Extreme K-pop Fans
Korean pop music, commonly abbreviated as K-pop, has been rapidly gaining popularity around the world in the past decade. One of the most known songs, PSY’s “Gangnam Style”, was released in 2012 and has reached 2.6 billion views since then, and is currently the most viewed YouTube video ever. Most people have heard of the song, but they haven’t gotten past the surface of K-pop and its history, process, hard work, and the dedication to become a K-pop star. Through this study of those that have become familiar with the music genre, I will be focusing on international K-pop fans and fandom culture. I have discovered that they tend to prefer communities that are friendly and frequent websites that are welcoming and have real content. The K-pop community is also made up of different types of fans, many of which cross ethical boundaries because of their obsession or extreme hate of a K-pop idol, and compared to other fandoms, K-pop fans tend to go to the extreme when supporting their favorite idols.
History of K-pop
K-pop started out in the early 1990s with one of the most famous bands called Seo Taiji and Boys. According to Suh Hye-rim from the Korea Herald, “Seo Taiji and Boys were the first to introduce dance music featuring rap to the country when ballads and trot songs were the mainstream offerings” (Suh). Seo Taiji and Boys’ contributions of more experimental music has changed Korea’s music industry and paved the way for the newer generation of K-pop groups. Along with Seo Taiji and Boys, the establishment of three large entertainment companies, S.M. Entertainment, JYP Entertainment, and YG Entertainment, have had an extraordinary impact on the K-pop scene, not only in Korea but also worldwide. They’re the most known and the largest companies in the industry, holding auditions, scouting the public, and training those selected who dream of becoming a K-pop star.
For this research paper, I conducted a survey via SurveyMonkey, went through an email interview with a K-pop fan, and studied various articles online. I asked the surveyees about what makes K-pop attractive to them, what Korean entertainment websites or forums they enjoy going on the most, and which websites they despise or actively avoid. In this survey, I mainly focused on asking questions about sasaeng and anti-fans, but in the email interview, I inquired about Midnight Ramen Attack’s experience on K-pop forums and annoying fan behaviors she sees online. I also looked for online articles and reports that would help me write about the history of K-pop and variety of K-pop fans.
Becoming a K-pop Star
The preparation to become a K-pop star is expensive and requires long years of hard work and coaching. Hong from Soompi states, “. . .producing an idol group costs about 2 billion won (approximately $1.8 million)” (Hong). However, the companies will also provide a dormitory for trainees to live in, food expenses, and payment for the trainees to take singing, acting, and dancing lessons. These rookies can train from a couple of months up to many years; they are constantly waiting for their company to assign them team members to debut with. Although the groups are costly to form and prepare, the income they bring after possibly becoming popular in the music industry will reimburse the company in the long term. Nonetheless, with increasing fame comes several consequences. Not only will the group gain devoted, “normal” fans, but they will also attract the attention of sasaengs and anti-fans. Sasaengs can be described basically as stalker fans, those who are overly obsessed with their favorite K-pop idols and commonly resort to invasion of privacy.
With the rising, global popularity of K-pop, more Korean entertainment websites and forums are being introduced. Allkpop, Onehallyu, Soompi, Koreaboo, and Netizenbuzz are just several examples of sites where K-pop fans will read to obtain daily doses of news about their favorite groups or the general whole of the K-pop community. From the survey I’ve conducted, a majority of K-pop fans said they frequent Onehallyu the most because the community is active and the users are friendly and welcoming. On the other hand, Allkpop and Koreaboo are the most disliked websites. One surveyee stated that Allkpop and Koreaboo are known for clickbait titles and the spreading of false information for attention. Fans are attracted to sites with an aesthetically pleasing layout and active, cordial communities. They tend to strongly avoid entertainment webs that use misleading titles and bias in their news reports. Fans that love a song or the visuals of a music video are able to express their opinions on the forums, and those that disliked the latest releases can also communicate their thoughts.
However, there is a negative side to sharing your honest opinion online on these forums and websites. Many overprotective fans will often love every song their bias group comes out with, and they may attack an individual who says otherwise. People are most often lashed out at if they are not in the majority or if their bias group isn’t favored on that certain website or forum. From an interview I did with a K-pop fan online, she said the most annoying part about people on the forums are “Bashing other groups that aren’t their bias group” (Midnight Ramen Attack). Fans naturally tend to think their bias groups are the best, but some take it to the extreme and will be aggressive, slander, or disregard all other groups. They can also feel insecure that their group is not receiving good reviews on their recent songs or is failing to do well on the music charts, so they feel the need to drag down the other groups and boast about their favorites. Since many international fans are not able to see their favorite K-pop groups in person as often, they rely on YouTube videos, translated news articles, and pictures posted onto these sites and forums to get the latest information, but through this media, ordinary fans realize that there are many crazed, law-breaking fans in the K-pop world.
Different Types of Fans
A variety of fans make up the entirety of the K-pop fandom culture. First, there are the regular fans who simply enjoy the music, choreography, and visuals of the group. These fans, compared to the others, stay within moral and ethical boundaries. They admire their favorite K-pop groups either from their computer screen, concerts, or meet and greets. From the survey I conducted, most K-pop fans said the catchy songs, dances, and the visuals of the idols make K-pop attractive to them. This can be seen in many K-pop groups that like to experiment with different music genres, and whenever they make a comeback, their music is fresh and shows different sides of them. They also perform intricate dances that bring the audience’s eyes to them immediately, and they quickly become the center of attention. All these characteristics make K-pop appeal to ordinary fans.
Next, you have anti-fans that will strongly hate certain groups for no valid reason or because of who they are formed by. There is a term called company stan that denotes a person who only likes K-pop groups from a particular entertainment company. While being an anti-fan and company stan, the individual is prone to bashing groups from other companies they don’t stan. Over the years, there have been many incidents with anti-fans; one popular case involved TVXQ member, Yunho. An anti-fan pretended to be a supporter and gave Yunho a drink containing superglue. He drank the whole bottle in one shot out of habit, but fainted and was rushed to the hospital (ddangha). Anti-fans can spout hate and take actions to the extreme, but they’re aren’t the only type to disturb K-pop idols.
Finally, you have the sasaeng, known as stalkers fans, who develop an unhealthy obsession with their bias, or favorite member of the group. Sasaeng fans have the capability to also resort to drastic, harmful, or traumatic behavior for a chance to interact with their bias. According to a research done by Patrick Williams and Samantha Ho, sasaeng fans “have been reported to slap K-pop stars for attention, intentionally cause car accidents for the chance to interact with them, and give lingerie and even menstrual blood to them in hopes of being remembered” (Williams & Ho 3). Their actions have affected the physical and mental lives of idols greatly, as sasaeng fans feel a compulsive need to be close with their favorites idols all the time. When it comes to their bias, sasaeng fans do not know the meaning of privacy and respecting personal space, as some have gone as far as invading idols’ homes or installing cameras in their hotel room. Sasaeng fans are not considered to be real fans because of their excessive actions and their potential to cause harm to idols. All these different types of fans make up the whole fan culture of the K-pop world.
Spending Money on Idols
Certain types of K-pop fans spend large amounts of money to support their favorite groups. Fans will buy albums, photo books, concert tickets, and other merchandise; some can take extreme measures like buying their bias extravagant birthday gifts. According to Alolika from seoulbeats, “Fans –both individuals and groups – have taken it upon themselves to gift their idols the most expensive goods available in the market. From Playstations to Jaguars, there is a constant draining of finances with idols being gifted luxury goods” (Alolika). These fans will collect money, whether it’s their own or their parents’, to spend so they are able to provide idols with the most luxurious presents, as they find their bias’ happiness the most important. From the survey I conducted, one person said, “I feel thankful that they care so much, but I also can’t help but question whether they understand exactly how much money they are putting in, for someone that’s technically a stranger.” Some people find it ridiculous that fans are willing to spend hundreds of dollars to support their bias, but others don’t care because they believe that it’s the fans’ money and their choice on how to use it.
Not everyone approves of fans investing so much of their time and resources on an idol’s birthday gift. K-pop companies have actually turned away gifts because they believed they were too excessive and costly. In a seoulbeats article, Ahn Hyo-jin from Cube Entertainment said, “…The company will return gifts that we feel are too much and try to lead them to giving to charities instead” (Alolika). Nowadays, companies are putting out more restrictions on what gifts an idol can receive from their fans on birthdays, as they don’t wish for them to spend copious amounts of money on their bias. Instead, fans have found another way to make a positive contribution. Ock Hyun-ju from the Korea Herald states, “Fans of K-pop idol group EXO-M’s Xiumin donated 10 million won to a local charity in his name to help Ethiopian children access clean water and education, to celebrate his 24th birthday” (Ock). Fans are now using their money to benefit the world rather than simply buying expensive birthday presents for their bias. This portrays the fandom and the idols in a better light while helping charities and good causes.
From this study, I’m able to conclude that international K-pop fans prefer websites with amiable communities and factual content over clickbait titles and biased content. They rely on K-pop entertainment websites to get the latest news about their idols and express opinions over newly released music videos or variety shows with their bias groups on the forums. These communities are made up of various types of fans, some of which have dubious morals and actions because of their obsession or hate of a K-pop idol. K-pop fans tend to go to the extreme when supporting their favorite idols. The whole of the K-pop fandom culture includes the regular fans, anti-fans, sasaeng fans, and also fans who spend excessive amounts of money on their bias. Sasaengs and anti-fans will take time out of their day to disturb and potentially harm idols, but there are also fans who don’t mind using money to support and make their bias happy. K-pop fan culture and overall opinions are very diverse, shown through the variety of their ways to both support and cause trouble for their idols.
Alolika. “To Idol, With Love: K-Pop’s Gift Economy.” Seoulbeats, April 23, 2014. Web.
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ddangha. “Yunho Reveals That He Thought About Quitting After His Poison Incident.”
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