Here we are again, Hellokpop’s Noonas (Terri, CeeFu, Nini and Xiaolong) gathered around the roundtable once more to talk about a topic we feel is important for anyone listening to K-pop: the not-so-simple yet fascinating world of fandoms, the dark secrets of sasaengs, and the impact these issues have had on all of us as K-pop fans.
Xiaolong: What do you think about K-fandoms in general? What’s the good, the bad, and the ugly?
Terri: In general, K-fandoms are a great place to visit. Would I want to live there all the time? No. One of the wonderful elements of K-fandoms, though, is that they have introduced me to a culture I might not have explored so thoroughly in the past. And I’ve met some terrific people there.
CeeFu: I think that depending on how you interact with the fandoms. Overall, it’s a great experience, but there are certain expressions of the fandom that generate some of the problems we often hear about. Fandoms also can be great when you are a new fan looking for information, or videos.
Nini: K-fandoms are both beautiful and tragic. Their loyalty and love are second to none in the music world, but their behavior can sometimes be classified as both neurotic and criminal. This generalization also depends on the level of interaction you have with a specific fandom, but overall it is an adequate representation of a K-pop fandom’s duality. Each fan is an individual, but the mob mentality, the need to go with the flow, can take over quickly in a fandom. Even when the way to go is most definitely the wrong path, fans sometimes still follow it without thinking.
Xiaolong: It’s probably the same for all fandoms, that you get to meet awesome people and connect with others of the same interest. How are K-fandoms different? Are they different at all?
Nini: I think the major difference between K-pop fandoms and other fandoms is the level of dedication. K-pop fans show a dedication unlike any other fandom I’ve ever seen. It’s awe inspiring–and even a little scary.
Terri: Scary is right. “Sasaeng” fans are an obsessive group of fans that I didn’t even know existed until I got into K-pop. Here in the U.S., we have anti-stalking laws that protect our celebrities pretty well–although they aren’t perfect, of course. I think that may be one reason why you don’t hear about so-called sasaeng fans here in the U.S. as much. Well, that and the fact that fans aren’t really big news here. Certainly, there are obsessive fans here in the U.S., just like there are in Asia, but the news is–well, it’s just not news, and thus not usually worthy of a headline.
CeeFu: I think that may also be related to the ages of some of the fans. Some fans are at an age where they want to be part of something, and fandoms provide that. I think many fandoms have the loyalty aspect to it (see Star Trek/Star Wars fans), but the Internet plays a large role in K-pop fandom in terms of access and connecting with people. It can also encourage the instances of bad behavior that we see, because people can hide behind computers. But, once again, this is part of an overall context of the Internet. I don’t want it to seem as if K-pop has higher instances of inappropriate behavior than other kinds of fandom.
Nini: I really think what sets K-fandoms apart is the status of K-pop in-and of-itself within the global music market. Because, K-pop has been labeled as only popular in Asia, K-pop fans have a determination to break that label or stereotype. They want the world to know that K-pop is a great genre and everyone should give it a chance. Because the industry is a “grass roots” movement so to speak, it takes a very loyal heart to continue to be so dedicated to something that isn’t mainstream.
Xiaolong: It’s not only about the inappropriate behaviour, we also have a wonderful side of K-fandoms that I have not seen in other fandoms, and this is the level of care about the artist. Self-initiated charity actions and not just once in a while but regularly. How they send food and clothes to support the artist when they are filming–this is something I have never seen from any Western fandoms.
CeeFu: Yes, the global K-pop fan phenomenon is really unique.
Terri: A large, global group of fans can make a much bigger impact together than they can alone. That’s an added bonus, for sure. And a good fandom also supports its members. For example, Rain‘s official fanclub in Korea, The Cloud, is extremely supportive of Rain’s global Clouds. In the past, they have even coordinated the purchase of tickets and transportation to concerts in Asia for global fans. They want to make sure that global fans will be able to support Rain from wherever they are, in whatever capacity they can. I’ve never seen that happen in the West.
Nini: I think the sense of community is what really makes K-fandoms special. Even if the fans are behaving badly, they are still united in one common goal. Be it support for a particular artist or hating on a particular artist, they still rally around one another. This sense of community and family is what solidifies a fandom and makes it long lasting.
Xiaolong: CeeFu, you mentioned the Internet and anonymity–this also ties in with what I regard as the ‘Power of K-netizens,’ the idea that basically Korean fans can simply break an artist’s career if they want. This sounds really scary to me.
Nini: They can’t break a career, per se, but they absolutely have a huge influence on said career. What the fans think and how they react are both major players in what an artist will and won’t/can and can’t do.
CeeFu: However, I don’t know if the fandoms always act in unison all the time. Fandoms are split all the time over things–and let’s not even get started on the anti-fan!
Terri: Oh, anti-fans are something else. Wow. Incredible. That would be a whole roundtable. Yes, simple things like not agreeing on the fanclub “color” can really divide a group of fans. Another example from The Cloud world. At one point, there was a great deal of drama over whether Rain’s fanclub’s official color was gray or silver. Good grief. (It’s silver, by the way. Just so you know.) The split up of DBSK was another major fan-dividing event. That one, in particular, is an example of a fandom that was severely traumatized.
Nini: Severely traumatized indeed. In my opinion, their split was one of the most “tragic” events in K-pop history, when it comes to the overall effect it had on their fans. Within the Cassiopeia fanbase, you now have a dedicated delineation between the fans. They’re either an OT5, JYJ stans, or a Homin stans. Fanwars are so common place now it’s beyond staggering and, in truth, quite disturbing at times.
However, even with this separation of the fandom, the base belief hasn’t changed. Cassies will always support them no matter where their bias lists fall. As a “since debut” fan of DBSK, I deal with the Cassie fanbase on a daily basis, and even though we are somewhat splintered, we still have a dedication unlike any other. The fanbase’s love for DBSK/JYJ/Homin is undeniable.
Terri: I think that, for the most part, loyalty is true for most fanbases, Nini.
CeeFu: I don’t know. I’m seeing people in fandoms posting things, especially when you have subgroups form or people have solo careers. Some older fans of groups are reporting that newer fans of individual members of the group are at odds with fans who are fans of the entire group. Whew! This is happening with Triple S: Henecians are bashing Triple S, and Triple S are trying to tell them about the whole “five united as one” concept.
Xiaolong: There are also the “sasaengs,” which are quite “unique.” I am sure all celebrities have stalkers, but not quite as many as in K-pop, and especially not roaming around in hordes, so to speak. In your opinion, what made the development of the “sasaeng culture” in K-pop possible?
Terri: Is unique the right word? LOL. Insane, maybe? When you are defecating or urinating outside someone’s door, you’ve got a serious problem. Or when you’re following idols around 24/7, or engaging them in high-speed chases in private taxis–well, that’s just bizarre behavior.
Nini: The lack of stalking laws on the books.
Xiaolong: I guess this scary part of stalking is not due to the lack of stalking laws.
Nini: Right now, in Korea, the only stalking laws on the books refer to “stalking of a sexual nature.” Therefore, the behavior of sasaeng fans doesn’t qualify for prosecution under said laws. Korea does have privacy laws that can be enforced, but the punishment for said violation is lax. The culture plays a role as well. Where many see that these kids should be disciplined by their parents instead of put in jail, I, on the other hand, completely disagree with that belief. Sasaengs are criminals.
Terri: Idol handlers simply trying to protect idols are often at a loss too. Sometimes they are even turned into perpetrators just because they are trying to do their jobs. To me there is some kind of “gang” mentality going on there. In all of the reading I’ve done about sasaeng fans, I’ve noticed that many of these fans appear to be outcasts in one way or another–either from their own families, neighborhoods, or at school. Do you think they get a sense of belonging when they join these sasaeng groups?
Xiaolong: Hm, so it is like a venting place for outcasts?
Terri: It’s like they crave attention and they will take it any way they can get it–even if it means hurting their idols.
Xiaolong: So this would mean that “normal” teens don’t really become sasaengs, but those who already have some kind of problem use this as a sort of activity where they can vent their anger or channel their frustration?
CeeFu: Xiaolong, that makes sense. K-pop just becomes the vehicle.
Terri: Obviously, many of these fans have no lives outside of their sasaeng groups, because from what I’ve seen, they are constantly at it, following their idols everywhere much of the time. Not just that, they are everywhere at the same time. Large groups of them.
Xiaolong: That could also explain why on Earth their parents don’t care about what these kids are doing–and where they get their money from.
Terri: Right. It’s much easier to hand a kid $1000.00 and tell them to get lost. Especially if you don’t care about them in the first place. So sad. But that also explains these fans’ rabid obsession with their idols. If you’ve got no love, where do go to you find it?
If your parents don’t care where you are anyway, then why not belong to a group of like-minded people who all care about the same thing you do? I think Social Media also plays a huge part in their ability to be everywhere at the same time.
Nini: Sasaengs scare me–not only from a regular person’s perspective, but also from a fan’s perspective. I, like most fans of K-pop, have a deep and sincere respect for all the artists in the industry and care about them. I want them to be happy, healthy, successful, and safe. Sasaengs are the proverbial Kryptonite to that Superman.
They put the artist in danger because of their unnatural obsessions, they treat them like objects that can be possessed, and they use their so-called love to justify their actions. They make artists so afraid of their own shadows that when truly respectful and understanding fans approach them, they recoil immediately. They have been burned so badly by the bad side of the fandom’s mentality that they can’t trust anyone.
Xiaolong: Indeed. Is there a way to stop them?
Terri: Stop them? Hm. You know, when your fans disrupt a relative’s wedding and you get mad and tell them to stop it, and their reaction is to tell you that you look “cute when you are mad” and that your actions just make them “want to do even worse”? I don’t think they are stoppable.
Nini: I don’t think there is a way to truly stop them either, but there is a way to deter them. If one artist, just one, would stand up and prosecute a sasaeng, then that would serve as a catalyst to create change.
Terri: I agree, Nini. However, the laws have to be there to support change, and now it’s extremely difficult to prosecute these kids. And, scarily, it seems that most of them really are kids. Minors.
Xiaolong: Indeed. You cannot really sue someone in Korea at the moment for screaming at your brother’s wedding, even if they were uninvited.
Nini: Right. That’s the biggest issue right now. There is no law to prevent them from behaving this way, and too many organizations (like sasaeng taxi services) are enablers.
Terri: If they were here in The States, many of these fans’ would be in some kind of detention, because we have laws against stalking–which they are doing. Call it what you want. It’s still stalking.
CeeFu: We also have laws against trespassing.
Nini: In the case of the wedding, had that happened in the U.S., it would automatically have been a trespassing charge.
Terri: Here’s a clue. When you are hiding behind bushes, on balconies, behind columns, under tables, behind cars taking photos or video of your idol during their private moments–you are a stalker. Plain and simple. Regardless of what you call yourself.
Nini: Snapping a shot of an idol on the street or outside a venue is completely different from following them to their hotel and riding the elevators up and down for 6 hours trying to get a glimpse of them. But stalking doesn’t stop at just idols either. Anyone associated with an artist gets stalked. Hell, I got backed into a corner by three fangirls at an Aziatix concert because they saw me come out from backstage after doing an interview with them. I started carrying pepper spray to events after that.
Terri: I would ask which group/idol has the craziest sasaeng fans, but I think I know what the answer will be. (Although “craziest sasaeng” is probably redundant.)
Terri: Really? You think so? JYJ? Then EXO is a close second.
Xiaolong: Yeah, they are up-and-coming, but JYJ had had them for 10 years now.
Terri: I heard that Jang Geun-suk had so much trouble in Shanghai during his concert tour that the police told him to leave the country. A huge mob of fans apparently followed him everywhere there.
CeeFu: Part of that JYJ sasaeng activity has to be residual Cassie activity!
Xiaolong: Do you think that agencies encourage this kind of behaviour due to the OTP pairings, and that they sort of silently (or sometimes not so silently) encourage extreme “bromance” between band members?
Terri: Do agencies encourage this kind of behavior? I think they do to a point. I don’t think they realize, though, how quickly something like this can get out of control.
Nini: Of course they do. Anything to get more popularity. The more popular idols are the more money they stand to make. Skinship, OTP, and Bromance are very effective tools in creating interest in a group.
Terri: What is this fan obsession with bromance, by the way? What IS that? I don’t get it.
Xiaolong: Obviously bromance is a great marketing tool, but in my opinion this also gives a huge boost to extreme shipping. Like what you have with Jaejoong and Yunho, fans hanging PhotoShopped naked posters of the two in public places. They get so worked up by the “existence” of these OTPs that it quickly turns into serious obsession.
Nini: DBSK has been split up for 4 years, yet the “Yunjae” pairing is still alive and kicking–in full force I might add.
Xiaolong: Yes, and this is also adding fuel to sasaengs. I think Jaejoong probably has the most sasaeng fans in the history of K-pop.
CeeFu: Agencies may use these techniques to drum up interest, but in the end they do not control individual behavior, and truth be told, they can’t even control how these things impact people. They hope for more interest, more loyalty, but they can’t guarantee it, and because of that, I don’t think that it’s as high on their priority list as making sure the maknae has the choreography down.
Nini: I think OTP/Skinship/Bromance really is just a small part of marketing for a group but because it’s so “taboo” the fans latch onto it like nobody’s business.
Terri: To your point, CeeFu, once an idol is onstage, the show is theirs, and the agency has very little to do with it at that point.
Xiaolong: I don’t say agencies absolutely plan out OTPs and marketing techniques around them, but they are not silencing these fans even after scandals and people getting hurt. Like Jung Yunho’s poisoning incident.
Terri: Unless they are purposefully choreographed that way, many of these bromance moments are likely concocted by the stars themselves, who are acting “in the moment.” And I would say their agencies allow it for one reason only–because they don’t care to stop it. Which speaks volumes to me as a fan.
Nini: The companies allow/promote this type of behavior for one reason: the wow factor. What happens after the initial surprise and interest dies down, they don’t even care. They got the reaction they wanted. You can believe that 99% of all major Skinship/Bromance incidences at K-pop concerts are completely planned. OTP pairing didn’t just come out of thin air.
They were specifically created by an artist’s management as a way to create interest in the group. Example: In the beginning of DBSK’s career the major OTP was 2U (Yunho and Yoochun). When that pairing failed to create a big enough buzz, the tactic was changed to Yunjae (Yunho and Jaejoong). That pairing was a resounding success and has thrived ever since.
Xiaolong: Are girl groups also affected? Or is this mostly a boy group phenomenon?
Nini: ”Boys will be boys” rules the OTP world. Female groups can’t do pairings because it’s seen as beyond inappropriate.
Terri: But it’s not for boy groups.
CeeFu: But you know what? Some fans are completely unaware of things like OTP. I think we have to recognize that there’s more than one kind of K-pop fan, and more than one way to be a K-pop fan. I know K-pop fans who don’t care about OTP, don’t watch the shows. Some watch the shows but not the BTS shows. I think that these things mean something to certain segments of fans, but not to all.
Nini: Right, fans are individualistic in nature, but each fanbase has clear delineations.
Xiaolong: That’s for sure, but since the craze for OTPs is really big (just visit any fanfiction site…there are tens of thousands of OTP fanfics being written), it’s a huge thing, still. It’s also interesting that stalkers are usually male, but in K-pop, I think 99% of sasaengs are girls.
CeeFu: But people will also determine how they participate in the fandom. Especially for the global fan. If you are a fan in Korea, it’s much more uniform: join the fan club, get your card, get glitter to make your sign. But in the global fandom, some people are not participating in all aspects of the fandom, but still consider themselves to be part of the fandom. A lot of global fans do not like fan fiction and don’t read it, but they are still fans and still part of the fandom. OTP/fan fiction is for a certain segment of fandom, probably younger fans. They have a word for that with older fans.
Xiaolong: There is also one more thing that is bothering me about K-fandoms, that a lot of fangirls seem to be obsessed to the point where they feel it’s their right to tell the idol how to live his life–or how not to. And I mean dating, marriage, etc.
Terri: As a global fan, I’m more like the fan CeeFu just described. Being the co-founder of a fansite and an editor here at hellokpop.com, I likely have a higher interest in K-pop than most global fans. But even I don’t participate in all of the fan activities around. That would leave me with no personal time whatsoever.
Oh, romance. There are so many Clouds who despise Kim Tae-hee right now. It’s incredible. What drama. I think, though, this type of behavior falls into the same category as the sasaeng fans–the idea that these fans are looking for love from a K-pop idol because they aren’t getting it anywhere else.
Nini: I have just one response to that: “Who are you to tell someone they can or cannot love?” This belief that an artist must stay single for the rest of his natural life, and live only for the fan’s affection, is downright preposterous. I have my biases, some of which I’ve respected, adored, and loved for well over a decade, and in all of that time I have never once thought that they shouldn’t find love.
Who am I to tell them that they can’t be happy, they can’t fall in love, they can’t get married and start a family? I’m nobody, just another nameless face in the crowd. Fans who dare get bent out of shape because someone is dating or getting married truly disgust me to no end. How selfish can you be, really?
Terri: Again, this phenomenon comes from within the fan. In my humble opinion, they have a serious mental problem if they think any idol is going to marry a fan. Idols are surrounded by beautiful, successful women (or men) every day of the week who are not one among thousands of screaming fans. What in the world makes these fans think that one of them is going to be “THE ONE?”
Nini: But you also have a flip side to that, Terri. Because of these delusional fans that believe that their favorite idol will marry them one day, and they act like it, most artists choose to never date a fan. I’ve seen this first hand and I’ve heard it directly from artists themselves. They don’t trust fans. They don’t believe a fan can love the real version of themselves. So, they refuse to date or get involved with a fan because of that disbelief.
Xiaolong: I think it’s okay for girls to “daydream” about the idol, just like we used to daydream about Prince Charming, but in the end they are just that–people, real ones, blood and flesh–and they also have the right to fall in love and live happily.
Terri: What? These idols are real people? LOL.
Nini: I think that’s something that fans really forget. Idols are real people. They have thoughts, feelings, and faults just like everyone else. Fans fall for their idol’s onstage persona and think they truly know the person, which in fact they don’t. They know what their idol wants them to know, and 99% of the time that’s complete fallacy.
CeeFu: I think it’s one thing to feel some type of way about the dating life of an idol, and another to act on it.If you go busting up in the courthouse to destroy the marriage certificate, then you’ve got a problem. I think age and culture, particularly celebrity culture, have a lot to do with it. We forget that our own (U.S.) celebrities used to hide marriages because it would affect their appeal.
Xiaolong: I seriously do think that a lot of K-pop fans believe idols are supernatural creatures created to make them happy and don’t regard them as real people.
Terri: Oh, Xiaolong, you bring up a great point. I also think that many of the fans who think in this way are young. The older a fan is, the less they think that way.
Xiaolong: Indeed, as we know from statistics, the K-fanbase is mostly below 18-year-old girls.
CeeFu: I completely agree with Terri about the age. And while a lot of fans may be under 18, college age fans are a large demographic as well. These are people in their early 20s. You also have to remember that early K-pop fans are aging too, those who were in their teens but remain fans, even as they get married and have families. Ladies are bringing their kids to fanmeets!
Terri: I believe they think that by bringing their babies, their idols might approach them. I seriously see no other reason why someone would bring their baby to a fanmeeting. None. Good grief.
Nini: The level of “crazy” in a K-fandom is directly proportional to age range. The younger they are the more “out there” they are. The older they are, the more level headed they become. (This is not always true in every example, but across the board it’s more true than not.)
Terri: The idea that fans think their idol is theirs and that these artists should go 90-to-nothing for them every single day, nonstop, is absurd. Seriously, fans are insatiable. I see that in Rain’s world all the time. It doesn’t matter how much he does–how often he performs, how many photos he puts out there. They still want more and more and more. It’s exhausting to me and I’m just reporting about it. I can’t imagine how exhausting it is to these idols who actually have to do the work. Fans are so greedy. More, more, more! That is their mantra. But to perform non-stop all the time is simply not possible.
Xiaolong: And then the agencies come into the picture again, because K-idols have a particular way of promoting. A mini-album every 5-6 months, several singles in between, tons of concerts and appearances, basically non-stop work. In the West, if an artist puts out an album every 2 years, they are considered productive.
Nini: Their schedules are that demanding for one reason and one reason only: the sheer amount of active (and debuting) K-pop acts at any given time. They have to put out albums faster and promote longer to stay competitive and make money. The longer they stay away from the active market, the faster their popularity declines.
A perfect example of this is Aziatix. They were huge a year ago, and then after signing a big contract with YMCMB they practically went silent. Their fanbase slowly lost interest and moved onto other things. When their album finally comes out, I have no doubt that their sales with be lower than they expect, because the time gap between albums has been so long.
Terri: True. If an artist isn’t promoting himself, then he isn’t going to make any money. It’s all about the gigs.
Nini: Exactly and his/her facetime with the audience.
Xiaolong: That’s also, indeed, a problem that agencies churn out acts like cupcakes. I wonder how long this can be done.
CeeFu: And those gigs also include television appearances, photo shoots and endorsements!
Terri: The fact that theirs are grueling schedules is obvious, but I honestly have no problem with an agency making their stars work. Most of us ordinary folks have grueling schedules too. However, when your health is at stake, that’s another issue. If someone is getting sick repeatedly, then they are being pushed past their limits, and something needs to give.
Nini: Agreed. These artists have to balance between their health and their careers, and their health loses out 9 times out of 10.
Xiaolong: What advice would you give to newbie K-pop fans about joining fandoms? What should they keep in mind?
Terri: I guess I would tell newbies to take it slow and keep it casual.
CeeFu: I would tell newbies that there are lots of different ways to participate in a fandom and to do what is comfortable for them. It’s not a lifetime commitment, you can leave when you want to. Just be ready for a certain amount of cray.
Terri: K-pop is entertainment. Or it’s supposed to be, anyway. I hope they can remember that. So, most of all they need to remember to have fun. “Why so serious?”
Nini: I would tell newbies to remember that idols are people too. They are just like everyone else, except they are more well known. Treat them preciously and respectfully. Be loyal and dedicated, but with common sense. The more respectful you are to an artist, the more they will respect you in return. If you act like a lunatic, to them that’s all you will ever be.
Terri: Certainly lunatics attract attention, but I doubt it is the kind of attention you really want, the kind of attention you are really going for. Don’t be stalkers. If an idol comes into a hotel lobby and sees you and turns back around, or hides behind a column, don’t think, “Oh! He recognized me!” Um. Yeah, he did–for all the wrong reasons.
CeeFu: And watch what you say online!
Terri: Right, CeeFu. If you say it online, you’ve said it to the world. I think that fans often forget that.
Nini: There needs to be a shift in the K-fandom mentality before we can truly be respected by our artists. The more we behave like hormone-driven teenagers, the more they will shy away from us–the more security they will employ. A fan dreams of one day becoming a real friend to the artist they like, but when we all act so shamelessly, how could that possibly occur? It can’t.
Until we step up and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that we truly respect them as individuals, their careers, and their privacy, there is no way we will ever be accepted as more than just fans. The changing of the fans’ mentality and treatment of artists will slowly erode those boundaries if we consistently show a respectful nature towards them. Look at how JYJ treats fans in countries like Vietnam/Hong Kong. The fans there, at the airports, stay behind the barricades and cheerfully cheer them on without mobbing them. They have a bigger respect for those fans, because they treat the stars respectfully.
Artists have been kissed, hit, punched, elbowed, groped, robbed, and fondled by mobs of fans. One member of EXO ended up with a busted nose, because of fans at the airport, for crying out loud. Truthfully, I really don’t get the whole mobbing thing anyway. These fans who claim they love an artist, crowd around him some much that he can barely move, and he ends up getting hurt because of their stupidity. If you love him so much, you should want to keep him safe, not put him in harm’s way!
Terri: Yes, you should create a ring of safety around the artist and give him/her room to walk. I think the scariest thing about sasaengs is that they think their actions are amusing.
Xiaolong: Yeah, like slapping Yoochun in the face so that he would remember her. So, I would also advise fans that they try to think with the idol’s head and place themselves in his shoes. Would you want some random unknown man to run up to you at the airport, grab your breasts and kiss you forcibly, saying he is your fan, so he has the right, because he loves you? I bet you don’t. So, don’t do that to your idol, either. They also don’t like being touched by strangers!
Nini: Well said!
Terri: Indeed. And don’t follow them to their hotel rooms or to their homes. I cringe at the photos that appear of idols on airplanes sleeping. “I watch you while you sleep” is NOT sexy.
Xiaolong: It’s scary for the idols, too. Just like any woman would be scared of unknown people following them to their homes and screaming their names and touching their intimate parts, idols are also human beings. They also have the same sense of privacy and fears. Don’t be a lunatic! You can love your idol without actually harassing them. Girls probably think that men find it flattering if you go up to them and touch them and try to kiss them, because they are guys and their bodies work differently. But I bet if we ask any man if they liked to be groped by a horde of teenage girls at an airport, they most likely would say, “Hell no.”
CeeFu: I think to the outside person, this makes all K-pop fans look bad.
Nini: Their bad behavior is seen as an “across the board” description of all K-pop fans.
Terri: I would agree with CeeFu. To most people who don’t like or understand why we are even listening to K-pop in the first place, K-pop fans are seen as weird and extreme.
Nini: That’s why K-pop fans get no respect from other non-Kpop fandoms.
Terri: So, what can K-pop fans do to change this perception?
Nini: BEHAVE! Its as simple as that.
Xiaolong: Indeed. Be reasonable and don’t let your hormones ruin your common sense.
Terri: I think being respectful of artists and other fans as human beings is the first step.
CeeFu: They can also voice that such behavior is inappropriate. When other fans don’t say anything, it looks like approval. Even with EXO situation, I saw other EXO fans saying that that behavior was wrong!
Terri: The only problem with that, CeeFu, is that sometimes you are outnumbered in a crowd of fans. If you’re the only one telling people to stop their behavior, then you are likely going to get run over and they are going to do it anyway. A mob mentality can be frightening, especially when you are in the midst of it. So, how can fans overcome the mob in the moment if they are the only voice of reason?
CeeFu: In a crowd, yes. Online, no. I think we also need to point out that there are fan behaviors that happen in Korea (because the idols are there) and fan behaviors that happen online (the way most fans outside of Korea engage in fandom). Crazy behavior is not limited to Korean fans. Korean fans need to also get their people in check!
Nini: Then you need to become a mob for good. Most fans are against sasaengs and constantly make their disapproval known, but never in an organized way. We need to organize a mob for good instead of evil.
Terri: You know there is already an effort working to do that, Nini, to stand up as one voice. In EXO’s fandom there is anyway.
Xiaolong: And remember that your behaviour affects how the West views your idol, too! If you are downright crazy, it’s not a good image for your idol, either.They are not going to earn respect in the West by having lunatics following them around.
Nini: Right. Those of us who condemn such behavior need to stand together and in one voice proclaim clearly that we don’t condone their behavior and that they DO NOT represent the rest of us. I think there is something that all of us at HKP can do to help better the global opinion of K-pop fans. Report on the good that fans do and report it often.
Sasaengs get so much press but the good goes unreported. Fans spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year supporting their artist in the right way–doing charity projects and donating to the poor (rice wreaths, disaster relief, etc.) this is something that needs to be promoted. Many “experts” claim that the K-pop fandom is too far gone to find some sense of normalcy, but I disagree. As long as you still have fans that strive to bring the fandoms back to common sense and respect, that dream won’t die.
Note: *Noona: Technically it means ‘older sister of a man’. In K-pop ‘noona fans’ refer to women in their late 20′s or older, who are fans of younger male artists.
What do you think about the behaviour (good or bad) of K-pop fandoms? Do you agree with us noonas?
Terri: Chief Editor
Nini: Specialty Writer & Head of Public Relations (USA)
Ceefu: Assistant Chief Editor
Xiaolong: Editorial Writer
Bold words you say? I dare to challenge you. This has been a hell of a ride with G-Dragon, and I believe, with his latest work, Coup D’Etat, he has successfully transformed himself from a little-above-average K-pop idol to an undeniably intriguing and sophisticated world class artist.
Certainly, G-Dragon has always stood out from the other BIGBANG members due to his songwriting skills. On the other hand, I think the others have always had a side to them that G-Dragon himself seemed to lack. Daesung has a classier voice. Taeyang is the group’s sexy beast. TOP‘s intriguing looks and baritone rapping matches G-Dragon’s, and Seungri is–well–he is Seungri.
If you look at older videos of BIGBANG, this not-so-tall, thin guy called G-Dragon never really stood out. He had mild looks, a cute puppy face, and although he did show, in a couple of rap verses, a glimpse of what he would become in the future, you just could not take him seriously as a bad-guy-turned-rapper. Come on, just look at his hair in Haru Haru!
Yes, he is talented, and yes, he became a top idol. However, as we all know, idols abound in K-pop, and to rise above the rest, you have to make that little difference.
Then came Heartbreaker in 2009, where GD began his transformation. First, it was only in looks. Although his music was different from what we had gotten used to from him in BIGBANG, we couldn’t really say that he was doing something mind-blowingly outstanding, or anything much different. Still, his blonde ‘do became a trend in Korea, and he could now truly be considered a teen top star. What I noticed, though, was that this was the era in which he really began to experiment with himself–just like a good scientist does. At this point, he gradually began to surpass his band members to establish his very own brand as an artist. In 2010, Asiae noted that “[h]is courage has a huge effect on [Korea's] music industry and is becoming a legend. [...] It is time for us to sit back and watch this legend unfold.” Were they fortune tellers?
The plagiarism scandal over several of his songs in Heartbreaker, in my opinion, kicked up some kind of serious defense mechanism in his mind and soul, which manifested itself in the need to prove his skills–not to his fans (he knew VIPs were forever loyal), or to the critics (he never really cared about what others thought about him), or to his boss (he always got the utmost backing at YG), but to himself. The time he took to self-reflect ripened first in GD&TOP and then deepened further with Tonight and Alive, as he used BIGBANG as the ground on which to test himself.
In the meantime, he became a sort of fashion icon and a true chameleon, changing his looks as often as others change their socks, pushing his fans from one shock to another. Of course, it remains an open question how much YG personnel were involved in his radical transformation from the cute Jiyong to the swag-loaded G-the-Dragon, but I think he pretty much controls most of how he looks and what he wears. Remember his frequent trips to Paris fashion shows where he even caught the attention of photographers unaware of his celebrity status?
G-Dragon in W Magazine in 2009, the start of his transformation
When G-Dragon dropped One of a Kind in 2012, one could already feel that he had broken away from what we call standard K-pop–not just musically, but also visually. The symbolism-heavy music videos, the clean colors and heavy reliance on American-style rap and lyrics may not have gotten him a lot of new fans in the usual K-pop fan-clubs, especially among teen girls who used to admire his cute, almost clumsy variety show self and his pop beats. I believe, though, that he did gain a lot of fanboy and older (ie. not teen) fans.
GD also has certain periods when he experiments with certain genres. You can see this in Heartbreaker’s more poppish sounds, the eclectic electronica of GD&TOP and Tonight, the R&B of Alive and the heavy rap of One of a Kind. He seemed to release the stress and to really go crazy in Crayon and Michigo, quite literally making his fans’ eyes pop out in disbelief.
So now, here we are, almost at the end of 2013, where G-Dragon, having gone over a zillion transformations in his looks and image, comes to us as a self-made artist. Coup D’Etat proves that there is much more to this young man than flashy images, glittering fake teeth, egoistical lyrics and fooling around in various wigs. The video of his title track is visually astonishing and a masterpiece on its own, laden with heavy symbolism. Of course, as is with all symbolism, interpretations may vary. Fans have already begun to speculate and debate fiercely over what certain images in the MV might really mean. Of course, if you know G-Dragon’s path, it might not be all that difficult to put the puzzle together on how he wants to break free from his past to build a new future.
Yes, I believe that Coup D’Etat is the culmination of a vital need in G-Dragon to prove his worth to himself, the opening of a unique black rose bud that is now ready to fully bloom. I also believe that he has barely begun to scratch the surface of his newly found creativity.
The revolution is in your mind. The revolution is here.
Written by: Xiaolong
It’s no secret, I’m not a teen anymore. Having stepped into the 30′s camp, this is a period of a woman’s life when one usually thinks about settling down finally, getting married, having kids and gardening chili plants on the balcony. And what am I doing?
11:33 pm, Noona* is watching a DBSK concert video. Tomorrow is a cruel work day and Noona has to get up at 7 a.m.
As I am watching my favourite boys dance, I cannot help but feel some kind of awkward remorse. Is this what a grown woman is supposed to be doing? I thought I would ask my fellow “noona fan” coworkers at HelloKpop, Nini and CeeFu, what they think about boy bands and noona fans. So, we gathered around the virtual roundtable and had a girly–but very enlightening–chat about K-pop.
They are artists or groups to me. I actually feel like I’m insulting them if I label them a boy band. – Nini
Xiaolong: First of all, let’s share our K-pop journeys with our readers. How did it all begin?
Nini: While returning home from a trip to Charlotte, I took a wrong turn and got lost. Almost out of gas, I was frantic to find a gas station. On this road in the middle of nowhere, I came across a small Mom and Pop store. Thankful to find gas, I went inside to get a drink and pay. As I was walking down the aisle towards the coolers, I heard music playing from a little boombox behind the counter. The music was foreign, I had never heard the language before, but it sounded awesome. I stood there in the middle of the aisle for three minutes listening to the song–not understanding the lyrics–but feeling the music and the vocals. It made me smile. When the song stopped, I grabbed my drink and headed to the counter to pay. Behind the counter stood an elderly Korean grandmother. With a sweet smile, she asked me in broken English if there was anything else I needed.
I looked at her, and before I even thought to ask for directions to get back to the highway, I said, “Excuse me but could you tell me the name of that song that just played a moment ago?” She said, ” Oh, did you like it?” I said, ”Yes, it was very beautiful, but I didn’t understand it. Who sings it?” She said, “Oh, that was Day By Day by Fly to the Sky.”
She told me it was Korean pop music, and I proceeded to have a two-hour conversation with her about it. Grandma Kim changed my life, and thanks to that random encounter, I have found something that has continually made me happy. I will be forever grateful for that night. The night I found Brian Joo and Hwanhee. That night gave me not only my passion in life, but set me on my path. That’s also why Brian Joo is still my ultimate bias… Thirteen years as a K-pop and Brian fan. This happened on January 21, 2000.
“Brian Joo is still my ultimate bias… 13 years as a K-pop and Brian fan” – Nini
Xiaolong: Back then I’m sure there were not many English websites on K-pop, how did you start out?
Nini: I got into the Korean community in Charlotte in a big way. I made lots of friends there, so I could learn about the culture and music. I would troll the Internet (back in the day of super slow DSL), trying to find anything and everything I could find about K-pop. Music online was really hard to come by and finding albums was even more difficult.
Xiaolong: How about you, CeeFu?
CeeFu: I’m not nearly the veteran as Nini, but what I lack in time I make up for in effort. I had been watching Chinese wuxia television shows for years, and I ran out. Netflix kept “recommending” that I watch this K-drama, so I watched My Lovely Samsoon, and was hooked on the K-drama. I then started watching Boys Over Flowers, and a colleague of mine told me that her sister-in-law also watched K-dramas. She loved Boys over Flowers, and she said, “You know he (Kim Hyun Joong) is [in] a band, right?” Of course, I went straight to the Internet and looked up everything SS501 related. I found other groups, like Super Junior (even my mom likes them), SHINee, etc. Then, I took it back to the old school and downloaded Seo Taiji‘s entire catalog! Ever since then, I’ve been roaming around all of K-pop!
Nini: I was the same way, I totally backtracked K-pop after I got into the genre.
Xiaolong: I’m pretty new to K-pop and Asia, I sort of transitioned from Turkish culture by accidentally discovering a Jay Chou song at the end of a Jet Li movie, and I became a fansubber because I wanted to spread C-pop a bit. Someone posted Bigbang‘s Secret Garden parody on our fansub team’s SNS page and bang! I had no clue what the story was all about, but they were so hilarious. I started to look up videos on YouTube and there you go…
Bigbang Secret Garden parody
Do you listen to boy bands mostly, or anyone and everyone?
Nini: (glances are her playlist: Nini is having a DBSK kinda day.) Actually, I listen to a wide variety of K-pop/K-hiphop/K-rock groups, but I do have an affinity to “boy bands,” even though I don’t think of them as boy bands.
CeeFu: I listen to everybody, but I “specialize” in the male groups!
Xiaolong: Technically, they are boy bands, right? And I don’t know how it is in the USA, but in Europe, boy bands sort of went out of fashion. Often I get embarrassed to tell people that I listen to boy bands. I get weird looks. Have you ever had this feeling? Of embarrassment?
Nini: To me, there is a fundamental difference between my definition of “boy band” and the normal definition of the word. I don’t see them as boy bands. I see them as groups or artists. Once I crossed over that line of being a fan to being part of the industry, my definition of the word changed. In a way, I actually consider it a derogatory term now.
CeeFu: I think that now “boy band” has a somewhat negative connotation (thanks, NKOTB), but people forget that, at least in America, male groups have a long history. I think of them as male groups (they can’t stay “boys” forever)! So, I try not to call them “boy bands” or “boy groups”. Hello, Shinhwa…they’re MEN!
Nini: Exactly CeeFu, I totally agree 100%. They are artists or groups to me. I actually feel like I’m insulting them if I label them a boy band.
Shinhwa: the longest running male group in K-pop history
Xiaolong: That’s absolutely cool! And a good tip for me what to say next time someone asks, “And you are listening to boy bands?!”
How are K-pop male groups different from traditional Western boy bands? Are they different at all?
CeeFu: First of all, they are Korean. I think we need to say this. I mean, I know it’s obvious, but being in the United States, it matters that these guys are Korean and making music, given the lack of representations of Asian men we get here. A lot of times, people compare them to ’90′s male groups, but I think they are different. American male groups sang songs, maybe did some choreography. Korean male groups do a lot more: they have television appearances, hosting and MC gigs, photo shoots, concerts. That training that they go through prepares them for a variety of activities. Also, they are involved in ever-changing concepts, and so they keep fans interested, instead of giving them the same old thing. They also maintain a relationship with the fans on social media and in other places. Because the members have different activities, it makes them different from Western “boy bands.”
Nini: Agreed. There are several fundamental differences, culture being the most prevalent. In comparison to U.S.-based pop male groups from the height of the “Boy Band Era,” the influence of traditional Korean culture permeates through their every word and action. They are polite, respectful, and (usually) perpetuate a “moral high ground” that Western artists have really lost over time. Their music styles, while influenced by a worldwide perspective, still are fundamentally based in the aspects of traditional beliefs and practices. K-pop groups work extremely hard to perfect their craft, and its this traditional idealism that filters into their work ethic.
I really think one of K-pop’s biggest appeal is that the artists true desire to interact with their fans. That is rarely seen with U.S. artists. U.S. promoters are still shocked when a K-pop artist wants to hold a “Fan Meeting,” because that’s never really done in the U.S. market or by U.S. artists.
Xiaolong: Very well said, girls, and I fully agree. So, we like them for their craft, for the music, for the visuals, the whole package. But they are usually still teenage boys when they debut. Some may be as young as fifteen, and we are all over thirty.
CeeFu: Yes, some of them are young, but that doesn’t bother me, because I’m not trying to DATE them! They are entertainers and there have always been young entertainers–so.
Xiaolong: Never had any fan-girling moments? You know, drooling over muscles, abs, looks in general and wishing they were a bit older?
CeeFu: Oh, I do my share of fan-girling, but I think there are different kinds of fan-girling. Do I have a picture of Kangta on my phone right now? Yes. Is he dressed? Yes, he is! I think most noonas may do fan-girling in a different kind of way. Other noonas…yes, they may or may not be collecting ab-tastic photos.
Nini: Admittedly, I do have my moments, but they are not as extensive as many other fans. For me, in the beginning of my “K-pop life,” their ages didn’t really bother me. I was in my early twenties and of the age range typical for a K-pop fan. When I turned twenty-eight, I had a three-year stent where I felt a little odd, because I was liking and (at times) fan-girling over guys who were much younger than me. Now, I’m very proud to say that I’m a fan of groups like Boyfriend, whose youngest member Minwoo was born the year I graduated high school (1995).
Nini: I think every Noona fan goes through a period of time feeling somewhat ashamed of liking guys that are ten-plus years younger than them. While I like members that happened to be younger than me, I second CeeFu’s statement. Just because I like them, enjoy their music, and think they are extremely good looking, doesn’t mean that I want to date them. The whole point of the idol lifestyle (for a male artist) is to appeal to a wide variety and wide age range of female fans. In my opinion, if a fifteen-year-old K-pop artist can win the heart of a thirty-plus-year-old woman, then he’s doing his job right.
Xiaolong: I am absolutely in this period. It totally turned my male ideal upside down. I never liked guys younger than me. And I have to add, before someone misunderstands, it’s not about the looks only.
Did this noona fan experience change the way you look at men?
Nini: No. I’ve always had an affinity for Asian men, even before I got into Asian music. They are attractive, not simply because of looks or talent, but more so because of their personalities and belief systems.
CeeFu: Nope. My affinity for Asian culture is lifelong, and so is my interest in the representations of masculinity. So, getting into K-pop hasn’t changed the way I look at men.
Nini: I agree with CeeFu. I’ve never believed in the stereotypes that are perpetuated about Asians, men or otherwise. I’ve had a fascination with Asian cultures ever since I was young. My grandfather and father were both stationed in Asia during their military careers, and my grandfather used to tell me stories about his time in Asia. Unlike the typical “war stories” a person of that experience might tell, he always told uplifting and interesting stories about the people and cultures of Asia. That fed my innate thirst for knowledge when I was a kid, and I studied a lot about Japan in the beginning and slowly branched out to neighboring countries.
Xiaolong: So, your family was not very surprised about your K-pop enthusiasm, then, I suppose?
Nini: I studied things like history, traditions, religions, culture, and traditional music, but never got into pop culture until my late teen years. I hadn’t even thought that Korea had a thriving pop music culture until that day in January 2000. My grandfather and father both passed well before I got into Korean music, but prior to their deaths, they took great delight in feeding my interest in Asian cultures.
My mother is probably the most supportive K-pop mom I’ve ever met. She loves hearing about my work and the music I love, and is even a converted fan to a degree. She really likes Brian (which is a given), but she also enjoys any K-pop I play for her. My brother and sisters, however, think I’m crazy.
CeeFu: Having grown up with Asians and Asian Americans as friends, the stereotypes didn’t match real life. I took four years of Japanese; we were friendly with our neighborhood Korean grocery store owner….Having knowledge about various Asian cultures also helps to undercut the effects of stereotypes. My family’s not surprised by K-pop, they’ve already seen my foray into Chinese and Hong Kong film and Japanese anime…
Xiaolong: My family was absolutely stunned and so were my friends. They all think I went nuts, not because I listen to K-pop, but because of my boy band ventures. They think I should be thinking about marriage not spend my time watching twenty-year-olds dance.
Nini: My mom, who is sixty-four, has a thing for Jay Park. “He’s sexy and very talented.” Direct quote from mom.
Xiaolong: Whoa! That’s one cool mom!
CeeFu: I think everybody is a potential K-pop fan!
…most noona fans I know like the music [male groups] make, first and foremost. [...] They really like the personalities. – CeeFu
Xiaolong: Do you know a lot of other noona fans? What do you think makes noonas love these boys?
CeeFu: I know a lot of people want to say that it’s just because they are attractive, but most noona fans I know like the music they make, first and foremost. They like their personalities from watching shows like Hello Baby, or television appearances where they talk about themselves, or behind the scenes shows that show a different side of their personalities, or reading interviews. They really like the personalities.
Nini: I really think that’s dependent on the noona. Many of the older fans that I know cite things like culture, talent, choreography, etc. However, the most frequent answer I get is about lyrics. Many of the newer noona fans have fallen in love with K-pop simply because the lyrics. The English lyrics, and the translated versions of the Korean lyrics, are usually quite clean. Where U.S. music is very sexual, riddled with profanity, and violent to some degree, K-pop is more mellow and usually centered around the theme of love–which brings out the sentimental feelings in a noona fan.
CeeFu: I also think the choreography is super important. Noonas remember when our artists used to dance, and they see that all around K-pop. That’s talent, because I can’t do that! :O I agree about the lyrics, too.
Xiaolong: Can there be a psychological reason, too? There are a lot of older male solo artists in K-pop, and female artists, girl groups. Why mainly boy bands, then?
Nini: It’s not really about the psychological, it’s about presence. Male groups outnumber girl groups at least three to one in the K-pop industry. The last statistics I read, some eighty percent (or more) of the worldwide K-pop fan-base are female.
CeeFu: It’s probably more like ninety percent. But guys may be less represented in the data people collect, because girls tend to take more surveys, do more interviews, and are more interested in sharing their views on K-pop.
Nini: This over-saturation of male groups has perpetuated the Hallyu Wave’s reach globally, as there is a wide variety of music styles, concepts, group make-ups and, in truth, an extremely wide variety in male physical and personality types, that can and do appeal to women all over the world.
Xiaolong: But if it’s the music that noonas prefer, we could listen to female artists just as much. But I believe most noona fans are not really into rooting for girl bands or female solos. So, it’s not entirely just the music or the choreography that catches our hearts?
Nini: That, once again, would depend on the noona. I personally listen to more male artists, simply because I’m a female. However, I don’t dislike female groups, and actually follow several female groups religiously: 2ne1, Wonder Girls, and SNSD.
CeeFu: The dynamic with female groups is different, as well as the genres that they tend to participate in. I like some female groups, but there are fewer of them, and fewer concepts among them. I find the male groups more compelling.
Xiaolong: Are they more diverse?
Nini: Male groups are definitely more diverse. Female groups generally fall under three categories: Overly Cute, Overly Sexual, or Overly Fierce–and some flip-flop between two or more of these subsets regularly. It can be an extreme turn off depending on your personal preferences. Most noonas I know prefer girl groups fierce rather than overly sexy and overly cute. Those concepts are more for men. So, they appeal more to Korean men.
CeeFu: Especially right now, there is no room for a female group that just sings well. (Misses Big Mama) The sexy and cute groups also appeal to young girls–they’re not just targeted towards men.
Xiaolong: You guys are expert writers at Hellokpop, can you share your real-life stories of meeting male K-idols? I’m particularly interested in whether reality is anything like we see from the images of idols–from a noona perspective.
Nini: I’ve had the pleasure to interact with many K-pop artists, both face-to-face and via e-mail, and I can honestly say that this experience has changed my perspective on artists as well as being a fan.
Xiaolong: How did your perspective change?
Nini: When I first started out in this business, I never thought that my passion for Kpop would evolve into a career that I truly loved. The first artist I had the pleasure of working with was Aziatix. While I was just a general news writer for hellokpop, Aziatix announced their first official tour in the US, and being a fan of both Nicky Lee and Eddie Shin since their original solo debuts, I decided to attend. After discussing the situation with my superiors, I decided to assume the role of a “Concert reporter” for said tour.
The first east coast show I attended was in Boston, Massachusetts, and the opening act for the performance was the Los Angeles-based Electropop group IAMMEDIC. I had been corresponding with IAMMEDIC for some time, both professionally and personally, and had built a friend relationship with all the members. Knowing that I would be attending the show, and before I arrived in Boston, the members of IAMMEDIC invited me to spend time with them before the event.
This interaction materialized into my first all-access to a performance, as the members of IAMMEDIC put me on the guest list for the show. I was allowed into the venue two hours before the show and was introduced to Aziatix one-on-one. We talked as if we were already family. It was also the night I got to meet Aziatix world renowned producer, and one of my personal heroes, Jae Chong, from one of Korea’s most influential R&B/HipHop groups, Solid. After the event, and after the resulting concert coverage was published, I knew that I was on the right path. I knew that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life–and I never looked back.
Aziatix. “We talked, as if we were already family.” – Nini
Xiaolong: Were the artists you met different than you thought them to be?
Nini: While that first experience feels very sentimental to me, I would have to say that the most influential experience I had was when I met and interviewed Jay Park in Washington, DC (2012). Being a fan of 2PM since their debut in 2008 and completely Jay Park biased, this experience was a lesson in control. Normally, when I work with other K-pop artists, I am very calm and collected. However, meeting a personal bias is quite different from meeting a group/artist you simply enjoy. To say that I was inescapably nervous would be an understatement–not because I was intimidated by him, but because I truly respect him through and through, and was deathly afraid of offending him. On the master copy of the video interview, you can actually hear the obvious nervousness that I was feeling.
When you are truly biased towards and artist, you have your own perceptions about that artist. You soak in all the information about his personality, likes/dislikes, and you even, to a degree, study what he’s really about. When I walked into that interview, I truly thought that he was more like his gangsterish/hiphop persona that is so widely accepted in the fan community. I really got the shock of a lifetime when I realized that he is much more respectful, soft spoken, and kindhearted than I originally thought.
“A K-pop artist is like a book: They’re beautiful, eye catching, and flashy on the outside, but it’s the pages within that are the most interesting. Never judge the book by its cover and never judge a K-pop artist by their idol facade.” That was truly the lesson I learned from that experience, and from that point on I was never again nervous when meeting an artist face-to-face.
Xiaolong: Who are your top biases from male groups and why?
CeeFu: Onew from SHINee (ultimate bias), Minwoo and Eric from Shinhwa, Young Saeng from SS501, Leetuk, Yesung and Donghae from Super Junior. I like them all for different reasons. Onew seems to be a well-rounded guy, really talented, humble, takes care of his members, and dorky (said with love!).
It’s hard to choose between Minwoo and Eric, even though they are really different: Minwoo can be so outgoing, but I love the fact that Eric is a 4D leader. Young Saeng has always been my favorite in SS501: he has a lovely voice and tends not to say too much. I figure since Super Junior has so many members, I can have three biases! Leetuk is a really great host and MC, Yesung has a really great voice and Donghae is, well Donghae!
“Onew seems to be a well-rounded guy” – CeeFu
Nini: For me: My solo artist biases are definitely Brian Joo and Jay Park, as for groups, Aziatix, SS501, Big Bang, and TVXQ/JYJ/DBSK top the list. Brian will always be my ultimate bias, not only because it was he who set me on my path to my K-pop life, but also because he has a genuine and sincere personality that I prefer in people/men. He and I have very similar personality traits.
Jay Park became a bias because of his overall talent, but solidified his place as a bias the day I finally met him in person. Aziatix has a special place in my heart, not only because of their talent and personalities, but because they truly are wonderful people in real life, and I feel sincerely blessed to know them. Big Bang is quite simply a bias, because I love their music. It’s all about the music with Big Bang. SS501 and TVXQ/JYJ/DBSK won my heart at their debuts, and even though I love them for many reasons, it’s their entire being that appeals to me. From personality traits and beliefs to their vocals, music, and pure talent, they will always be tied as my ultimate group biases.
Xiaolong: I have an interesting way of ending up with my biases, actually I usually tend to be caught up in the web by the ‘visual’. So, from Big Bang it was TOP and from JYJ it was Jaejoong at first, but as I start to explore the band through videos, shows, and interviews, I tend to end up with a totally different member. That’s how my ultimate biases came to be G-Dragon and Xia. GD, because during live performances, my attention unknowingly always diverted to him, and because he is extremely talented as a songwriter and I have a soft spot for talents like his.
As for Xia, though, I am torn between his and Jaejoong’s voices sometimes. I believe Junsu’s voice is just the most wonderful thing I ever heard in my lifetime, and he is truly a ‘Happy Virus’. Whenever I see him laugh I forget all my troubles. That’s a very valuable thing! I’m just discovering 2PM, and again, I slowly started to shift from Jun.K to Junho. It seems like I will never end up with the one I originally spot.
Nini: I fell in love with SS501 because of Park Jung Min. I fell in love with DBSK because of Kim Junsu. I totally agree on the ‘Happy Virus’. When Junsu laughs, it’s infectious. From a technical standpoint, I truly feel that Junsu is the best vocalist in K-pop right now. He impresses me at every turn.
Xiaolong: Agreed. Not because he is my bias, but from an objective point of view, too.
CeeFu: I can’t say who’s the best!
XIA Junsu. “…whenever I see him laugh I forget all my troubles” – Xiaolong
Nini: I will say this: during the entire time I’ve been an K-pop fan, my biases have never changed. From solo artist, to groups, to individual members, once they make my bias list they never get replaced. I’m loyal that way.
Xiaolong: For me, I need time to get to know them. That’s how my bias ‘evolves’. It’s not really a bias in the beginning, but rather an interest only. And when I get to know them, my bias ‘comes to me’.
Nini: Of all the K-pop groups out there, who do you think is the most underrated artist?
I know my choice instantly: U-Kiss. They are highly talented, with a small but dedicated fan-base, yet they seem to not garner the attention they truly have earned. It’s a real shame in my opinion.
CeeFu: U-Kiss does catch a lot of flack.
Xiaolong: I guess I am yet too young in K-pop to have the wider perspective, but I guess U-Kiss is one such band, yes.
Because we are noona fans, we also have a responsibility to take care of the younger fans. Sometimes, this means being the voice of reason when fandoms go off the rails with the crazy behavior online. – CeeFu
OK girls, lastly, what would you say to other noonas out there?
CeeFu: Let your noona flag fly! Being a noona fan has its advantages…embrace it!
Nini: I actually have two things to say–first, to the noonas specifically, then a general statement to all the fans.
To all the noonas out there: Be proud that you are a K-pop fan. To love something, despite the stigma that is placed on us, is the measure of true strength and dedication. Never feel ashamed of who you are and what you love.
To all the fans: K-pop fans show a dedication and loyalty to a genre that is firmly making its presence known to the world’s music industry. While mainstreaming of K-pop has yet to be accomplished, I believe that if we continue to stand united in support of the music we hold so dear, one day we will see all of our hard work and dedication come to fruition. Be strong, stay positive, and Always Keep the Faith. AKTF may be a mantra of DBSK fans, but I feel its a perfect mantra for K-pop as a whole.
CeeFu: There is one more thing I would say about noona fans: Because we are noona fans, we also have a responsibility to take care of the younger fans. Sometimes, this means being the voice of reason when fandoms go off the rails with the crazy behavior online. Sometimes this means sticking up for fans when they are misrepresented or unfairly attacked, especially our tween fans. Sometimes, it means helping to reign in the aggression, snarkiness and nastiness that some try to pass off as commentary about K-pop. That’s not who most of us are as fans.
Nini: I absolutely agree. Not only is taking care of your youngers a huge part of the Korean culture, but its also a huge part of K-pop fan culture. We fans are one big family, no matter where our bias lists fall, and it’s up to all of us to keep the fandom on track.
Xiaolong: You see, I’m still a little insecure, being a ‘new’ noona fan. So, I thank you, Unnies, for encouraging all of us to embrace this experience and for sharing your thoughts with us!
Dear readers, what do YOU think about us noona fans? Is it OK? Is it embarrassing? Share your opinions!
Note: *Noona: Technically it means ‘older sister of a man’. In K-pop ‘noona fans’ refer to women in their late 20′s or older, who are fans of younger male artists.
Nini: Specialty writer & Head of Public Relations (USA).
Ceefu: Assistant Chief Editor.
Xiaolong: Editorial writer.
This is an outstanding underlined fact perhaps mostly ignored in the K-pop world, but T-ara is indeed one of the top Korean album sellers on earth.
The main reason for it being that those physical sales are completely overshadowed by their records breaking digital sales, nevertheless, ever since their debut in 2009, the CCM’s main group physical sales have only been second to IU and SNSD for a female artist. Overall, the group has sold about 500,000 albums in Korea alone, and close to a million worldwide (including their Japanese releases).
Up until the huge controversy last year which lead to member Hwayoung‘s dismissal, every T-ara physical release would sold between 70k to 100k. However, their last Korean release, Mirage, saw a fall to 36k. Time passed after, and T-ara’s first original Japanese single, Bunny Style, broke their own weekly record in Japan and is expected to be certified ‘Gold Disk’ before the year is over. T-ara’s subsequent Korean release came on the dying days of April 2013. CCM’s official announced they would only produce 40k albums of the idol group first sub unit T-ara N4. As many expected, they did not sell out their stock. No, T-ara N4 debut single sold exactly 26,080 copies.
The number could sound a derisive disappointment to the charts ingenious, well mind you, it is more than female heavyweights of the industry such as SISTAR, Secret, Brown Eyed Girls, Rainbow and Girl’s Day ever sold; and more than Davichi, Miss A and After School sold since 2011. As for direct competitions this time around, this is simply twice as much than Name is 4Minute who sold 13,508 copies since release, Lee Hyori‘s Monochrome (12,573 albums sold) and three times as much as Secret’s Letter from Secret (8,388). T-ara N4 simply grossed the highest sales to date for a female sub-unit next to Taetiseo (SNSD’s subunit); all this in just a month.
Despite the backlash in public opinion and the guilty pleasure some media outlets rejoice on denouncing the disgrace, T-ara, as a whole, continues to make history. Certainly, it’s not as impressive as SNSD and chances are it never would be. T-ara has only an edge or two above their female counterparts but they have this unconcerned brawn that brings them to heights you never truly expect them to reach. T-ara currently stands as the 11th best physical seller of the ongoing decade in Korea; and the second best female physical seller. The performance of their first sub-unit indicates the idol group is the same ground breaker it always has been. It comes as a big nod to the naysayers: notwithstanding haters’ desires, T-ara will continue to reign charts, sells records by the ten thousands, and walk ga-ring ga-ring ga-ring upon the K-pop scene.
The opinions and views expressed reflects those of the writer and not that of hellokpop as a whole.
Hongdae (홍대), an abbreviation of Hongik Daehakgyo (meaning Hongik University (홍익대학교)), is also commonly known as Hongik University Street, or the Hongdae area. The area is a popular neighbourhood in Mapo-gu, Seoul, and is known for its indie music culture and youthful ambience.
Hongik University Station (Seoul Subway Line 2, Airport Railroad)
For the interactive map, click here: smrt.co.kr
Accessory shops, cosmetic stores, gourmet eateries, clubs, lifestyle stores and unique cafes are what make this hotspot popular with local youths, young professionals, and increasing number of tourists who want to know and be infused with the young culture in the capital city. The area also lines up with street art festivals, cultural performances, open-air gigs and performances that draw the majority of the crowds.
There is this Hello Kitty-themed café, and what makes this café popular is not just its attractive pinky concept but also the fact that it offers free and fast WiFi!
In the area, there are plenty clubs to visit: M2, Via, Jokerred, Tool, NB, Q-VO, DD, Saab, Hooper, Ska, O.R, Myeongwolgwan, Evans, FF, WATERCOCK, Freebird, Soundholic, DGBD, Hole, Liveclub Ssam and Spot. Popular and lesser-known indie-rock bands alike can be found performing in these venues. With the increased number of brands that are springing up in the area around Hapjeong Station, more new talented indie bands are springing out to perform, making the street the most prominent indie scene in the city.
One of the most popular clubs in Hongdae is Freebird. The club offers live indie band performances; even Lunafly frequents this club to perform too!
One of the biggest Korean entertainment labels, YG Entertainment, is located just near the street. It attracts tourists who are also K-pop fans to stroll the street, hoping for a lucky moment that they may chance upon their favourite idols.
In 2007, a old coffee shop in Hongdae was actually remodelled to be used as the film set for the MBC drama The First Shop of Coffee Prince, starring Gong Yoo and Yoon Eun Hye. Thanks to the popularity of the drama, the exterior and interior of the shop have been totally overhauled to become one of the most visited places in Hongdae.
Inside the coffee shop, visitors can find a number of props that were used in the drama, including a painting by Han Yoo-joo (played by Chae Jung An). If you have been a fan of the drama, you will want to take this opportunity to stop by for a cup of coffee and reminisce the lovely drama scenes at the actual film set.
How to get there:
Take subway line 2 to Hongik University, and go out of Exit 4. Turn right at Seven Springs corner and pass the intersection. At the 3-way intersection, turn left. Walk about 100 meters on the road above the playground and walk towards the road on the right side. Walk about 500 meters until you find the coffee shop on the right.
[Directions provided by VisitKorea.or.kr]
Later in 2011, a cafe in Hongdae was also used as one of the filming locations in tvN drama Flower Boy Ramyun Shop starring Jung Il-woo.
In all, Hongdae offers more than just clubbing or shopping experience. It is a vibrant gem of art and indie culture in Seoul.
We will constantly update this article whenever we have further information, pictures and videos, so join us as we set to discover more of Hongdae.
Bookmark this page if you are planning to visit Seoul soon!
Check out our stories on K-indie music below:
For articles on indie music, click here
Our exclusive interviews:
A project under Seoul Korea – Global Seoul-mate 2013
Watermarked photos: Adrian@hellokpop
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The second installment of our Ultimate K-Pop Survival Guide focuses on The K-pop Diva herself. Lee Hyori is someone we don’t really have to introduce to K-pop lovers, unless they are very new to the genre.
Disasters may change your life forever
Lee Hyori’s life story is that of a true Korean dream. Coming from a poor family, where her strict father wouldn’t even let her eat more rice than served, just to save money, she went on to be a sex symbol, fashion icon and celebrated emcee. She initially gained fame as the most beautiful member of iconic girl group Fin.K.L, passing auditions in 1998 without even having to sing. In 2003 she launched her solo career and immediately rose to the top of the charts and conquered the hearts of millions. She co-hosted popular variety shows like Happy Together and Family Outing. Just like most superstars of her standing, she also could not escape smaller scandals, like the notorious radio call-in from Rain or the plagiarism accusations of her 2006 song, Get Ya. However, the worst was yet to come.
In 2010, in her desperate attempt to outdo herself and her previous success, Lee Hyori vowed to become a producer for her fourth album, H-Logic. However, after the release of her successful title song Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, netizens started to notice that other songs on her album had striking resemblance to foreign artists’ works. It turned out that six of her songs were compromised, or to state it bluntly: simply stolen from other singers. The “songwriter” of these six songs was a rookie musician named Bahnus, whose songs were selected by Hyori and her then-agency Mnet Media from 200 submitted demos of the same songwriter. In their hurry to produce the album (as Hyori admitted later on) they failed to properly screen his background and the songs. Bahnus apparently not only plagiarized the songs but also forged documents to support a false educational background in music. He was sentenced to jail time.
The events, however, did not stop here. Though Hyori thought she was a victim of Bahnus’ trickery, some critics attacked her, saying she delayed response to plagiarism claims and “fooled the public”. As she stated in SBS’ Healing Camp show, she felt embarrassed and ashamed and ended up drinking her sorrow away.
The rules of survival for Lee Hyori were as follows:
1. Get yourself together. When you reach the pitfall, it’s easy to give yourself to self-pity and do as Hyori did: drink. She needed the help of a good friend to realize she had to seek advice from a psychologist.
2. Get the best out of the worst. As her perfectly built ivory castle crumbled, she started to see the world in a new light. She realized how much she depended on what others thought about her and how little she cared for her own needs. She began to write for newspapers and became a columnist, getting praised for her sense of humour, her wit and her clear writing style. She discovered the joy of giving and became an advocate of animal rights and the well-being of the elderly. She gradually came to appreciate smaller pleasures of life over money and fame.
3. Turn your world upside down. During her self-reflection, Hyori’s world literally turned upside down. She sold her glamorous car and luxury villa and moved to a less spectacular house. She started to date an “ordinary” man who was unlike any of her previous boyfriends. She became a vegetarian and adopted a stray dog.
4. Dare to restart. After the collapse, Hyori dared to show herself again. First only on television programs and in advertisements, then news surfaced that she would be coming back with a brand new album.
After a three-year hiatus and multiple release pushbacks, Lee Hyori finally reappeared with a new song, titled Miss Korea (co-written by her boyfriend), and immediately swept the charts. Her 5th album Monochrome is due on the 21st of May.
What can we learn from Lee Hyori’s story? Well, as you could see, sometimes the worst that could happen to you might bring you a chance to transform your life for the better and realize the essence of happiness lies in small joys.
K-pop is an extremely competitive genre, a small country with a population of merely 50 million people produces new artists literally almost every day. The industry is like a ruthless stepmother: once you make a serious mistake, it might cost you your career and more. Career ups and downs are normal in an artist’s life but in K-pop, once you reached the lowest part, it is very difficult to climb up the mountain again. Ultimate K-pop Survival Guide will be a short series on artists who have managed to turn their failing career from point zero back again or who had gone through a lot of hardships and still managed to remain successful. Not only rookie artists but we, the audience, can also learn a lot from them.
Avoid them as if they were lepers
The first installment of the series is dedicated to perhaps the biggest survivors of the dark side of K-pop: JYJ. Everyone knows what they have been through, but it doesn’t hurt to summarize and focus on how they actually managed to cope with the situation.
For the uninitiated: once there had been an idol band we can possibly call one of the greatest successes of K-pop ever: Dong Bang Shin Ki, or by their English abbreviation, TVXQ. The five-member boyband, consisting of Jaejoong, Yunho, Yoochun, Junsu and Changmin, was among the first successful wave of K-pop to set foot in Japan, and with blood and tears, they worked their way up the ladder, from performing to a mere handful of fans to filling the 50,000 seat Tokyo Dome in rows. Their fandom, Cassiopeia, was certified by the Guinness Book of Records for being the largest official fan club in the world. They reached unimaginable heights in Asia, thus their break-up was probably one of the biggest shocking events ever to shake the world of K-pop. Not because boybands are supposed to last forever, but because they were at the height of their careers and were known to be close to each other. When the news broke out that Jaejoong, Yoochun and Junsu started a lawsuit against their agency, S.M. Entertainment, to nullify their 13-year contract. At first, everyone hoped there could be a settlement, but in October 2009 the Seoul court ruled in favor of JYJ, and as a result, the Fair Trade Commission started advocating the use of ‘model contracts’ to prevent agencies from having artists sign excessive deals.
Though the social impact of their lawsuit was huge, industry players were forced to rethink the ways they were treating their artists, and JYJ emerged as a moral winner, the real hardships were to begin just then. S.M. Entertainment appealed against the court decision and a three year desperate battle took off. Not long after JYJ announced the establishment of their new band, their initial supporter in Japan, Avex, suddenly had a change of heart, claiming sole rights to manage the band in Japan, dismissing claims that JYJ’s new management company, C-JeS Entertainment, had any rights to organize events for the band on Japanese grounds. They too, ended up in a long lawsuit, during which JYJ was denied any kind of rights to perform in Japan. At the same time, all doors in Korea closed as well. The industry suddenly started treating the three young men as if they had leprosy. In silent agreement, major broadcasting stations denied them appearances as musicians. Some were claiming that they did not wish to get entangled in court related issues.
At the time, we had no one to speak for us, and we could do nothing but silently stand our ground - Kim Jaejoong
C-JeS Entertainment thus had to build a different strategy to promote JYJ. With no possibilities to appear on televised music shows and variety programs, the usual promotion cycle was out of question. The possibility of failure also lingered in the air, with the artists preparing themselves for the worst; that they might not be able to stand on stage again.
The rules of survival for JYJ were as follows:
1. Keep silent. Despite the constant rumors, the extensive media coverage, part of the torn fandom accusing them of betrayal, former label mates openly criticising them for their decision, JYJ kept silent. As they expressed in their 1000 day anniversary magazine, they decided to work silently and not be shaken by accusations and rumors.
2. If you cannot enter through the door, climb through the window. As they were denied the chance to promote through television, JYJ had to look for other ways of reaching their audience. They started separate activities, Yoochun and Jaejoong became involved in television dramas and movies, gaining wide followings as actors. Junsu began to appear in musicals and in a mere three years’ time, he went from being looked at as a ‘box office bringing tool’ to a highly praised and critically acclaimed musical actor on his own right. When the nation’s main broadcasters were not willing to talk to them as musicians, ironically, they became the sweethearts of the government, appointed as goodwill ambassadors and promoters of national and international scale events like the 2014 Asian Games, and were among the few selected artists invited to perform at President Park Geun-hye’s inauguration. The latter marked their first televised performance in three years in their home country. When local record labels were unwilling to assist, they went to the US and started working with American producers, despite their lack of English skills.
3. No regrets, no complaints. In their 1000 day anniversary magazine, the band members expressed that despite all the hardships, they did not regret their decision, not once. Having faith in your decisions is important for obtaining and maintaining the strength necessary to survive. They have also never complained of unfair treatment or the lack of opportunities because of the silent ban in Korea and Japan. They just did what they had to do: work hard and smile. I believe that having a positive attitude and being able to smile at their fans was an important factor in their success. Instead of giving in to striking waves of depression and self-pity, they rose above hard times by sticking together and supporting each other.
4. Don’t lose your trust. When unfortunate events happen, one can easily feel they are no longer able to trust other people. JYJ, too, had gone through this period. When Baek Chang-ju offered his help in 2009, they did not trust him, it took them months to open up and accept his helping hand. C-JeS Entertainment was established exclusively to steer JYJ’s boat through troubled waters and it went from a one person venture to a serious agency that employs over 40 people with sales amounting to 33 billion won (roughly 30 million USD) in only two years’ time.
JYJ’s legal fights have just recently ended, but their battle is far from being over yet. Broadcasting stations are still treading carefully. Despite all the unfortunate events that had befallen them (appearances denied, concerts cancelled last minute, accusations, rumors, some of their own fans turning their backs on the band), JYJ never once gave up.
Their album, In Heaven, sold over 350,000 copies, Junsu’s Tarantallegra was one of the most successful solo albums of 2012 despite lacking in promotion, both JYJ’s and Junsu’s solo world tours were completely sold out. Their Tokyo Dome comeback concert in April 2013 had successfully wrapped up and attracted 210,000 people altogether.
Besides part of the Cassiopeia fandom still supporting them as much as they also support the duo TVXQ, JYJ gained a firm and enthusiastic new fan base as well, through their numerous group and individual activities. Jaejoong’s limited edition mini album became a huge success, Yoochun is virtually the most successful idol actor on the market and Junsu cemented his name as one of the best singers ever born in Korea. They are wealthier than most artists under their former agency, including their former band members Yunho and Changmin.
Were they lucky? I would not think so. Many of us would have given up such a grueling and frankly, seemingly hopeless battle against giant obstacles. What we can learn from JYJ is that you need to keep your faith, grind your teeth, work hard and believe in your own abilities. Only then will you be able to turn all unfortunate events into glistening success.
Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely of the writer and not of hellokpop as a whole.
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Photo source: AfterJae