K-Pop Fan Clubs: Friend, Foe and Fear

In Entertain Me on March 2, 2012 at 11:37 pm

One could not pretend to know anything about Korea without at least acknowledging the existence of K-Pop and it’s impressive influence.  Even if you’re  personally not a fan of the music, hat-tips must go to its sheer success and sustainability.  Hallyu remains the driving force behind getting Korea whispered on the lips of residents in far flung lands.  Whilst we could spend endless hours picking apart just what makes K-Pop the object of obsessions and passionate followings, there’s one aspect that divides and in many respects frightens.  The K-Pop Fan Club.

Photo Credit

Perhaps you drop into conversation that you are a fan of a particular musician.  You have all their albums, follow them on twitter, and you make a point of going to all their concerts.   You would consider yourself to be….a fan.  But in reality you haven’t even scratched the surface of what it means to be a true K-Pop Fan. What is  so different from K-Pop Fan Clubs from those of other artists?  For a start, K-Pop is so accessible and personal that fans can feel close and attached to their idols.  Artists hold Fan Meetings regularly, appear on TV almost daily, and make appearances in shopping malls and random public places at the drop of a hat.  We can know their every move, their personal habits, we can feel like we’ve known ‘Oppa’ forever.  K-Pop Stars do not have the same celebrity airs and graces that international artists have, which can disconnect fans from feeling like they really matter.  Sure fans are the first to be thanked after a Grammy win, but fans are really just an intangible entity.  Korean artists are acutely aware of how important the fan base is to their success or demise, and do everything possible to connect with them.  And they are rewarded with a fierce, sometimes unnerving loyalty.

You might think if you joined the Facebook group page of your favourite K-Pop artist that you are in the fan club.  Alas, no it’s a far more demanding commitment than that.  Every artist’s fan club has their own specific name such as Big Bang has V.I.P, the Wondergirls have Wonderful, and 2PM has Hottest (because all-important record label owner JYP considers 2pm to be the hottest time of the day.)  TVXQ, also known as DBSK, has the club Cassiopeia, which has the largest membership in the world, and has been in the Guinness Book of World Records twice.  If you are in a fan club, you are not permitted to be a fan of anyone else.  Loyalty is key.  You must also love and support all members and not criticize them, though you might have a ‘bias’ or a favorite member.

Above:  The After School official colour was released as ‘Pearl Periwinkle’ – Photo Credit

Not only does each club get a name, they also get a unique color.  How does an industry with dozens apon dozens of clubs manage to get their own colour you say?  With descriptions such as Pastel Rose (Girl’s Generation) and Pearlescent Sky Blue (SHINee).  For a full list of colours and names check here.  It may sound like it’s going a bit far, but at concerts where many different artists perform, it’s essential to display the correct colour for your club or you may be mistaken for a different fan.  The travesty of such a confusion cannot be underestimated.

And this is where we come to the dark side of K-Pop fan clubs.  Korea is of course home to netizen culture, and the internet provides the perfect platform for obsession to take root and flourish.   The ease in which fans  and anti-fans can create forums and websites, both for and against their idols, leads to vicious rivalries and expressions of hatred.  Internet fans have a make, break or obliterate power that manifests from unstable personal projections.   Some of the more infamous incidents include a crip vs blood-esque showdown between rival fan clubs at the 2008 Dream concert, which resulted in 20 people hospitalized.  All because of a ripped poster.  TVXQ member Junho was allegedly poisoned by a crazed anti-fan who put glue in his drink, and there have been numerous accounts of threats and malicious objects sent to members of other groups.  For a more detailed list of the work of anti fans check here.

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Perhaps one of the saddest  examples of the power and cruelty of anti-fans was the speculation over Epik-High member Tablo’s education credentials.  Amidst a scandal of other stars forging their university qualifications, Tablo’s Stanford achievements were not only called into question but he and his family relentlessly vilified.  No matter what he did to prove his innocence, the netizens had a rebuke.   It reached a point where his family were receiving threats and he could no longer walk down the street for fear of being accosted.  A full and incredulous account of the story can be found here at the Stanford Alumni Magazine.

Fan club rivalries and anti-fans are a force to be feared, and a K-Pop star needs a thick skin not to succumb to their onslaughts.  They can be so overt in their hatred, they may even create suicide petitions calling for ‘offending’ stars to just end it themselves.  What is so frightening is that the offenses themselves are either unfounded, non-existent, or so minor as not to warrant the blood curdling battle cries of those who have been ‘wronged’.  2PM leader Park Jay Beom reportedly had anti-fans demanding his suicide after an anti-Korea posting on his My Space page, years before he became a pop-star, was picked up and publicized.  Nevermind the fact he was an American born teenager in Korea at the time, and bound to have had a few cultural angry days.

But fan clubs are not all bad.  Their role is also for the promotion of their idols and participating in charitable works.  The father of Korean pop, Seo Taiji, has recently had a forest in Brazil protected and named after him by his fan club.  The ‘Seo Taiji Forest’ cost a whopping 38 million won collected from his dedicated fan base.  The Japanese fans  U-Know recently donated 22 million won to the Gwangju Community Chest of Korea, to assist students of low income families.  Some of the more popular group fan clubs such as ELF of Super Junior, have been donating rice on the birthdays of members in their honor.  Ironically, a small faction of Jay Park’s fan club donated a million won to help a 5 year old boy with mental and physical disabilities.  It goes to show that the fans will fight for you, just as hard as the anti fans will fight against you.

It remains that K-pop stars are at the mercy of fans and their internet connections.  It’s all part and parcel for the entity that is the Korean pop industry, and entertainment companies are old pro’s at how to shape and mold their images.

  1. not to be so nitpicky, but please spell Jay Park’s name as Park Jae Beom / Jaebeom as it can be very confusing. Same with Seo Taiji (that’s the spelling on his official releases)

  2. Great article! It really gives you the idea of what are kpop fans and anti fans. I’m gonna share this with my fellow kpop fans in Puerto Rico ^^

  3. […] K-Pop Fan Clubs: Friend, Foe and Fear […]

  4. […] K-Pop Fan Clubs: Friend, Foe and Fear […]

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