I’ve been in this world of Korean dramas, pop, hip-hop and R&B for about 2 years now. One of the first things I noticed was the deep and eminence passion that people feel for their favorite groups, idols and entertainment personalities. Stan culture is real! Like so real, internet wars have broken out. These Twitter/Internet wars are so intense I often wonder if this was real life how many shots would be fired.
Stan: is a portmanteau of the words “stalker” and “fan,” and refers to someone who is overly obsessed with a celebrity. The origin of the word comes, strangely enough, from the song Stan by Eminem and Dido. In the song Stan is an obsessed fan of Eminem, who writes him letters and basically destroys his life and his pregnant’s girlfriend life due to his obsession. Because of the origins of the term Stan, many people feel uncomfortable about the word. However in the world of K-Pop it is very real.
Stan culture can be positive or negative depending on the fan or fandom and how they choose to show their love for their favorite group or idol. Usually fandoms will represent themselves with a fan name, symbol and/or color. In K-Pop, fandoms are serious business. The relationship between fan and artist is a deep and important one. Unfortunately some fans can go too far with their love and admiration for their favorite idol or group. This is commonly referred to as Toxic Fandom.
This toxicity can be expressed in several ways. Some have gotten jobs at Icheon Airport in Seoul so that they can obtain flight information for idols. Some have gotten tons at mobile companies so that they are able to research data files to find idols personal mobile numbers. Others have sent used female sanitary items to idols to show support and devotion. Idols, understandably, are concerned for their safety, often making it difficult to have personal life’s outside of their group activities. Although these are extreme cases, these types of fans do exist and unfortunately make some of the fandoms, as a whole, look bad. Overall Stans are supportive, devoted and caring, just sometimes extreme.
Fandoms: a subculture composed of fans characterized by a feeling of empathy and camaraderie with others who share a common interest. K-Pop fandoms not only encompass people from South Korea and other parts of Asia, but all over the world. With such a diverse and expansive fan base you could bump into a fellow fan anywhere.
In Got7 you have Ahgases, BlackPink you have Blinks, MonstaX you have Monbebes, EXO you have Exo-L’s, and in BTS your have A.R.M.Y. All of these fandoms are vase and diverse and ride hard for their groups. How they show their love can vary. The most common ways include paying for banners and posters to go up in subway stations or cafes in Korea. Billboards have been even been rented in New York’s Times Square. Usually these types of events are done as celebrations for winning awards, a groups anniversary, but most commonly to celebrate an idols birthday.
One of the most wonderful and amazing ways I’ve seen fandoms show love for their favorite group or idol is by raising money. This money is either donated to an idol and groups charity of choice or to perform acts of charity in organized events. It is such common practice that there is even a yearly ranking of K-Pop groups with the most donations in their name. For example with BTS, you can find different charity works done by ARMY on a Twitter page called One in an ARMY. They post different events being done by local ARMY groups all over the world. Providing links to donate and help out each group. (Click on the link for more info: https://twitter.com/OneInAnARMY?s=20)
Most recently Wonho, a member of K-Pop group Monsta X, left the group under confusing and questionable circumstances. He official put out a statement that he was leaving the group. Not too soon after, Starship Entertainment, the management company for the group, terminated his contract after accusations of illegal activities. Said activities included owing money to an old “friend” and marijuana use as a teen. It was also revealed that he spent time at a juvenile detention center. Now, in a lot of countries these revelations would be revealed, reported, a small period of disappointment, followed by an apology. However in South Korea, honor and image is everything.
Monbebes, MonstaX’s fandom, were devastated by the news and went right into action to not only show support but to try and change the Starships decision. Twitter Hashtags such as #MonbebesforWonho and others trended for nearly a week. In under 1 hour more than $10,000 was collected to put up an ad in New York City’s Times Square. Within 2 days almost $20,000 was collected from supporters all over the world. In China, Monbebes paid for lamppost banners to be hung on the street in front of Starships HQ. This is the power of a fandom. The collective energy of strangers under the same title of “fan”, “fandom” “Monbebe”, etc, using that energy to show support for an artist and make their voices heard. In the long run, will it change Wonho’s outcome, who knows. However what it does show that when united for good the collective voices of many can make a difference.
A.R.M.Y., BTS fandom, stands for Adorable Representative M.C for Youth. This is within direct relationship to BTS core objective to be a voice for youth. Although they started out representing, speaking and singing about the troubles and hardships for young people, BTS’s music and messages have reached all ages. The messages in their music and their philanthropic endeavors has created fans from every age group, from 10-80, crossing generations. One of the the biggest thing about being ARMY is the collective unity all over the world. It doesn’t matter your age, race or ethnicity, ARMY is represented EVERYWHERE.
I would only consider myself an ARMY for about a year now. Although I started listening to BTS since 2017, I didn’t fully allow myself to become a fan until late 2018. Now, I am a full fledged, crazy BTS ARMY ajumma with my collection of BT21 merch, concert merch, exclusives, you name it. So of course when I went to go see the Love Yourself: Speak Yourself-Finale livestream at my local movie theater, I had to represent.
It was a pretty nice evening but a little chilly, so I decided to wear my Love Yourself sweatshirt with an outer vest. Basically with the vest on you couldn’t see the BTS logo on the back, nor the words ‘Love Yourself’ on the front. On the sleeves are just the multi pink hue of the LY squiggles logo. While on the train to the theater I see this girl looking at my sleeves. I just think to myself, maybe she just likes the design. Then as she is about to get off the train she looks at me, smiles, and says ARMY? I smile back and nod my head. How in the hell did she know? I get into the theater and take off my outer vest, not even a minute later this young girl looks at me and says Borahae (I purple you) and throws me a finger heart! And that’s when it hit me… “I’M IN A GANG”! The gang is called ARMY, our colors are purple, our call sign is Borahae and our gang signs are finger hearts!
If you know anything, even just a little bit about gangs, you know how much of this parallels. Almost all gangs have a way of calling out to each other to show recognition, especial to those they are not familiar. They have colors that represent themselves that stand apart from other gangs. They also have hand signals as a silent way of showing representation.
What I Learned
Holy shit!! I would have never thought that after 35+ years on this earth that I would have unknowingly, yet willingly joined a gang. An international gang at that of millions of people, of all ages, genders, ethnicity, races, cultures, and sexuality. So of cause if I had to accidentally join any gang this would be the one to join. However what I learned is that this fandom or any fandom for that matter is just unity. Unity in a way that shows a collective love and appreciation for each other. I have seen fans hand out free photo cards at concerts/cons, participate in day of fan projects, make new friends, share info and pictures, support someone when they are crying and just, well, fan out together. It’s not always perfect, sometimes, a bit messy. However all in all Fandoms are just fun! I have made virtual friends all over the world because of fandoms. So if that makes me a part of a gang, so be it. I’ll gladly wear my purple, throw up a few finger hearts and call out BORAHAE!!!
Until next time….