Everyone has their own unique memories of how they entered the K-pop community, or their particular fandoms. We fell in love with our favourite groups for different reasons and at different stages in our lives, but despite this, have plenty of similarities in our experiences. We’ve all been through the stages of fandom, going from a casual and rather confused observer, to a diehard fan.
1. The Introductory Stage
Most of us will probably remember our very first encounter with K-pop, and the utter confusion that went with it, especially for those living in communities where K-pop is unheard of. If you are completely unfamiliar with K-pop when you first stumble upon it, it’s bound to be a highly confusing experience. The neon box sets, unreal dancing precision and gender-bending looks of idols can be an otherworldly experience for many. Some are not just confused, but completely put off by their first impression of the genre. It’s a sensory overload that not everyone warms up to immediately. K-pop can come across as gimmicky and cheesy (which it quite often is), and therefore does not always leave the best impression on newbies. If you’re already a K-pop fan when you stumble upon a new idol group, you may feel like no one will ever live up to the standards of your original bias group. BTS is just copying B.A.P, you tell yourself when you first hear the former, bitter at the blatant rip off. Safe to say, you will never venture into the dazzling and dizzying world of K-pop again, since it’s just too much to handle… right?
It’s been a few weeks since you first heard that K-pop song, and the strange mishmash that is “I Got a Boy” still nags at the back of your mind. You begin to wonder, against your better judgement, whether there’s something more to the group you initially disliked so much. Curiosity gets the best of you, and you embark on a tentative YouTube search, telling yourself that you’re only having a quick look for fairness’ sake. You are shocked to realise that some of the other songs aren’t too bad, and before you know it, you’ve wasted an hour browsing through all the recommended videos YouTube had to throw at you.
3. The Obsessive Stage
The next stage of fandom is the most feared of all, one that many of the Seoulbeats team also experienced and had to recover from. This is the sudden drop into the abyss of total fandom. It all begins with just wanting to get to know who the members are of your new favourite group. This, you soon learn, was a horrible decision, since you soon find yourself trying to create a bias list, complete with an ultimate bias and numerous troublesome bias wreckers. Your fingers are always glued to your phone, scanning through Twitter updates and you put your own life on hold in order to follow the developments in idols’ lives. Unfortunately for your friends, this stage also involves you subjecting them to endless MV-watching marathons. All they can do is listen patiently as you explain with teary eyes and a trembling voice how unjust it is that your bias is not acknowledged as the lead visual of their group.
4. The Denial Stage
Every addict goes through a period of denial. K-pop fans are often told by their loved ones that they are letting their addiction take control of their lives. In this deep stage of denial and attachment, fans will of course refuse to acknowledge the truth of this statement, ironically whilst they have their headphones in, listening to “Ring Ding Dong” for the 423rd time.
Every addiction eventually hits a depressing slump, and K-pop addiction is no exception. Soon, you will have to confront the reality of the bags under your eyes, the stack of overdue assignments and your frustrated friendship group. It is clear by this stage that you need to focus on your own life, rather than the lives of idols. Problems within your fandom can also help you realise the extent of your emotional attachment to certain groups. As confronting as this can be, it’s a good way of assessing your dependence on idols for your own personal happiness. It’s now time for you to write ‘semi-hiatus’ on your Tumblr page, and retreat back into normal life.
6. The Rehabilitation Stage
Rehabilitation is what you have needed for a long time. You need to learn how to stick to a normal sleeping schedule again, since late-night livestreams are now off limits. You try not to check on Twitter as much, and force yourself back into the sort of music you used to listen to. Suddenly, you find yourself capable of normal conversations with others, without constant references to G-Dragon’s newest hair colour.
7. The Relapse Stage
You tried. You really did. But despite your best efforts, you relapsed. You realise it’s been weeks since you’ve seen your bias group slay some choreography, or post a cute selca. You feel awful finding out days later that they won a daesang and you weren’t there on Instagram and Twitter to congratulate them. The guilt and temptation is just too much, and you plunge back into the life of a diehard devotee. You might even become more attached than ever, trying to make up for the time you lost when you were in your rehabilitation stage.
From here, a fan may go on either one of two ways to complete the cycle of what life as a fan is like.
The Balanced Stage
You have realised that neither devoting your life to K-pop nor quitting cold turkey has worked for you, and instead, you need to balance yin and yang to achieve harmony. Despite some slip ups every now and then, such as a few guilty late-nights spent watching fancams, you have now realised how to indulge within safe limits.
There are also those who take a different path after going through all the other stages of fandom. These people find that they have naturally fallen out of love with K-pop after a certain point in their lives. Perhaps it only suited them when their teen hormones were at their wildest, or perhaps it filled a void in their lives which has now been filled with something else. Sometimes, it’s for more unfortunate reasons, such as troubles within their fandom that put them off the fandom as a whole, or their bias leaving the group, meaning that there is no motivation for them to actively follow the group.
Fans go through many complex stages, from being an uninitiated and confused newbie to becoming consumed by K-pop. Hopefully, they will then emerge victorious from the addiction, being able to balance it with their lives. It gives comfort to know that most K-pop fans have been through similar experiences, and as long as we achieve a happy balance or even happily grow out of K-pop, it’s a positive experience for us all.
(Images via SM Entertainment, YG Entertainment, JYP Entertainment, Jellyfish Entertainment, TOP Media, TS Entertainment)