People who spend time and money on their hobbies and interests are often met with judgement. In this series, we give an unprejudiced look at pursuing things simply because they bring joy to the soul.
Is fandom culture harmful or toxic? The short answer is: there’s more to being a K-pop and J-pop fan than what people say. While there’s pride in calling yourself a “fangirl”, the label also comes with unfair prejudice. Some see parasocial relationships or steadfast dedication to a celebrity who will probably never know who you are as silly. And thanks to notorious reports of some fans stalking and chasing their idols, fandoms as a whole have gained an infamous reputation for being obsessive and toxic. But this isn’t the whole picture of what it’s like to be a fan.
The price of being a fangirl
Attending concerts is also another expensive but exhilarating experience. “My most prized possession is a first-row concert ticket that I got through the fan club. It was so memorable because I got to shake my idol’s hand at the show,” said a 40-year-old Japanese popstar Sheena Ringo fan who prefers to be called by her forum name “milkcoffee”.
Some fans even go the distance for their idols — literally. Singaporean fan Clara shared that before the pandemic hit, she would go all the way to Japan to watch the concerts of her favourite bands. Sometimes, she would fly to another country where the band will play next so she can watch all the concerts two to three days in a row. “Each concert will have a unique special merch so it's always a shopping spree during these sessions,” she said. “I guess this might count as insane to others.”
Older fans admit that the fan girl lifestyle is challenging to sustain when you enter the next stage of your life. “Back in the day, there was a time when I stood in the cold, queuing up outside the venue hall just to have a minute talk and handshake my JE idol,” 33-year-old Yui, who has been a J-Pop fan since the ‘90s, said. “I also bought expensive concert tickets, the most intense one was worth SGD1000. But it's sad to say that being in the fandom is hard to maintain, especially financially. Just imagine a trip for a concert will cost two months worth of expenses of a normal household with a child. So, I do still listen to the music, occasionally watch dramas or variety programs, but I've not been active in the fandom anymore.”
What fans gain from their idols
Because of their dedication to supporting their idols, K-pop and J-pop fans are often met with confusion at best and judgement at worst. Dina* said that while K-pop is quite mainstream now, back in the early 2010s it had a huge stigma. “So many people used to tell me: ‘Why do you like K-pop? You don't even understand Korean!’, ‘They all look alike!’, ‘They look like girls!’ And others would simply give off judgemental looks or expressions,” she said.
But even with these criticisms, fandom culture continues to have a vibrant presence. For all their efforts, what do fans really gain from supporting their idols? It turns out quite a lot.
For Claudia, being part of a fandom helped improve her mental health. “I think these people don't understand the happiness we get from chasing. Concert experiences last a lifetime. It's exciting having something to look forward to, and this helps keep me motivated as well.
Even during this pandemic, although concert-going is out of the question, sometimes groups live stream their concerts. And when they do, they really help take my mind off matters I'm stuck with and force me to take a step back, refresh my mind, and come back to the things I need to deal with again. Other people have their ways of destressing and keeping happy and sane, well, this is mine,” she said.
While people outside fandoms may look at being a fangirl as a one-way relationship. Fans don’t really see it that way and they believe that they actually get much more from their idols instead of the other way around. “One of my favourite idols is known for saying ‘Don't die’ especially at the end of concerts. He says that he might not meet his fans one by one, but if his blunt words end up encouraging someone to live on for another day, he will continue sharing them,” Amanda said. “These kinds of things, whether they be sincere or 'part of the job', are examples of why I support these people. If they can continue spreading these messages, then I feel like they are worthy of my support because I, a regular person, can't do it myself.”
Many fans have also formed lasting bonds from being in fandoms and their relationships continue on even as they’ve already outgrown their lives as fangirls. “So many of them are still in contact with me, we sort of grew up together from young girls to mothers now,” Yui said.
Even as fandoms have become tight-knit these days, they are not impenetrable. If you want to join one to take your support for your idol to the next level, you’ll definitely be more than welcome to join. “For overseas fans who may not understand Japanese, you can find news on English websites like ARAMA! JAPAN and Tokyohive. Search for online forums, Facebook groups and pages in your country's language to get to know more like-minded people,” milkcoffee shared.
A word of caution, though: Dina* warned that joining a fandom could be overwhelming but in a good way. “There is a certain adrenaline rush as you try to understand the existing inside jokes, catch up on all of their iconic performances and guestings, and of course, keep yourself updated on the idols' current activities. But once you catch your groove, it's such a roller coaster ride,” she said. So go ahead and find your tribe!
*Name has been changed to protect identity
(Cover photo from: Samuel Regan-Asante via Unsplash)
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