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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.