How To Not Be A Terrible K-pop Fan And Feel Better About Yourself: A Guide

At the grand old age of twenty two, with over five years under my belt, I feel like a veteran of the K-pop fandom. And as a veteran, I feel a duty to say this: you all need to calm down. Well not all of you but a fairly large percentage of this fandom need to chill out and re-evaluate your relationship to K-pop.

There’s a tendency within a lot of cultures to demonise overtly ‘feminine’ fandom, often while glorifying ‘masculine’ fandom. Sports fandom is passed through families as a badge of honour and rock fans are true appreciators of genuine art. Pop music fans, on the other hand, are often portrayed as frenzied teenage girls so sexually frustrated and confused that they are rendered incapable of understanding what constitutes good music. “A hormone bomb”, if you will.

Coming from the West of Scotland I've seen the damage football fandom can cause

Celtic vs Rangers – Coming from the west of Scotland I’ve seen the damage football fandom can cause

Of course, none of this is really true. Fandom of virtually any kind can be a force for good or bad. Often it’s simply a harmless way to pass some time and relieve stress. It can help people find the escape they need to work their way through a difficult period in their life.

It can also have a genuine positive impact on people’s lives. As fun as it is to ridicule the more idiotic strains of the K-pop fandom, it would be disingenuous to pretend I haven’t got a lot from it. Running this website has helped me develop a lot of skills – the kind employers like to hear about like time management and team leading. Writing regularly about K-pop on the internet has taught me as much as, if not more than, my three and a half years of journalism studies.

On a more personal level, I’ve met so many people, including some of my closest friends, and had so many great experiences in the past few years that never would have happened if I hadn’t stumbled across a Wonder Girls video some time in 2009.

The good old days when you were lucky to find videos in 480p

The good old days when you were lucky to find videos in 480p

It’s not just me. Many people gain benefits from fandom. Fanfiction isn’t for me personally but it’s a great vehicle for budding authors to work on their writing. Graphic design, photography and events management are all skills that people I know have built through fandom. K-pop fandom, specifically, helps motivate a lot of folks to learn Korean and sometimes even Japanese or Chinese.

And then, of course, there are all the potential social benefits. The feeling of belonging to a group is a powerful one and it can be particularly attractive for teenagers who feel a little alienated from their peers. Fans can and do offer real and genuine emotional support to each other.

Having said all of this, there are definitely elements of fandom that can be destructive. Online harassment, ridiculous fanwars and cyber bullying seems to be a fairly regular occurrence in the K-pop fandom.

There was yet another reminder of this yesterday when a group of SONES set out their intentions to release private details about internet users who publicly expressed a dislike for Girls’ Generation. Although hilarious in the overblown pomposity of self-described THE ANTI KILLER TEAM, this delusional fanaticism, inability to understand the basic truth that not all people like the same things and belief that those who do not share your fanaticism should be punished is distinctly unhealthy.

Clearly rational.

Clearly rational.

It’s easy, especially as a teenager (I know, I’ve been there), to get sucked into the shiny, seemingly perfect world of K-pop and lose touch with the rational part of one’s mind. The frantic, colourful videos full of young sparkly-eyed beautiful faces set to a soundtrack of sugary sweet pop confections bursting with relentless beats and catchy melodies are hypnotic.

But just as sugar highs are followed by sugar crashes, excessive consumption of K-pop can have negative consequences. However equally, just like sweet treats, consumed with awareness and moderation, they can make life feel just a little better.

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K-pop will not make all your life problems go away.

 

Psychologists have a word for the affiliation fans feel for celebrities. They call them parasocial relationships. Parasocial relationships mimic real relationships in the mind of the fan in many ways except that the relationship is completely one-sided and the other party involved may have no idea they even exist. This sounds like it should be a negative but, in fact, engaged with in a healthy way, parasocial relationships can have serious benefits.

Psychologists have found that having a favourite celebrity can actually boost the self-image of people with low self-esteem and make them feel more closely aligned to own view of their ideal self. This is most likely because we usually choose our favourite celebrities based on perceived personality traits that we value and would like to possess ourselves.

Understanding how this works is vital to building a healthy relationship with fandom. If you can understand that the fact you think your favourite K-pop idol is ‘The. Best. Person. Ever.’ is less of a reflection of their actual personality and more a reflection of your own values, fandom can have a real positive impact on you. If you externalise this and instead believe that this person is perfect and would be your best friend or soulmate for life except for the fact that they will never know you, it can be destructive.

As a slightly socially-awkward overachiever, I’ve always had a soft spot for Seohyun from Girls’ Generation. Many of the elements that make up her persona – hard work, intelligence, introversion- are things that I either value or identify with. For similar reasons I feel affinities with Crayon Pop’s ChoA but equally, knowing that the world would be a difficult place if everyone was like me, I also appreciate Ellin for her unabashed honesty and straightforwardness. These are things I value in friendships. Realising this has allowed me to enjoy K-pop in a non-destructive way even when confronted with its more negative aspects.

She's always being photographed with books. It's almost its part of a constructed image.

She’s always being photographed with books. It’s almost as if its part of a constructed image.

It’s the delusion that ‘Maybe one day, if I am a good enough fan, (insert idol’s name) will notice me in the crowd and we’ll run away together and live happily ever after’ that drives the nastiest, most unhealthy parts of the K-pop fandom. Along with an overly zealous sense of tribalism, this fierce, irrational loyalty for someone who doesn’t really exist is a key motivation for those SONEs to act so viciously towards both their perceived enemies and each other over things which appear essentially meaningless to outsiders.

One of the most destructive things K-pop fans do is to think of their favourite idols as people. By this I don’t mean that fans should forget that K-pop idols should have private lives and harass them on the street and at airports. Idols are still human beings like everyone else. What I mean is that they think that they idealised persona they have created in their head by consuming media is a real person. That person does not exist.

The healthiest way to think about an idol is not as your imaginary boyfriend, girlfriend or best friend, but rather as a representation of something you find admirable. An image which has value because it represents something meaningful to you. If we were all to conceptualise idols in this manner, fans, idols and, well, everyone, except, perhaps, their entertainment companies, would be better for it.

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  • http://www.mykoreanhusband.com/ Nic (MyKoreanHusband)

    Yes this exactly. Being such a big G-Dragon fan.. I know that person doesn’t actually exist. It’s a character, and while elements of that character are actually part of the real person – the outside world never knows the real person. I think it’s easier to see that with GD because he very obviously has the G-Dragon persona that is different to his private self, but fans of many other idols fall into the trap of thinking they really know their favourite idol. You don’t.

    Even if you analyze every single piece of footage of someone – you don’t really know them. People have a face they put on for their professional life. I know for ourselves, although our on camera personas are genuine and really us – they are only one element of us. We have an offcamera life as well.

    So not only from having some experience with being on camera ourselves, but actually meeting and hanging out with some Kpop idols… firstly they are just normal people, but secondly, what their persona is can be very different to their real life personality. Even if it is very similar – their public persona is just one element of them. Don’t assume, “But I really know my oppa!!!”

    One of the most disturbing aspects is this idea that they think have a chance with an idol, which fuels this fighting and hatred of other fans and the idol’s real life partner and friends. It’s ridiculous when people spam an idol’s girlfriend’s Instagram with hate comments. Do they really think that he stops and looks and thinks, “Well ‘kpop4lifzz325′ said my girlfriend is ugly, oh wow I never realised that? I better break up with her! Maybe I should date this girl instead!” Like seriously… what do fans think they achieve with that?

    I know from experience, on a very minor scale, that the partner of the one getting the abuse is way angrier than the girlfriend/wife. I’ve had abuse like that. Yup people who think I don’t deserve my husband so I’ve had hate comments like that. I laugh them off – but my husband, he gets mad. So if you are a big fan of someone and you make horrible comments about their girlfriend or wife – you are doing NOTHING to endear yourself to them. You’ve just made their day worse… and yet you claim to love them? It’s sick and twisted.

  • Annette090

    I have recently had a brief period of flirtation with k-pop and its perfectly polished superstars, which lasted for about a month. I have ‘discovered’ some wonderfully gifted singers and developed an interest in a new fascinating country so the time was not entirely wasted;-)

    As it is in my nature to research my interests thoroughly I threw myself into the world of k-pop completely and stayed there until my curiosity was satisfied enough to kick me back to reality. I read and watched with my eyes wide open but I managed to focus on a rather small group of the so-called idols and their fans. I have to point out
    that I do admire the hard work the Korean performers put into their craft and
    their genuine talents put many European and American celebrities to shame but
    their saccharine music is just too much to bear even on a rainy day. I am not saying that I will stop listening to my favourite Korean singers completely but there is a limit on my annual sentimentality intake;-) LOL

    I think that your article is right on target and could really put things into perspective for many, many overzealous fans if they read it carefully and followed your wise advice. It’s so easy for a young person to forget that famous people are just people and what they do is their job not a 24/7 service – they need time off too! I bumped into a few very famous people in my area when they were out food shopping or playing with their kids outside but I would not dare to approach them during their private time when they were clearly ‘off-duty’.

    I watched a couple of fan made videos showing Yesung from Super Junior working as a cashier at his café and I imagined being in his shoes, being constantly under inspection, constantly watched, filmed and photographed and… I felt grateful for my anonymity. Being famous looks easy but it’s far from it.