The K-Pop group Girl's Generation has some dedicated fans.EXPAND
The K-Pop group Girl's Generation has some dedicated fans.

The 10 Most Bizarre Things K-Pop Fans Do

This year was finally the year Americans caught up to what the rest of the world has known for years — K-Pop is the best pop. As a K-Pop fan myself, I watched with interest as KCon was a success for the fifth year in LA (and second year in New York); the boy group BTS’ (Bangtan Boys) new album, Wings, hit a record-for-Korean-pop number 26 on the Billboard 200 chart; former 2NE1 rapper CL played on The Late Late Show with James Corden after signing with Scooter Braun; and Tinashe starred with boy group EXO’s Chanyeol on Far East Movement’s popular track “Freal Luv.” But for those new to game, the fandom is almost as important as the idols themselves. Here’s a few things that, to a nonbeliever, might seem a bit outlandish, but to a K-Pop fan, is as normal as throwing your underwear at Justin Bieber.

SeventeenEXPAND
Seventeen
Korea.net / Korean Culture and Information Service/CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

1. Terms of Endearment

Before you start on your journey to becoming a K-Pop superfan, let’s start with a vocabulary lesson:

Bias: Your favorite member of your favorite group. Example: I love all the boys in Seventeen, but Joshua Hong is my bias. I would take a bullet for him.

Leaving them locked in the basement/dungeon: When a label doesn't release anything by a group in a noticeable amount of time. Example: I love the girl group Miss A, but they’ve been locked in the dungeon for more than a year by their label, JYP Entertainment. I hope they escape soon, and make a comeback.

Hwaiting: As in, "Fighting!" It's an borrowed English word that means that the idol or group is going through adversity and succeeding. Example: Chanhyuk from Akdong Musician is doing military service as all young men in South Korea are required to do, but once completes his duty, you can bet AKMU will be hwaiting!

Aegyo: This word is basically the Korean version of the Japanese word “kawaii.” It’s the cute side of K-Pop, full of cutesy baby voices and coquettish facial expressions and gestures. Example: Sungmin is by far the most aegyo member of Super Junior. He’s so adorable when he pretends to pout!

Big BangEXPAND
Big Bang
YG Entertainment

2. The Art of Fanwars

K-Pop fans are nothing if not loyal. Fans of American groups sometimes hate other artists — Katy Kats hate Swifties, Barbies (Nicki Minaj fans) hate Smilers (Miley Cyrus fans), and Selenators hate Beliebers — but it's usually there’s drama behind it. In K-Pop, the Twice fandom (called “Once”) hates the I.O.I. fandom for no reason. Girls’ Generation’s Sones hate 2NE1’s Blackjacks. Big Bang’s V.I.P. hate Super Junior’s E.L.F.s (EverLasting Friends). This has been going on throughout K-Pop history: In the popular K-drama Reply 1997, the main character, Shi-won, loved her favorite boy group, H.O.T., so much that she got into a fight against a Sechs Kies fan, perfectly illustrating perhaps the most famous rivalry from the 1990s. Usually, the bands themselves are actually friends. And then there's the internal group hate over biases, called "fanwars." Don’t mess with a K-Pop fan.

3. Your Bias Is Showing

Picking a favorite member of the group isn't necessarily unique to K-Pop. Justin Timberlake was pretty much the favorite member of ‘NSYNC. And everyone had a different fave New Kid (mine was Jordan). And of course, it happens with One Direction. But K-Pop fans take it to a whole new level, creating mini-cottage industries around their favorite member. Take Girls’ Generation: each of their nine members has their own fandom (Jessica fans are called GorJESS Spazzers; Taeyeon fans are called Taegangers; et cetera), snatching up their favorite member’s solo albums, watching each of their favorite member’s TV appearances. But then each of the 14 sub-group pairings have fandoms — when Jessica and Tiffany team up for a song, they’re called JeTi, and their fans are called JeTidal Wave Surfers. They have every piece of merch, bootleg or otherwise, with their favorite idol’s face on it — everything from pillows to Tarot card decks.

4. Dancing for the Stars

Sure, dances come out of American pop songs—the Superman, the Dougie, the dab—but it's usually just one or two steps, repeated. K-Pop groups now make entire "choreography videos" for fans to learn the whole dance—with incredibly difficult moves the entire song. There are heated dance competitions, with thousands of contestants. Some cover dance stars even end up as idols, like Lisa from BLACKPINK, who was discovered at a cover dance contest in Thailand.

5. View-counter Strike

K-Pop videos get incredibly high viewership, and one reason for that is netizens often camp out in the YouTube message boards and try to rally fellow fans to raise the viewcounts. An example: user “21 MK” urges fans of BLACKPINK to keep clicking refresh on their hit video, "Whistle," which had 58 million views: "come on we have 2 [million] left for 60 [million] views STREAM?." The cheerleading worked—at press, the video has over 60 million views.

A so-called "ocean" at a K-Pop concert.
A so-called "ocean" at a K-Pop concert.
By Katmae05/CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

6. See the Lightsticks

K-Pop concerts make American pop concerts feel quaint. First off, they are very, very loud. Each group—and almost every hit song—has its own “fanchant” that the fans come up with. During big concerts, a few K-Pop groups will perform, with their fans occupying separate sections of the stadium. They buy plastic light-up group logos in corresponding colors. When respective groups come on, that part of the arena gets extra loud and bright. It can also lead to fans turning on bands, as was the case in the infamous "Black Ocean" incident involving the group T-ara. T-ara was in the midst of a controversy in which fans speculated that the other members of the group were bullying the newest member Hwayoung. When T-ara came on, no one lit up their sticks leading to a very embarrassing lightless sea.

The 10 Most Bizarre Things K-Pop Fans Do (5)EXPAND
Korea.net / Korean Culture and Information Service/CC BY-SA 2.0), via Wikimedia Commons

7. Touch and Go

In the U.S., there are meet and greets. Everyone remembers Avril Lavigne's awkward photo op. But it’s done a bit differently in K-Pop. Fans buy tickets on a tiered scale, and the highest tier gets to stand in a line and file by a table with the idols on the other side, high-tenning each of them—and giving them homemade gifts—as they walk down the line.

The 10 Most Bizarre Things K-Pop Fans Do (7)EXPAND
Korea.net/CC-BY-SA-2.0, via Flickr

8. "Imagines" That

You can find Beyonce fanfic. You can find Fall Out Boy fanfic. But K-Pop fanfic (or "imagines" and “scenarios”) are legendary. For “imagines,” it’s usually just a picture of your bias, and some imagined innuendo he’s directing at the reader. In a “scenario,” there will be a prompt ("When you and a Big Bang member get snowed in with no power") and a fictional reaction for how each member of the group would romantically handle the situation with the reader.

The group SONAMOOEXPAND
The group SONAMOO
Jeon Han, Korea.net/CC BY-SA-2.0, via Flickr

9. Rice Is Nice

Fans donate rice to their favorite idol. This is then donated to feed homeless and disadvantaged people. Fans of 2PM donated over 29 tons of rice at their tour finale in 2013.

The 10 Most Bizarre Things K-Pop Fans Do (6)EXPAND
Korea.net / Korean Culture and Information Service/CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

10. Sasaeng

This is the total obsession. Literally translated to “private life,” sasaeng fans have been known to fail school because they're paying too much attention to their idols’ private lives — they're there when their bias arrives at the airport, and they're looking on their computers for paparazzi shots of their bias eating, their planting LoJacks on their bias’s car (no really), writing letters in blood. They camp out in front of their bias's house. There are rumored taxi services that cater to sasaeng fans that will follow the car their idol is in up to 200 km/hr—no wonder there’s an epidemic of car accidents involving idols. Now you have the tools to become a K-Pop fan — just make sure you don’t let yourself become a sasaeng.

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