I don’t know when you can consider yourself a fan of something, especially for things with prominent fan culture, like K-pop. For some, I imagine, being a fan is like taking on an identity. I certainly remember what it was like being a groupie, following the cast of a TV show around Hollywood for events and shows and things. It was pretty weird. I made some good friends, though. One of them so good, that when I was leaving Los Angeles last summer, he suggested we hang out and do a double feature of The Raid 2 and The Night Comes for Us, rather than go out to a bar — which I hate doing. Not a socialite, but I did sense that I was developing as a social creature with this new group, because barring my fellow Indonesian kung fu enthusiast, it was made up entirely of women. I’d had a single woman friend before – a token, but for a time she was also my only friend – but this was a new experience. Essentially, I had to learn how to talk to them, to make sure I was doing my part to maintain a good space. The show we were fans of was all about a diverse, inclusive world, so it would have been weird to not replicate it ourselves. For the most part, there was no drama, nothing weird happened, and unlike all my prior friend groups, there was no competition of any sort. No rivalries, no gatekeeping.
When I read articles like this: “Fans turn on Na-Eun after news she won’t be joining A Pink’s album promotions” on Allkpop, and subsequently read the comments below, I feel like such an outsider. I’ve been listening to Apink for at least as long as this blog’s existed, as my first-ever video was about Eunji’s drama Cheer Up. But am I a fan? For one thing, I don’t get any sense of or desire for “community” here, and trust me, I can’t stand that word. People talk about fan communities, and I’m still stuck on the real ones, like “the gay community,” or “the Asian-American community.” What are those? Where are they? Regardless, I understand that this article is only one slice of a greater whole, but I’ve seen other slices. Maybe it’s just too online, or maybe that it’s online at all. I was surprised by the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend fandom, especially coming out of various anime and video game circles. K-pop stans are notoriously bad, and that’s just when they’re yelling at other people, not talking about or to the idols themselves.
That’s the second thing: What if being a fan means being invested in just this way? Feeling such a sense of betrayal that you actually expend the mental energy to wish someone misfortune? I mean, look at this shit. Someone says, “its not like she has a Valid health reason like she is injured that she cannot appear, but its because of her solo work.. if she has solo work, then she should either not take part in the comeback at all or cancel her solo work.” Hello? Jessica?? Or was I under the misapprehension that Jessica’s ouster from Girls’ Generation over scheduling was, like, one of the worst, most impactful and avoidable scandals in K-pop? I saw comments criticizing Naeun’s acting, her perceived attitude, even her cosmetic surgery. That’s the ultimate irony, isn’t it? Who goes under the knife unless there’s some collective beauty ideal determined by a boardroom and affirmed by the masses (myself included)?
And believe me, I know. These are just kids, and this is what kids do. This time I’m sharing a fandom made up primarily of teenagers, and I’m conscious of that every time I post a comment of my own on Instagram or YouTube for the sake of algorithmic engagement (these comments are of little substance). What really gets me here is the entitlement with a phrase like “We have shielded Na-Eun until now.” No. You have, in fact, done nothing and she owes you nothing. When Naeun didn’t sign last year, we had had our little cry and wished her well. We knew this was gonna happen, and frankly, I’m surprised she’s even doing anything with Apink. She gave ten years of her professional life to it, which is more than anyone except the other members of Apink.
Weirdly, if you google Naeun for related articles, you’ll find far calmer heads. This Soompi article (also user-submitted, I think): “Apink’s Son Naeun To Sit Out Promotions For Special Album Due To Scheduling Conflicts” has a pretty positive outlook, with hundreds more “heart-eye emoji” reactions than anything else (though there is no option for a negative emoji). In the comments, I see sentiments like, “obviously whenever someone is not in the same company its gonna be difficult to coordinate schedules” and “Ok.. if she will be in the MV that’s good enough..” I don’t know why these people add so many periods. Even the more Allkpop variety, like “Just know that we will make you regret for making this decision. WE’VE BEEN WAITING FOR THEM FOR SO LONG AND YOU WASTE ALL OF OUR TIME JUST LIKE THIS BY LEAVING NAEUN OUT OF PROMOTIONS?!!WE WANT OT6! we dont deserve this ! We’re their fans and been waiting for so long!” is unspecific about who’s to blame and got pushback from two different users. Do people with negative comments locked and loaded gravitate toward negativity of the same wavelength? It can’t be as simple as framing, but the difference in these two headlines makes a strong case. One alludes to the existing hate, the other provides a rationale for the idol’s choice.
I needed to write this post for two reasons: one, to vent a little frustration as a Naeun appreciator, and two, to enter into record examples of fan toxicity for later reference. Because it’s something that can be lethal, all of it is worth studying, no matter the level of significance. One of the things I’ve been interested in ever since the spate of celebrity suicides a few years ago is why it happens and what might stop it. The meager research I’ve done so far hasn’t helped, as it seems the idol industry is some great big Mystery of the Orient, even to its adherents. If I look any further, will it turn out that I’m just being sensitive here? For my part, fan entitlement is never a good thing. Look at Zack Snyder’s Justice League. That movie sucked. But with K-pop, there are two elements at play: one, the line between fan hate and cyberbullying is probably nonexistent when you’re on the receiving end, when people are encouraging you to die and as an idol, there’s basically no option for response, and this is a daily thing. Two, what the fuck are these idols even doing that warrants hate in the first place?
Like, we can argue about how Republicans who’ve been RT’d onto our timelines will develop persecution complexes when someone disagrees with them, and how it’s important for even consumers to have a voice. By complete coincidence, I was also reading today about the effect that Hwang Dong-hyuk’s film Silenced had on Korean domestic policy, months after my decrying that art is meant only to move our hearts, not our legislature. Of course we need these open spaces where people can gather and speak and even sharpen toward outrage, as consumers of a movie had and eventually pressured the National Assembly to take action. So the question is, if we let these idols “get away with anything,” as I’m proposing, what are the potential dangers? How much can an idol actually harm us?
This is actually a conversation happening right now, as E! executives are missing the great Spears family drama. But in K-pop, we can easily look back through an extensive history of idols being insensitive toward Black and brown people, who make up an undeniable segment of the fan population. Wendy, Amber, possibly Sooyoung with her blunt dating preferences – these are just the names that come to mind, without even a quick google search. Granted, when other countries import American pop culture, they also intake a lot of the baggage – stereotypes included – and it’s not entirely fair to hold representatives from other countries to our standards, but at the same time, some things do seem pretty damn obvious. These instances are where the fan-to-idol distance is usefully close.
There are no simple answers, no one solution to a multifaceted problem. I need to do more research on all of it. There have been laws passed to curb cyberbullying in Korea – what are the organizations that pushed for those laws? Have people proposed how chaebol-ass technology might be leveraged to properly filter the voices that reach idols? Can we be sure that these idols are living healthy enough lives – physically and mentally – that they’re even able to receive these hate comments, the way Solar does (in the bathroom, with Moonbyul by her side)? Yes, I’ve only been “a fan” of Apink for a couple of years, but that’s long enough to be concerned about K-pop as a whole. Every year, I think, “I’m gonna finally look into this,” and I’m hoping I can get my stuff together that it’ll be 2022. I think things like this, with Naeun, it’s a real problem. I can’t fully articulate why, but I’m gonna follow my instincts on this one.
Dear Naeun, please do literally whatever the hell you want at all times