Dear kfangurl: Is Korean Fan Culture Really Like What Is Shown In Dramas?

It’s been a long minute (literal years!) since my last Dear kfangurl post, but when the comment below popped up on my recently posted Her Private Life review, blog reader Yoona found the topic and my initial response interesting enough, that she suggested a proper post on it. I thought it wouldn’t hurt to explore the topic a little further, and so here we are.

Dolores writes:

“So I started watching [Her Private Life] on your recommendation, Fangurl, but there is something I wish you could verify for me. Are Korean celebrities really not allowed to date? How is it a scandal if two unmarried people have a consensual relationship? I’ve encountered this before in other kdramas, of course, but I can’t quite get a handle on how much of this is exaggerated. I mean, it can’t be real, right?

And the crazy fans…the crazy ADULT fans? Is this really a thing to this extent? Okay, we’ve all experienced crushes on celebrities, but what is acceptable at 13 is just not normal at 30… it’s the reason I had a hard time relating to the heroine in “Answer me 1997. ” I have a friend who has seen Bruce Springsteen perform over a hundred times, but she doesn’t stalk him or obsess about this personal life; she just really loves his music. So I can sort of understand this kind of excessive adoration, but the way fans are portrayed in Kdramas is so over-the-top it just doesn’t seem like that can be real.”

Disclaimer:

I guess this is as good a time as any, to state for the record, that I am no expert on the topic. In fact, I’m not even into kpop myself, which is where most of the intense fandoms sit. But, I’ve been watching kdramas in a big way, and been exposed to a pretty wide range of k-ent news for a full 12 years now, so I think I have at least accumulated a bit of, shall we say, bystander knowledge.

The following is just what I can contribute to the discussion; feel free to add on your own insights and knowledge in the comments below!

I’ve broken down Dolores’s question into two main sections, below.

Q1. Is it really a scandal if celebrities date? Are celebrities really not allowed to date?

Short answer: yes, but not as much now as before, generally speaking.

While it is common for celebrities in Western entertainment to date openly, and even change partners multiple times, without it actually affecting their popularity, the dynamic in Korean entertainment is very different. (Note, I single out Korean entertainment because that’s our chosen topic of discussion. There are probably similarities and differences compared to other Asian entertainment circles.)

Dating bans

In Korea, it is apparently common for management agencies to ban their trainees and idols from dating. While this is very likely partly to enable them to focus fully on their training and their craft, it is also closely linked to how idols are marketed and perceived in Korean entertainment.

In k-ent, idols tend to be marketed as single and available, an Oppa that the fans can look to as their ideal boyfriend. This perception tends to be played up, with certain celebrities even earning the unofficial title of “The Nation’s Boyfriend.” In 2018, media outlets and fans declared that Park Bo Gum was deserving of the title, because he was “the perfect man to date” (article here).

This is indicative of the kind of perception and attitudes that surround the celebs in k-ent. Basically, many fans end up having a (completely wrong) perspective that the idol “belongs” to them; that somehow, they do stand a chance of a happy-ever-after with their idol, no matter how small the chances.

Therefore, when an idol is outed as dating someone else, those fantasies are shattered, which then results in a lot of angst and broken hearts. For example, in 2014, upset fans petitioned for Baekhyun to be removed from EXO when news broke that he was in a relationship with Girls’ Generation’s Taeyeon (article here). This shattering of fan fantasy is not ideal from the perspective of the management agencies because they could end up losing many fans from the fandom, and the support and revenue that those fans bring.

Safety concerns

On top of that, there are legitimate safety concerns because some fans are so intense that there is a real danger of them hurting themselves or even attempting suicide as a result of the heartbreak. In 2016, there was rumor going around that BTS Jungkook had a girlfriend, and there was an actual, er, “trend” among very intense fans, who would cut themselves in protest. There was even a hashtag for it: #CutForKookie (more information here, but trigger warning, there are several photos lower down on the page that some readers would find disturbing).

Because of these reasons, management agencies work hard to (a) prevent their idols from dating in the first place, and (b) keep things from blowing up, if they discover that their idols are indeed dating.

As an example of how the singleness of an idol is considered an asset, consider the case of HyunA and E’Dawn who went public with their relationship in 2018. They were soon let go by their company, Cube Entertainment, who cited that the reasons these artists were let go, was because “the trust [between them and the company] is broken beyond repair” (article here). For even the most casual k-ent observer, this was clearly a case of Cube Entertainment deciding that the audience appeal of both artists was significantly hurt by their public relationship.

General culture within the industry

Another thing to consider is that within k-ent, idols are looked up to a great deal.

While celebrities in Western entertainment might get into trouble for serious infractions like violence, abuse or other criminal activity, celebs in k-ent also get into trouble for offenses which are a lot smaller in comparison.

For example, celebs in k-ent have been heavily criticized for behavior that is deemed disrespectful. In 2016, Kim Yoo Jung came under fire for her “disrespectful posture” during a promotion event for movie Because I Love You (article here). In 2018, Jung Hae In was heavily criticized for standing front-and-center during a group photo-taking at the Baeksang Awards, instead of ceding the position to the veteran actors at the event (article here).

Within this context, where k-celebs are held up to a high degree of scrutiny, it also becomes more understandable why something as “trivial” as dating could come under fire as well.

Things are evolving

I do think that things are evolving and fans are becoming more open-minded and accepting of the idea of their idols dating.

For one thing, more and more celebs have been outed / have come out as dating in the last couple of years (sample list here), and with the prevalence of these public relationships, it’s slowly becoming relatively more “normal” for an idol to be dating publicly.

More and more fans are professing to be supportive of their idols dating, but at the same time, the transition isn’t complete and there are still large numbers of fans who would be crushed to find out that their idol is dating.

It does appear that it will be quite some time yet, before k-celebs will be able to date as openly as their Western counterparts. But for now, at least we can say that it’s less of a scandal than it was, say, 5 years ago.

Additionally, with the other big scandals coming out of Korea in recent months (like the Burning Sun scandal for example), the dating scandals appear small in comparison as well.

Q2. Are fans, especially adult ones, really as crazy as shown in dramas?

Fans span a very wide age range, from kids, to tweens, to teens, to young adults, to adults, to older adults. There really doesn’t seem to be an age limit when it comes to fangirling or fanboying.

In the same way, there is also a wide range when it comes fan intensity. Some fans are on the much more casual end of the scale. Their support would typically take the form of listening to the music, watching the shows, buying the music, and maybe attending a fan meeting – if the location and timing is convenient for them.

Generally speaking, the more dedicated a fan is, the more s/he would be willing to rearrange schedules / finances in order to attend their idols’ concerts &/or fan meetings. It is not uncommon for international fans with the financial means to fly to Korea to attend an event that involves their idol. Conversely, fans based in Korea have been known to purchase multiple concert tickets in order to follow their idols on tour in the US.

Moving up a notch on the Dedicated Fan Scale (I totally made that up), I’ve heard of a number of international adult fans who have relocated to Korea in order to be nearer their idol (I recently heard of a friend of a friend who did exactly this). This would translate into having more access to events that their idol is involved in, but I think, it also simply translates into being physically nearer to their idol.

All of these activities are considered relatively harmless, in that these decisions mainly impact only the fans themselves. Although, it wouldn’t surprise me if a dedicated fan without sufficient self-control actually went into debt, in the name of supporting their idol. That’s.. not so good.

But yes, being a dedicated fan can be expensive business. Buying boxes of albums in order to qualify for some kind of hi-touch event, buying merchandise endorsed by their idol, concert tickets.. It all adds up, and fairly quickly. Especially if you’re an international fan wanting to attend multiple events in Korea.

And then there are cases of fans who are so set on looking like their idols that they invest heavily in plastic surgery, like in this case. That’s not only extremely expensive, but also carries with it surgery and health risks.

However, all of this pales in comparison to the behavior of sasaeng fans, who are much scarier.

Sasaeng fans

In Korea, a sasaeng fan is one that engages in obsessive behavior that results in an invasion of the idols’ privacy. The hanja for sasaeng (사생) is 私生, which means private life.

On a tangent, the Korean title of Her Private Life is 그녀의 사생활, which, based on the Hangul title, I would translate into Chinese as 她的私生活. Interestingly, the Chinese title, besides translating into “Her Private Life,” can also be translated as “her sasaeng activities.” I found that quite ironic, and just wanted to share. 😉

Sasaeng fans are the ones who might stalk their idols and obsess about their personal lives. According to this Wiki article, celebrity managers estimate that popular Korean celebs generally have about 500 to 1000 sasaeng fans, and can be stalked by up to 100 sasaeng fans in a single day. The ages of sasaeng fans are estimated to generally fall in the range of 17 to 22 years old, though I wouldn’t be surprised if there are sasaeng fans who are older than 22.

According to the sasaeng fans themselves, the whole motivation behind their sasaeng activities, is to stand out from the rest of the fans, and gain recognition from their idols.

Unfortunately, sasaeng fan behavior can be very disturbing, with sasaeng fans breaking the law in order to feel closer to their idols.

There are wild stories of sasaeng fans who stalk their idols, send threatening / weird / disgusting stuff in the mail, or even break into and enter their idols’ living quarters. There’ve even been stories of sasaeng fans preparing an identical van to the one their idols were supposed to board, in an attempt to kidnap their idols. Sasaeng fans have also been known to chase their idols, not only on foot, but in vehicles, resulting in accidents and injuries. There are also stories of sasaeng fans cross-dressing in order to enter the men’s bathroom that their idols were using, and of sasaeng fans sending messages to their idols written in blood (one incident even reportedly involved menstrual blood).  You can read more stories about sasaeng fan incidents here, and here.

And if you think that sasaeng fans are only limited to local Korean fans, this article states that two Chinese sasaeng fans were reported for attempting to break into an office-tel belonging to EXO’s Chanyeol. Which indicates that sasaeng behavior can extend into the international fan community too.

It all sounds quite insane to be sure, but sasaeng fans do exist. Which means that the superfandom portrayed in Her Private Life and other shows might be exaggerated in places, but isn’t actually far from the truth.

Not all fans are obsessive, but there are definitely obsessive fans out there. And yes, some of them are adults.

IN CLOSING

Ultimately, while obsessive fan behavior is a fascinating topic that sheds light on some very disturbing events in k-ent, I hope that it doesn’t dampen your enjoyment of k-ent in general. And, if you’re a fan, you do you. Enjoy being a fan, enjoy supporting your idols, and enjoy making friends within the fandom. Just remember to keep it classy, so that Oppa would be proud to call you his fan.

I hope that helps!

Love! ❤

~kfangurl

POST-SCRIPT:

1. If you feel that I missed anything, or if you have your own experiences that you’d like to share with the rest of us, do tell us about it in the comments!

2. Do you have a question of your own? Drop me a comment here or on the Dear kfangurl page, or send me an email!

60 thoughts on “Dear kfangurl: Is Korean Fan Culture Really Like What Is Shown In Dramas?

  1. karenedramaddictions

    Lol I am 30, and yes I’m buying multiple versions of albums (though not for any fansigning/fanmeet event – just as collectibles), I fly to the country where my idols are to watch their concerts and pay for second-hand sale of their concert tickets 50X their original prices……and I can do that precisely because I am 30 and not 13. But of course, within one’s means is my motto.

    Reply
  2. Carol Shibuya

    Dear Fangurl, Thank you for your comments on actors dating one another from the Kdrama’s we all love to talk about. Rather sad to think these beautiful women may have to wait out their time in the spotlight before having a family. I would imagine this is a choice they made in the beginning of their careers.
    I do have a question for you. The many Kdrama’s I have seen when a family member dies, the memorial seems to be held the day after the death. The women family members of the deceased always have a white bow placed on the right side of their head, what is the significance of this tradition?
    Thank you & I always love reading your blogs.
    Carol Shibuya, USA

    Reply
    1. merij1

      Kfangurl grew up in and lives in Singapore, so she might not know the answer.

      From this link, it appears that you are correct: male family members often wear a white arm band and the women wear a white bow:

      Reply
      1. merij1

        Oops. Stupid browser sent that off when I hit a carriage return. Here’s the link, plus two others.

        I too live in the US and know little about Korea. A brief check on the Internet found many references to the white bow/ribbon as traditional, but no explanation for its origins.

        From the first link:

        “At the funeral, men wear black suits, and women wear black or white hanboks [a traditional dress]. For men, they wear a band around their left upper arm. The band is yellow with black lines. The host or the eldest son wears the band with two black stripes, siblings other than the host wear one strip and usually grandchildren wear no stripes but just the band.

        Women do not wear these bands but instead wear a white ribbon clip on their hair. If the person who died was a male, the ribbon goes on the left side but if it was a female it goes on the right side and this applies to the band as well.”

        https://dailydoseofkorea.tumblr.com/post/180753977154/korean-funerals

        http://traditionscustoms.com/death-rites/korean-funeral

        https://canaderuraee.wordpress.com/2019/01/06/15-things-that-i-did-not-know-about-a-korean-familys-funeral/

        Reply
      2. merij1

        The detailed portion of my reply has been set aside for moderator approval. I’m not sure what keyword triggered that, but since KFG won’t be out of bed for many hours and may not even notice it for days, here’s what I found:

        It appears to be a tradition whose original purpose is no longer thought about. At this point, it’s just tradition.

        Male family members wear a white band. The host or the eldest son wears the band with two black stripes; siblings other than the host wear one strip and usually grandchildren wear no stripes but just the band.

        Instead of the band, female family members wear a hair-clip resembling a white ribbon.

        If the person who died was a male, the ribbon goes on the left side, but if it was a female it goes on the right. This applies to the bands as well.

        Reply
    2. beezrtp

      @kfangurl, as long as you’re answering Carol Shibuya’s question on funeral customs and attire – can you explain the significance of wearing white for funerals and that other mourning clothing they wear – usually in saeguk but I’ve seen it in modern day especially when the drama features rural life. I’m talking about the beige muslin(linen?) fabric with the torn (?) head piece that just sort of sticks up in the top but wraps around the head.

      Reply
  3. merij1

    I can’t think of a way to say this without it sounding judgmental, since it is, but wow. What we’re describing is the difference between actually caring about someone versus self-love masquerading as deep feelings. If you really care about a person, you want them to be happy. Period.

    I take it, at some point celebrities age out of this fan-imposed limitation? As a guy, I’m totally obsessed with the actress Lee Na Young, and as best I can tell from afar, no one seems to mind her and her celebrity husband being married. So maybe it’s just the youngsters who put their own fantasies ahead of the happiness of their crushes?

    Also, what about power couples? In the US, if two celebrities “merge” they acquire PR superpowers. (Also a new portmanteau name, which might be totally awesome . . . or cringe-worthy awful, depending mostly on dumb luck!)

    Reply
    1. kfangurl

      I do think that celebrities age out of the limitation.. I notice that older celebs getting married don’t ruffle any feathers. Like recently, So Ji Sub announced his marriage, and everyone was pretty much, Aw, we wish him all the best. I think so, anyway! 😅 There are also celebs who grit their teeth and announce their marriage anyway, and fans eventually come around. Like Rain and Kim Tae Hee. When they announced they were dating, lots of fans felt that Rain wasn’t good enough for Kim Tae Hee, but they went ahead and got married anyway, and several years and 2 kids later, they are now a legit power couple in k-ent.

      As for Lee Na Young, husband Won Bin had been so reclusive for so long, that when their marriage was announced, everyone was kinda stunned, but it didn’t really create many ripples I think, because they’d been under the radar for so long anyway.

      But yes, long story short, I do think that mostly, the celebs age out of it. But, I do think things are changing, slowly but surely. Generally speaking, I notice more celebs going public with their relationships, and I think by and large, fans are learning to deal. 🙂

      Reply
      1. merij1

        We first became aware of this issue with Asian celebs watching the Taiwanese show “A Thousand Goodnights.”

        One of the characters signs with an agent to achieve his dream of becoming a successful singer-songwriter/idol. But the contract requires that he break off his relationship with his girlfriend, both so he focuses only on his career and to allow his fans to fantasize being with him without her in the way.

        It’s really sad, but despite being very young, she truly loves him — not just her love of him — so she encourages him to sign the contract, with the idea that she’ll wait till he has more freedom.

        Reply
        1. beezrtp

          Americans used to be similarly obsessed with their celebrities’ single status from around 1930’s (movies) through the 1950’s. In a more innocent time, back when marriage truly meant something to people (their own and others). So once a celebrity married, the fantasy, especially for teeny boppers, was over. There’s a movie called Inside Daisy Clover starring Robert Redford and Natalie Wood. I’m not recommending you go watch the movie because I didn’t care for it very much but it does show how back in the day, Hollywood creates an “America’s Sweetheart” and when she elopes with a top star, how they cover it up because that would be death to her career.

          From what I’ve observed, South Korean seems to be like looking into America’s past and they’re slowly following suit to becoming like our society is today. (Darn YouTube!) We’re seeing diversity (which, imo, is a good thing) and inclusivity (which is also good as discriminating against people for their sexual orientation (or anything) is evil. Although my son laughs at me and says I’m a nationalist because I have made the comment that if I ran Korea, I’d keep everyone out as right now they have more of a moral innocence and less divorce, much lower level of AIDS and less obesity and food related illnesses. That’s just me yakking though. (But I would totally do that, if it was my country and I had the power.) 😆

          Reply
          1. merij1

            > inclusivity (which is also good as discriminating against people for their sexual orientation

            I was just commenting on FanGirl’s review of Coffee Prince that it blew our minds how disarming that show’s premise works as a Trojan horse means of broadening people’s perspective on sexual orientation. Especially given that it came out way back in 2007.

            Reply
            1. beezrtp

              Yes! True, true love. And it doesn’t hurt that Gong Yoo is so appealing!

              Oh! I should add that Yoon Eun-Hye’s portrayal of a tomboy is the best there is out of the many, many Kdramas that feature cross-dressing girls that no one can see through their disguise (even though to us, the audience, it’s ridiculous). Yoon Eun-Hye had her performance down all the way to her walk and even her stance. We didn’t see another actress get that right until many years later when Oh Yeon-Seo hilariously made us believe she was a man trapped in a woman’s body in Come Back, Ahjusshi. 👏

              Reply
        2. kfangurl

          The thing is, this scenario isn’t even pure fiction. Recently, I read an article about Wu Chun, a member of Taiwanese boy band Fahrenheit, whose girlfriend agreed to stay hidden for the sake of his career. They later wedded in secret, and she reportedly took the wedding photos on her own, without her groom. It was only in 2013, when the band was no longer active, that he announced his secret marriage. (Here‘s an article, if you’d like to read about it).

          So yeah, she stayed faithfully, secretly married to him all these years, and so, your description of that story arc in A Thousand Goodnights feels so poignant, even from where I’m standing, not having seen the show. 😝

          Reply
  4. keyboardgoddess87

    Thank you for this post – it answers so many questions I have had about K entertainment! While I have been reading some tidbits on Soompi and other sites, I always wondered about the fan culture in Korea. Some of the things you say are revelations really…I mean not being allowed to date or marry till well into your 40s is sad, especially for female idols and stars. These are crucial years not just to find love but also creating a family. If you had to say goodbye to that….I wonder if the fame and money would be worth it. Also recent suicide by Sully, who felt abandoned and criticized by her fans (anti-fans? Idk) should make the Korean netizens and fans sit up and take notice.

    Reply
    1. kfangurl

      Hi there! I’m so glad this post was helpful to you! 😀 Yes, it’s really quite sad that k-celebs – especially the kpop stars – are not allowed to date or marry (sometimes by contract, other times by fan pressure).. but I do think things are changing, slowly but surely. 🙂

      Reply
  5. Beez

    This subject has fascinated me for some time. Not so much about Kpop idols (because I don’t follow Kpop) so much as actors.

    I think that S. Koreans still very much value and respect marriage (and serious relationships) so much so that when the fantasy is ruined, unfortunately so is the actor’s career. Unlike where I am (USA) where people don’t care if a person is married, they still “want to hit that”.

    I know for me personally, I’m a huge Rain fan and frequent his U.S. fan page (because they send me emails of new posts. I never search it out) but I used to totally enjoy making drooling, cute innuendos (nothing outright vulgar) for fun of enjoying the crush. I had no delusions that I’d ever even meet the man who is close to my son’s age, and if I did, I would wave or attempt a badly pronounced “annyeongsayo” and that’s it. But once he married, I felt uncomfortable making my lustful jokes at his expense. (Before, I felt my enthusiasm would’ve been appreciated as that’s what boosts his career so I felt no qualms.) Now, I comment from a proud mom-fan position as do many other die-hard Rain fans. And the number of fans commenting on his fan page has drastically diminished. I think we also feel those types of comments would be disrespectful to his wife.

    The thing that has always confused me is how some stars like Lee Min ho date openly and it hasn’t affected his career at all. Jang Hyuk is married but that doesn’t stop his fans from drooling. While others careers get totally tanked: Kwon Sang-Woo, Song Seung heon (just caught dating) and others. Although in Kwon Sang-Woo’s case, as in Rain’s, it could be because fans also “know” their wives?

    Reply
    1. kfangurl

      That’s a really interesting facet that you’ve brought up, Beez! That’s very true, that drooling wouldn’t feel quite as fun or as delicious if you also felt at the same time, that said drooling was disrespecting his wife. That’s also really interesting, that the comments on Rain’s fan page have reduced by so much. It does make one wonder how much of the fandom is actually interested in his music and acting talents, versus just his hotness.. 🤔 I guess not everyone is able to transition from drooling fan to proud mom-fan, as evidenced by your experience..

      That’s also interesting, what you point out about some celebs dating openly and not having that affect their career. Perhaps with Lee Min Ho having dated several co-stars (and then breaking up with them), fans don’t feel the same sense of finality as with Rain’s marriage? I’m also thinking that it probably also has to do with how much of the celeb’s appeal centered around his singleness and availability. Song Seung Heon’s main appeal is his chiseled good looks (not so much his acting, unfortunately), and quite possibly, his availability as well. So if he’s been outed as dating, that would take away a chunk of his appeal? Whereas Jang Hyuk, though married, is still widely respected for his dedication to his acting craft and his love for martial arts? 🤔

      Reply
      1. Beez

        That’s probably totally it, kfangurl! Whether they’re a “true” actor or not. Although, I would guess Kwon Sang-Woo took acting pretty seriously (I’m guessing because I watched most of his works after his peak was over), but he made as many movies as tv series and all of various genres.

        But Lee Min ho seems to have come out the gate dating and consequences be damned and that didn’t seem to harm his popularity in any way. It’s just so curious.

        While I love the fidelity and slower morals, I do feel bad for the repressed system that doesn’t allow them room to have a relationship in peace.

        I even think that very repression is probably the cause of all the sex scandals THAT WE’RE AWARE OF. I have no doubts that it’s far worse than what has come to light. If something is unrealistically forbidden then it’s going to be done in secret and be far more compelling and over indulged in. It sets people up for addictive behaviors if they have to feel secretive and guilty while doing it. Hence porn and prostitution.

        Reply
        1. kfangurl

          That’s a great point, Beez! I do think that the repression itself gives rise to a lot of the sex scandals. You’re right; people do tend to react to repression with secretive and addictive behaviors. It’s quite sad, really. It does look like things are evolving over time, so hopefully tomorrow will be brighter than today.

          Reply
    2. aren_117

      I was a very diehard kpop fan before. Though I am not Korean and I did not do the things Park Min Young did in HPL, I could definitely say that the scenes in this drama are pretty accurate. I can see that just by interacting with people from different fandoms online.

      I think idols dating have more backlash than actors. Maybe because idols are marketed as ideal boyfriends while actors rely on their craft more. I think that as actor in Korea, it doesnt matter if you’re dating as long as you do justice to your roles.

      Reply
      1. kfangurl

        That’s an interesting observation, about idols versus actors, aren.. I’m curious though.. wouldn’t idols have their craft too? Theirs wouldn’t be acting, but it would be the music, whether they are singing, dancing, playing an instrument or writing music? Wouldn’t that be something that makes them shine to their fans, regardless of whether they are single? Does the marketing really overshadow all of their talent? If so, that’s quite a pity, that fans would prize their singleness over their talent.. 😛

        Reply
        1. beezrtp

          It’s not that the talent isn’t appreciated but as I mentioned with myself and Rain, it removes the fantasy.

          Although my fantasies must be pretty lame which is probably why I can shift over so easy to a different type of admiration. But I have friends who do crazy stuff like buy tickets to a singer’s concerts (that they can’t really afford) and follow from city to city. I’ve had to talk more than one friend from going off to a city or an airport in hopes of meeting their artist in person. And when one was determined she would meet this one actor and “hook up” with him. SMH (Like what makes her think he would want her out of all the women he can choose from? But there you have it. I promise, she’s otherwise sane.)

          So many do appreciate the work but with a certain type of actor and with most idols, the fantasy is as much a part of the “package”.

          Reply
          1. kfangurl

            That’s a great point, Beez.. it’s the removal of the fantasy that becomes the deal-breaker. 🤔 A lot of people would do things for love that they wouldn’t do for simply admiring someone’s talent, after all. And, oh my, your friend really planned to hook up with her idol? Wow.. That’s so unlikely, and also, so unlike your otherwise sane friend! 😱 I guess she mustn’t be alone, which means there are probably lots of other fans out there who think similarly. The industry sure knows how to market their Oppa package! 😅

            Reply
      2. beezrtp

        @aren_117 I agree that this is to idols totally! But actors see their careers tank as well. That’s why I was so surprised when Song Joong ki announced his engagement. It seems most actors wait until the approaching 40 mark before they decide it’s time to get married and start a family. Now is that because their career is already waning by that time or because the actress they’ve been secretly dating biological clock is ticking because she’s 35 herself… lol at my speculating.

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      3. beezrtp

        @kfangurl Oh, by the way – this is Beez. WordPress forced me to open an account or I couldn’t subscribe to any more posts.

        Reply
    3. aren_117

      I was a very diehard kpop fan before. Though I am not Korean and I did not do the things Park Min Young did in HPL, I could definitely say that the scenes in this drama are pretty accurate. I can see that just by interacting with people from different fandoms online.

      I think idols dating have more backlash than actors. Maybe because idols are marketed as ideal boyfriends while actors rely on their craft more. I think that as an actor in Korea, it doesn’t matter if you’re dating as long as you do justice to your roles.

      Reply
  6. kaiaraia

    Anyeonghaseyo chinggu! Oraenmanieyo!

    Recently delved into kpop. The fans! Totally on a different level. I was invited to be part of a voting group. Idol fans organize themselves into smaller groups for support when their idols are nominated for some awards such MNET’s Best Comeback, Best Performance, Soompi’s, Idol Champ, Billboard’s, etc. Most of these are solely based on online votes. The number of times to vote ranges from one to even a hundred per account per day. I’ve seen fans share their social accounts and passwords to the voters who have time and resources to vote. Some voters log in to as much as 100 accounts to vote per day until deadline. Kudos to such dedication and hardwork. But not so much that one was sent to hospital for losing sleep and exhaustion. 🙁 By the way, these voting game is often a cause of fan wars!

    On dating, I’ve read JYP Ent. does not allow artists to date within 3 years upon debut. Quite understandable though. Speaking of JYP, one proof to how fans want to control their idol’s life is JYP’s Party People with Exo as guest. Baekhyun was saying something about what he wants to tell his future children when the fans cut him off disliking the idea of him dating, marrying and having children. It was so saddening.

    Still with Exo but moving on to sasaeng fans, one broke into their dorm, stole D.O.’s boxer shorts and sold it online. Crazy!

    Reply
    1. kfangurl

      Truly, long time, my dear! <3 So glad to see you here! 😀

      Thanks for the inside peek at how the fandoms support their idols! I didn't know – but am not surprised at – how they organize themselves to vote multiple times. How concerning, though, that that fan was hospitalized as a result! 😱 I always advocate fangirling within reason, ie, don't hurt yourself and don't hurt others, just enjoy the experience. And this.. is not it. :/

      It's quite sad that some fans don't even want their Oppas to talk about their future marriage. Wow. 😳 And those sasaengs breaking in and stealing boxers to sell is just insane! I mean, if I were D.O. I'd feel so violated, with supposed fans breaking into my personal space, going through my stuff and stealing underwear. 🤯 That is really crazy!

      Reply
  7. erin

    I was just watching a fairly recent episode of the Korean celebrity cooking show Chef & My Fridge (as least that’s what Nflix calls it) and a visiting Kpop star said that when news leaked that he was dating his concert ticket sales in Japan dropped by 50%! Also, I couldn’t help but think of So Ji Sub (41 yrs old) who basically wrote an apology letter to his fans telling them that he was dating. I think that is so sad. He is a great example of someone who put his career – and his relationship with his fans- ahead of his personal life.

    Reply
      1. erin

        How do they not break under this pressure? They either have to sneak around, or be love-less? too much sacrifice.

        Reply
    1. kfangurl

      Oh wow, a drop of 50% in concert ticket sales, just because of dating news?!? 😱 Makes one wonder whether the fans were sincere fans of the music to begin with, no? 🤔

      And I find it sad, that So Ji Sub would feel the need to actually apologize to his fans for dating. I personally was so happy to hear the news that he was dating. He’s always struck me as a very sweet person who deserved to be loved. I hope his fans are supportive and understanding of this. 🙂

      Reply
  8. Kay

    This was such a great write up about fan culture! I’m a kpop fan and have come across all kinds of craziness online. There was definitely a lot of truth to how things really are presented in Her Private Life. Luckily, I do think there are more level-headed fans out there, it’s just the more obsessive ones that tend to get noticed. I think some of the changes needed will come very slowly, but it’s good to start seeing some improvements in the industry even if they are small.

    Reply
    1. kfangurl

      Thanks for enjoying this post, Kay! <3 Yes, it can be pretty crazy out there in the fandoms, but like you, I'm glad to see fan culture evolving, even though it's on the slow side. May more and more level-headed fans be heard, I say! 😉

      Reply
      1. Beez

        I did find PMY’s fanship relatively harmless in Her Private Life. I think of that as cute fandom but a bit bizarre when it’s to the point you can’t have a potential boyfriend see inside your apartment. That’s what your phone and computer (and passwords) are for! lol

        Reply
        1. kfangurl

          Lol! Yes, it was rather weird that she couldn’t have Ryan inside the apartment for fear of him seeing her crazy fangirl collection! 😆 I guess they just needed an excuse to have KJW in a blindfold? 😉

          Reply
  9. Sandya

    Hey KFG! This is a very interesting topic. Would you believe just yesterday I contemplated the differences/similarities between fans of various countries after I finished watching ‘Her Private Life’?
    Having born and brought up in India, I have always felt that we have taken fangirling(or boying) to another whole new level. And we have so many different kinds of stars. From Bollywood(and the various other woods) to TV stars, from Cricketers(for the cricket ignorants, cricket is considered a religion in India and cricketers are treated like Gods!) to politicians.
    I’ve seen fans ink their favorite stars names and faces on various parts of their bodies just as I’ve read about sending fans letters written in blood. In fact, I’ve even read of a fan giving up his life when his favorite star got married. How terrible for the star! Not to mention the pain his family must have gone through. In fact, back in the days, I think, stars never revealed that they were married, especially the women, since their markets automatically dried up. I do recall a few scandals growing up. Thankfully, I think this particular trend is easing up in India now.
    I googled ‘crazy things done by fans in India’ and pulled up a bunch of links. Posting one here.
    Crazy Fan moments

    And because I am originally from a state in South India where Mr. Rajnikanth(he is a film actor) is next to God, I am posting this link.
    Rajini Mania

    Anyways, so, somewhere, I get why management companies put restrictions on the stars dating. As to the other things shown in the show, which I quite enjoyed BTW, I think it was cute and fun.
    Even though she was on the older side for a fangirl, I didn’t find it odd. It was cute.

    Reply
    1. kfangurl

      Wow, Sandya! Those articles that you shared really blew my mind! 🤯🤯🤯 And here I thought the fan reports coming out of Korea were already pretty intense. Literally worshipping a celeb as a god? WOW. 😳 And attempting suicide because the fan wanted to donate his organs, thinking his idol was sick? Woah. 😳 I hate to say this, but it makes me wonder what will become of these fans if/when their idols pass away? I feel like they would take it very, very hard, and I worry for their safety. 😔 It’s no wonder the stars kept things as low profile as possible. 😛

      Reply
  10. Blenny

    Wow. Thanks, Fangurl, for answering my questions so thoroughly. I feel quite honored!

    Obviously, we have crazed, creepy, and dangerous fans in the U.S. (There’s also the added element of access to firearms.) But it seems like a crucial distinction would be the management’s tacit acceptance of these crazed fans’ demands; also the management’s control over the lives of their clients. I mean, are they clients or property? It feels a bit like the old Hollywood star system or white management/black artists of the 50s & 60s.

    Whatever. It’s just wrong. I get that thousands of boys and girls are scrambling to reach that pinnacle of fame and fortune and success, but I do feel sorry for them. They are performers. They aren’t supposed to be our slaves. Ugh,

    Perhaps it’s because I’ve never been a fangirl myself. Yes, there are actors and musicians I admire. I can be an ardent fan of their work. But I don’t really give a hoot about their personal life. And if I have a crush, it’s on the ROLE, not on the actor. Love Colin Firth, but I completely fangirl over Mr. Darcy…but I would NEVER want to separate him from Elizabeth. 🙂

    In any case, lately I’ve been watching “My absolute boyfriend” (not sure I would recommend it, btw, so please don’t get distracted and stop watching “The Story of Minglan”!) So now I have another question for you…can employers really slap their employees and suffer no consequences? Is slapping your employees really a thing in South Korea? I’ve seen it in several instances…and I’m talking white-collar office situations, not some sort of heinous sweatshop were undocumented workers are unprotected and helpless.

    Actually, now that I think of it, do customers really raise their hands to strike waitstaff or clerks?

    Oh my gosh, Fangurl, I have so many questions for you! You are truly the font of all wisdom and knowledge for all things Kdrama! Thanks again for educating me1

    Reply
    1. kfangurl

      I’m glad you enjoyed this post, Blenny! Thanks for asking the question! <3 You're very right, the tacit acceptance of the management companies, of the fans' unreasonable demands, makes a huge difference. And I do concur, that that's not a good thing, and that it makes the idols products more than people. Unfortunately, that is a fact of how the whole k-ent machinery works. 🙁

      As for your other question, I don't think physical violence against staff is a complete myth, though perhaps it isn't quite as common as dramas would have us believe. Your question brought to mind this incident, where a Korean airline heiress assaulted cabin crew over how the nuts were served to her. She did suffer consequences which included a jail sentence, but it does make you wonder what kind of behavior she is used to displaying, eh? 🤔

      As for Absolute Boyfriend, I ventured several episodes in, but am unsure whether to continue. Am in the mid-20s in terms of Ming Lan, so I’m not even halfway through it yet. It’s quite enjoyable though! 🙂

      Reply
      1. Beez

        Korean version of Absolute Boyfiend is mak…ing….me….craaaaaazy! It’s going on for far too long. It’s a cute show but it just doesn’t need the number of episodes it has (and I don’t even know how many in total, I just know I’m tired of it now).

        Reply
  11. seankfletcher

    Hey kfangurl, a very enjoyable and enlightening read. Celebrity over here is very interesting because it’s very tangible. We like our celebrities, but we tend to keep it real.

    I used to work with a well known fashion model many years ago. Of course all the blokes thought it was marvellous. It was interesting because she was pursuing a non modelling career at the same time.

    Once upon a time as a local government CEO we lived in the same place as Australia’s leading romance novelist. She’s a lovely lady, great mum, a farmer’s wife, helps run the farm, races stock cars, supports her community in a big way and so on. Just quietly, even blokey blokes read her books because of their depiction of Australian life, landscape etc. Somehow, I ended up being the speaker at the launch of one of her books.

    After my arrival home this morning, my daughter told this story. She said “you know dad I was filming last weekend? “I said “yes”. “Well, there was this guy who seemed quite familiar and I was telling him what to do: roll in the mud here and there, lift your game, it’s a tight shoot, no being on a smartphone etc. I didn’t think anything more of it until driving back from the shoot when he started saying: you know, you guys are really inclusive, you let me know what’s going on and it was fun. I usually have all these people doing things for me, they tell me what I should say and do and so on”. Turns out he was a major rap artist who was donating his time and was happy being away from his management. Anyway, we had a bit of a laugh. I couldn’t see this happening with a major artist in too many other places (especially in a Kdrama!).

    Finally, it’s a handful of years ago now, but we saw Ringo in a concert. As we rolled up, there he was sitting on a low wall outside the main entrance, kicking back. So, we said hello etc. Then later on in the show, sitting in the middle of the front row, he comes up to edge of the stage with the lights following him. He then gestures to my wife and sings to her “What would you do if I sang out of tune (because she was 😂)” It was a great Beatles fandom moment.

    Reply
    1. kfangurl

      You always have the most fun and amazing stories to tell, Sean! You seem to just fall into the vicinity of famous folks, and end up rubbing shoulders with all kinds of celebrities! 😱😆 A fashion model, a romance novelist, a famous rap artist, and even Ringo?!? Your wife was serenaded by Ringo?! I just wonder how many people in the world could say that! 😄

      I actually really like how human these celeb interactions are, that you share. It’s so refreshing, after digging into the other end of the spectrum, where celebs can be literally treated like gods. 🙂

      Reply
      1. seankfletcher

        I have been very lucky in this regard and it’s only because of the nature of the very public (and political) roles I have undertaken over a long time, as well as who I know too 😎

        Reply
        1. kfangurl

          You have such a colorful array of stories to tell, truly. 😀 Thanks for sharing them with us – I feel like I experience vicarious adventures just by listening – well, reading – your stories! 🤩

          Reply
  12. anamarie

    Hello Fangurl,
    Thank you for your enlightening article on Kpop fangirling/fanboying in Korea. I have been a K-drama follower and recently started “stanning” a kpop group of my favorite drama actor. Unfortunately, by the time I became a fan, 3 of their eldest members had to enlist so as they say in the fandom we are now “jobless”. Anyways this doesn’t stop us from following the activities of members who are still active. I live outside of Korea but we get updates from those in Korea and I am really amazed by how closely they follow even the members who enlisted. The local fandom do fund-raising campaigns to keep the songs of our idol on Melon chart and to support individual members with new song. The merchandise and albums are really pricey with the shipping fee but this doesn’t stop local members from collecting. Btw I am an older adult, this is my first experience joining a fandom and I’m still fangirling within my means. I’d say one can’t understand the dynamics of kpop fandom unless one becomes a fan. Fighting!

    Reply
    1. kfangurl

      Hi anamarie, thanks for sharing your personal experiences as an adult fan! 😀 Indeed, there’s no age limit to fangirling, and I feel that as long as folks are operating within their means and not hurting themselves or their families with their fangirling / fanboying, or with their fandom-related expenses, then it’s all good. We are all entitled to enjoy our passions, and it just so happens that supporting a kpop group is one of your passions. 🙂

      Indeed, I’ve heard how expensive it is to have the merchandise and albums shipped. International shipping is so high! Maybe that’s one of the reasons some fans move to Korea – so that they no longer have to pay international shipping on everything! 😅

      Reply
  13. Yoona

    Awww, thank you for taking my suggestion. You’re so sweet and I really appreciate it.

    Information like this is so useful to provide context in understanding the dynamic of the society, and by extension my own dynamic in connecting to this drama world.

    Reply
    1. kfangurl

      Aw, thanks for your suggestion, Yoona! 🙂 I wouldn’t have thought to make a proper post on it, if not for your comment! <3 Yes, all of the various dynamics can feel strange and alien to newer fans.. It didn't even occur to me to explain more about Korean fan culture until Dolores left her comment; I guess I've just been around k-ent for so long that everything became "normal" to me. This was a really good reminder for me that everything can look very different and confusing to the newer fans in our midst. Thank you. <3

      Reply
  14. Usi

    I think a community that calls normal things like dating or even dating rumors Scandal has a serious problem. Since when this is already something so big, how will true missteps be called? Also no wonder real Scandals then will be overlooked or put under because “It is just a scandal”. Obsessive Fans exist everywhere but I have the feeling that in South Korea it is more accepted than in most other countries since Idols and agencys are prefer to walking on eggshells than to makethem upset. That isn’t healthy.

    Reply
    1. kfangurl

      It’s true that some fans are dedicated to the point of obsession, and that indeed isn’t healthy. At the same time, I see that more and more fans are keeping a more open-minded attitude about their idols dating. In this respect, I do think that things are changing for the better. Granted, when Oppa gets into trouble, including for bigger and more serious scandals, there is always a divide.

      Some fans are so invested that they can’t believe Oppa did anything wrong, so the refrain “Oppa didn’t mean it” has become a big of a running joke. On the other side of the fence, are fans who are a lot more level-headed, and who recognize right from wrong. Not long ago, Park Yoo Chun’s fans even wrote one last letter to him before officially turning away from the fandom (article here).

      So to address your concern, I don’t think that bigger, more serious scandals are being overlooked in favor of dating scandals.

      Reply
    2. Beez

      @USI, while I agree from my own point of view and my culture’s POV, I think we can’t say things like “a community that calls normal things like dating or even dating rumors Scandal has a serious problem” because S. Korean dating norms are not like many other cultures. Even if in private they are similar, publically they are very, very different.

      Reply
  15. Julianne Lin

    Not exactly related, only tangentially so, but the intensity of online bullying and just how mean and brainless fans, or even the general Chinese public can be on weibo is very very scary and honestly makes me worry for that kind of toxic culture. I want to say the environment has affected them maybe, or just following with the crowd to “be popular”, but honestly I personally just feel like it’s just…mean. That’s it, a lot of Chinese fans on weibo and apparently a lot not on youtube too, are just pure mean in their actions and words.

    Reply
    1. kfangurl

      That’s very true.. netizens can be very cruel and toxic. I’ve seen some really uncalled for behavior, and I’m not even in the thick of any fandom myself. I think this kind of keyboard warrior mentality isn’t limited to fandoms.. I notice that some YouTube channels also have a very toxic comment culture, where people jump on one another quite viciously.

      I do think this has a lot to do with the persons themselves and their environment and other factors, but this kind of behavior almost always breeds a reaction, and mean comments can just trigger other mean comments, and off into a terrible downward spiral we go. :/ I’ve heard that some fandoms are better than others, but yeah, it would be great if fans would conduct themselves in a more considerate and courteous manner. I think a fandom that is known for being kind would make them a source of pride to their idols, and much more effective at furthering their fandom than the mean comments. If more fans would see it this way, that would help so much.

      Reply
        1. kfangurl

          OH WOW!!! ❤❤❤ This is so lovely, thanks so much for sharing, Julianne!! What a wonderful testament to how fandom can be nurturing and supportive instead of destructive and toxic. I was already a Liu Haoran fan, but this account makes me respect him even more! 😍

          Reply

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