BH Discuss: What is a healthy fan/idol relationship?

We’re launching a new weekly feature. Each week will highlight an interesting issue or debate and then we will ask you discuss it with us and each other in the comments. We hope this will start some interesting discussions. So please join in the debate!

When news broke this week that Infinite member L might be in a relationship with ulzzang Kim Do Yeon, there were some fairly extreme reactions from people in the Infinite fandom. With talks of ‘betrayal’ for leading fans on over Twitter, scathing attacks on the woman in question’s appearance and personality and exclamations of a ruined career, some of the behaviour exhibited seems a little unhinged. In real life, behaviour like this in the aftermath of a serious breakup might be enough to get the ‘crazy ex-girlfriend’ label but here we are talking about a reaction to the behaviour of someone that the vast majority of these people probably haven’t even met.

Other idols have also been showing the strain of overly intense fandom with EXO’s Tao having this to say on his weibo profile:

I really cannot stand the calls that come in the middle of the night; the endless kakaotalk messages. No matter where I go, there is always someone lurking around me; what’s the whole point? I absolutely hate people who disturb my private life! I like to go shopping, eat and meet my friends, but I do not like the fact that someone is following me; I am not a criminal! Is it a crime to step out of the house and go outside?! I just want to rest, have my own private time after work. But as of now, it doesn’t seem possible!

Translation: kairiseu  

EXO are known for having a particularly obsessive fandom with fans having taken pictures of them asleep on planes, physically assaulted them and supposedly even recorded Tao singing in the shower (the link is here but it’s very creepy). This has come to the point where it seems to be having a serious impact on the wellbeing of the group.

But even if obsessive fan behaviour is not having a direct impact on the idols, can it have a negative impact on the fans themselves?

Can an extreme infatuation with a particular group cause lower self-esteem? Does a fascination with the relationship dynamics of the group (often in the form of shipping) affect someone’s ability to have good relationships themselves? Can fanwars and competition between fans cause an unnecessary amount of stress?

Fandom can be somewhere where individuals can find friendship and belonging and express their creativity (through fan art and fanfiction) but is it healthy?

What do you think a healthy fan/idol relationship looks like? What can fans do to make sure they participate in fandom in a way that damages neither them nor their idols?


Recommended Reading:

More than just a pretty picture: Fansite culture in the K-pop fandom
Queer-ing Kpop: Is same-sex shipping helping or hurting LGBTQ fans?
Finding perspective in the K-pop fandom
Breaking K-pop’s Fourth Wall: What idols can tell us about ourselves
Finding new respect for Eat Your Kimchi’s Simon and Martina

So discuss in the comments and let us know what you think!

  • Aria Haneul

    I don’t know if it’s because I’m older (late 20s) or because of my personality/upbringing, but I cannot understand why these obsessive fans behave the way they do. When I hear my favourite celeb is in a relationship, it actually makes me happy they’re happy. If you care about someone shouldn’t you be happy that they’re happy?
    I cannot imagine following my favourite celeb around for hours, sneaking into their hotel room or dorm/home, or recording them in intimate moments. You wouldn’t do that to a non-celeb, that’s called stalking…what makes a celeb any different?
    Fine, you help to pay for their lifestyle by buying tickets, merchandise, etc. Sure, you send them gifts and keep a blog on their activities…but you do not own that person.
    Honestly, I find this obsessive culture surround ANY celebrity to be creepy. I cannot imagine how celebs do it, when they have hundreds or thousands of people behaving this way all the time. Fame and fortune isn’t worth losing friends, alienating your family, having your privacy constantly invaded and your dating life exposed or ruined.

  • evleth

    In an ideal idol/fan relationship:

    An idol . . .
    – is patient. He wanted life under the spotlight and so must accept the consequences that come with it, good or bad– i.e. he must accept the fandom he has built for himself with sincere gratitude, and must refrain from reacting negatively to any forms of trouble unless seriously harmful;
    – fully understands his job as an idol, a person thousands of young people idolize and treat as a role model or inspiration, thus should be on his best behavior at all times possible;
    – is not pompous or self-absorbed. He can′t order his fans around no matter how subtly, treat them as lowly peasants or ignore them like they′re nobodies in his life when in fact, it is by their support that he survives in the industry. Though Korean culture takes power relations seriously and K-idols definitely have the upper-hand in this idol/fan relationship, it won′t hurt him to respect his fans back and regularly express appreciation for their efforts.

    A fan . . .
    – knows a fan from a friend. Yes, he would love to be informed about his idol′s life as much as he can be, but there are things that can only be shared to a certain circle of people. When idol A′s brother′s wedding is happening or where idol B′s father′s peacefully jogs on Sundays is too much for a fandom to know. Such information is unnecessary and would actually cause no substantial effect on the life of a fan, only potential danger to an idol and his loved ones.
    – respects his idol as a real person– real soul with real flesh. He must not foster unhealthy thoughts and motivations on his idol. Even if the idol is practically selling sex through his/her concept photos or is presenting him/herself as trash through his/her poor attitude, nobody deserves to be disrespected. It is also detrimental for the fan′s mind as this would likely affect the way he thinks about other things or persons in the world outside his fandom.
    – does not neglect his life outside the music hall/concert grounds, the fan portal, and the anonymous SNS fandom accounts. The fleeting emotions brought by his idol will not pay his tuition fees or feed his family in the future. Though the sensations are overwhelming and sometimes he feels that he can never be as inspired as he is without his idol, the happiness an idol can give him has its limits too. As long as he knows how to set priorities, he′s okay.

    No matter if you′re an idol or you′re a fan, the most basic thing you have to do is enjoy: make the most out of the moment while the other is still there for you. No one must take the other for granted. An idol is as temporary as his fan is.

  • GeraYvonAnde

    The best way to support your idols is simple; buy their albums, buy their merch, buy tickets to their shows, watch their videos on youtube over and over again, take only what is being sold to you, don’t feel like you own them or know them personally. They are an image and only show what they are commanded to do by the big bosses. Like Evelth pointed out though it is important that the idol is also considerate of their fans and respect them. Basically it’s all about respect, they use the sex appeal cause it sells not because they want to be your boyfriend or girlfriend or even touch you… the you is with general use here!
    I think we’ve all kind of got a concordance with our opinions on the matter :)

  • ♥KRY♥

    an healthy relationship ? to consider them like your friends or family meaning trying to not hurt them, to support them ( albums, concerts) without thinking you own them, to joke and laugh with them without thinking it means you’re married. To give them their personal space and respect their decisions (dating, career, friends)

  • starswillshine

    The reason why SK idol groups often have such obsessive fan behaviour is largely due to the fan service they give by calling their fans the ones they only love, and the image they portrayed of being innocent. Due to this reason, the fans gradually believe that they themselves are loved by their idols and their idols are pure and innocent. Hence, they feel that they are in a relationship or will be in one sooner or later with them given enough time and exposure of themselves to the idols. Thus, this slowly leads to some of the more extremist fans becoming sasaeng fans because they feel that their idols can recognise them after following them all around. Also, idols talk about the acts of the sasaeng fans and these make those sasaeng fans particularly proud of themselves because their idols can remember them (despite for all the wrong reasons). Hence the sasaeng fans will do more violent and dosgusting things in order to make their idols remember them vying for attention.

    The fans will feel betrayed if their idols are in a relationship because they thought that they are the only ones their idols love. For those who have a pure image, the image is ruined as their idols are most likely not a virgin anymore (some idols portray pure as never been in love before). Thus, the fans will feel a sense of betrayal and they just cannot idolise their idols the same way as before.

    Next, you will have idol groups which portray a mysterious image. These are the groups which will more likely attract more sasaeng fans. This is because the more you try to hide something from others, the more the people want to find out more about them due to the overwhelming curiosity. Therefore, sasaeng fans will do all sorts of things to find out more about their idols, by breaking into their dorms to steal their underwears, by finding out their relationships with other people etc. Sasaeng fans will feel a sense of achievement after ‘finding out’ more about their idols and some normal fans will look up to them as they know something more than the normal fans.

    In summary, we can conclude that the images the idols portray result them in having fans with obsessive behaviour.

    Now, I shall discuss about what is a healthy fan/idol relationship.

    1. Fans should just go for concerts and buy albums. Nothing more and nothing less. Once you crosses the line of trying to send your idols off in the airport or welcoming them to your country, you are displaying the mentality of either ‘my idol can finally notice me’ or ‘I know more about my idol than those who never come personally by having first hand information of what they wear, how they look in real life etc. It isn’t a healthy relationship anymore because you are trying to narrow the relationship between a fan and idol, which is impossible no matter what you do.

    2. Idols should not display too over the top fan service. Once the fans believe in idols are in love with them, this becomes harder for the fans to accept the news of them dating because it feels like your boyfriend is seeing someone else. The fans will do all sorts of crazy stuff to show their displeasure. They will hate the ones they are seeing because they feel that their partners are the ones who snatched their idols away. Idols should report to the police about the acts of sasaengs instead of speaking about them and not doing anything about it. They should make it clear that the fans will get into trouble if they invade their privacy, and is not a commendable act.

    Although the second point I give may result in the idols losing a lot of fans but these are the fans they lost are the ones who will cause the most trouble. As they cannot change the image their companies assigned to them, they can change their attitude towards fans. If the idols are unwilling to do so for fear of losing their fans, they should blame no one if they receive hate and extremist behaviour displayed by fans. A relationship is the interaction between two people. It should not be just one party changing and not the other. Both parties must put in effort in order to achieve a healthy relationship.