This is the remarkable story of Jack Phan, a 42-year-old tech entrepreneur, CEO, and now Korean pop influencer. What started with a single tweet has captured the attention of ONCE, the fanbase of TWICE, and even inspired a TIME article on “Everything to know about TWICE” which furthered the international adoration by the much “younger,” rabid fan base of the K-pop group.
This is how social media can connect people of all ages and cultures in a way that face-to-face with its built-in prejudices can’t. Often criticized for its negative influences, the world-flattening dynamic intrinsic to social media also flattens ages and cultures, allowing for immediate serendipitous connections that would otherwise be impossible.
( Jack Phan is also the CTO of AGEIST )
Jack, what happened that got you on the radar of the TWICE fans?
Three words: “WHAT IS MOMO?” During the Apple Event LIVE stream on Sept 10th, I noticed something on Twitter trending ahead of Apple. I took a screenshot 20 minutes into the event and tweeted out, “This is a first. #AppleEvent is happening now, yet #MOMO is trending worldwide. What is MOMO?”
— Jack Phan (@JackPhan) September 10, 2019
I was instantly overwhelmed by ONCE, the fanbase of TWICE. “First of all, sir, it’s a WHO is MOMO…” tweeted Jeff Benjamin, K-pop columnist for Billboard. The flood of messages continued from a rabid fanbase to make sure I knew who TWICE is, who MOMO is, and why her forehead is bigger news than Apple. I found this response amazing, and tweeted out a follow up of: “So #MOMO is trending ahead of the #AppleEvent because of a K-pop girl’s missing bangs and forehead?'” My curiosity was heightened and the next day, news outlets around the world turned this into the biggest story I’ve ever been a part of.
First of all, sir, it’s a WHO is MOMO
— Jeff Benjamin (@Jeff__Benjamin) September 10, 2019
Had you ever listened to K-pop before?
I’ve been a fan since the birth of K-pop in the mid-90s. My college roommate was from Korea, so music from Seo Taji, H.O.T, Solid, S.E.S, and BoA were a refreshing sound to the 80’s rock & pop I was accustomed to. I still love my Eagles, Chicago, Richard Marx, and yes, even NKOTB but K-pop brought something different to this then 18-year-old kid with a love of music. I spent many nights in a karaoke room with my Korean friends belting out K-pop ballads, hip-hop, dance tunes and buying as many CD’s I could find while learning Korean, the food, and culture. Today’s K-pop brings a more refined and polished version that I haven’t kept up with but knew of through pop culture.
What do you think about your new role as #ONCEUncle?
I think it’s incredible. Being an entrepreneur, I have spent over 20 years building businesses that engage audiences and consumers through personal connection and aspiration to understand what people like. Feeling the passion from ONCE was special. They made me #FeelSpecial, coincidentally the name of TWICE’s latest release, and I haven’t looked back. I fell in love with the positive energy and connected instantaneously with this fanbase of mostly teens and young adults. They could have very easily knocked me for not knowing who their idols were but instead made sure I knew how amazing TWICE is and why I should be a fan, a ONCE. They anointed me “samchon” or “uncle”, and I quickly became the #ONCEUncle of this amazing fanbase.
Do you think people assume that K-pop is a millennial/Gen X phenomenon, or do you think there are fans of all ages?
I believe most people assume K-pop is a millennial or Gen Y/Z phenomenon, reserved for bubble-gum pop teens that enjoy catchy tunes and highly synchronized choreographed dance moves. But I quickly found out that there are many fans of all ages, genders, and orientations ALL over the world. Music should help express emotions through melodies and lyrics that connect with people through all stages of life. If you give it a chance – to understand the music beyond the visual appeal and bright colors most often associated with “pop,” you’ll discover a broad range of energy and positivity that can brighten up anyone’s day. Especially if you listen to TWICE. I hope to inspire others – who may “secretly” like K-pop or may just be looking for something new and refreshing – to discover this music, no matter how old you are. Happiness is ageless.
What have you learned from this whole experience that can be translated to your media career?
Having spent time as an executive at large media companies like Digital Trends and Money Crashers, and working with many local newsmedia publishers to develop their audiences, I’ve learned a lot from this experience. When people are loyal and passionate to you or your business, listen to what they want and respond with authenticity. I shared honest reactions and feelings while also contributing to the community with piano covers and unboxing videos to show support. The more I did for the fanbase, the more they engaged with me. The warm embrace I felt early on only continued to grow, the more I gave back. And all of it is 100% real and authentic.
Are you going to get to see TWICE perform?
Definitely! I’m eyeing all their tour dates and appearances. It would be a thrill to be amongst the ONCE fanbase to cheer on TWICE. I have to work on my fan chants and get my dance moves down before then.
What do you feel this says about age and culture, as you may not be thought of as a typical K-pop fan?
Enjoy what you like. Just because we grow up listening to a specific genre or watching certain movies, music and culture should be ageless. If it connects to you and makes you happy, nothing should hold you back. We aren’t “too old” to be happy. My fountain of youth is keeping up with what makes me smile, stay happy, and “feel special” at the end of the day.
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