors to COP26, the upcoming United Nations’ climate talks in Glasgow.

The World

Lisa, from left, Jennie Kim, Rose, and Jisoo of Blackpink perform at the Coachella Music & Arts Festival in Indio, California, on April 12, 2019. 

Amy Harris/Invision/File/AP

Blackpink, one of the biggest pop bands in the world, has garnered billions of views of their music videos on YouTube. In December, they put out another kind of video: a climate change announcement expressing concern for the environment.

“We're not experts and we're not fully aware of all the issues, but we do care about our planet and we want to learn more."

Rosé, Blackpink band member

“We're not experts and we're not fully aware of all the issues, but we do care about our planet and we want to learn more,” said band member Rosé in the video. 

Soon after its release, Blackpink was named a cultural ambassador to COP26, the upcoming United Nations’ climate talks in Glasgow.

Related: Kazakhstan's 'Qazaq-pop' boy band Ninety One challenges gender norms

With this announcement, the band joins a list of celebrities who are vocal about the climate crisis, from Jane Fonda and Sting to Daryl Hannah. While it’s hard to measure the impact of celebrity endorsements on climate action, these stars do raise the profile on environmental issues. 

Often, organizations like the UN formally partner with celebrities to get their message out.

“The point is to really just break down those barriers … and sort of build a bridge ... to other audiences that we wouldn't be able to normally reach."

Sarah Marchildon, director, UN Global Climate Action Awards

“The point is to really just break down those barriers … and sort of build a bridge, you know, to other audiences that we wouldn't be able to normally reach," said Sarah Marchildon, who recruits celebrities for climate change campaigns as the director of UN Global Climate Action Awards. 

A campaign’s reach is undeniably larger when a celebrity gets involved, Marchildon said.

"[T]hey can influence people or they can use their fame to influence people,” she said. “I do think that if someone is using their fame for good or fighting the good fight and leveraging that influence, then I think that's a great thing.”

While the average post from the UN’s Twitter account gets a couple dozen likes and shares, Blackpink’s climate change video was viewed nearly 4 million times. 

Likes on Facebook don’t necessarily translate into action, but social scientist Sejung Park at Pukyong National University in South Korea said celebrities can have an impact offline, especially when people feel emotionally attached to celebrities who post online about climate change. 

Her research looked at tweets from actor Leonardo Dicaprio and hip-hop artist Pharrell Williams.

“In my experiment, I found that when people are reading more the environmental tweets of celebrities … advocating [for] climate change action, you're more likely to adopt the environmental behavior the celebrities advocated in the tweets."

Sejung Park, social scientist, Pukyong National University, South Korea

“In my experiment, I found that when people are reading more the environmental tweets of celebrities … advocating [for] climate change action, you're more likely to adopt the environmental behavior the celebrities advocated in the tweets,” Park said.

Actions like recycling or riding a bicycle, for example.

Another study found that people who felt attached to Steve Irwin, also known as “The Crocodile Hunter,” were more likely to donate to his conservation projects.

Other studies found that while celebrity endorsements help raise the profile of campaigns, their real-world impact is hard to measure.

The fact that K-pop fans are so loyal and also so active online makes it more likely for Blackpink’s video to have an impact, Park said. 

“K-pop is one of the kinds of sensational trends on social media ... the power of virality makes the K-pop celebrities special." 

K-pop fan Jazzah Lampa, from the Philippines, said fans will go to great lengths to wear a band’s shirt or eat the favorite snack of K-pop stars.

"The fan support for the idols is really insane."

Jazzah Lampa, K-pop fan, the Phillipines

“It really amazes me how a lot of fans globally [have] a lot of interest in K-pop, despite [the fact that] the songs are in another language and it's in the culture they [are] merely familiar with. The fan support for the idols is really insane,” Lampa said. 

And that influence can go both ways, said Jungwon Kim, an ethnomusicologist and K-pop expert at Yonsei University in South Korea. 

“K-pop stars get inspired and influenced by their fans' activism."

Jungwon Kim, ethnomusicologist, Yonsei University, South Korea

“K-pop stars get inspired and influenced by their fans' activism,” Kim said.

For example, fans of the K-pop band BTS called them out for not taking a stand on racial injustice after the killing of George Floyd. 

Related: Before BTS, the Kim Sisters were America's original K-pop stars

“Many fans claimed on social media that since BTS and their music are attributed from the African American genres like hip-hop, they should have made [a] more powerful statement to support the Black Lives Matter movement,” Kim said.

Not long after, BTS donated $1 million to Black Lives Matter and put out a statement of support for the movement.

Related: America's BLM protests find solidarity in South Korea 

K-pop fan Nurul Sarifah, based in Indonesia, has been interested in climate change for years and interned at the environmental organization 350.org last year. When she saw Blackpink’s video, she said she was inspired to start a group called “Kpop4Planet.”

Sarifah thinks K-pop fans working together could make a real difference. Last year, fans raised thousands of dollars in relief for flood victims in Assam, India.

“That makes me realize the K-pop fans, they have this power where they can do something bigger and stronger when they are voicing their voice together," she said. 

Lee Da-yeon, a Kpop4planet member in South Korea, agrees.

 “I want people to know that K-pop fandom equals climate justice.”

Lee Da-yeon, member, Kpop4planet 

“I strongly think that K-pop is a powerful force for social change,” she said. “I want people to know that K-pop fandom equals climate justice.”