It is no secret that there had been many occurrences in the K-Pop, J-Pop, and C-Pop scene that challenged the bond between fans and idols. Some have been healthy, harmonious, melodic, and beautiful… but some have been just tragic and terrible. What are the real boundaries of being a fan? What are the boundaries of being an idol? How should an idol and fan coexist to commence a healthy relationship? See how our writers tackle the topic of Fan Entitlement in this installment of the OH! Press Talk!
Love is blind. It’s an old saying that is getting all yada yada after a while, yet there’s no denying such a cold truth. Love between fans and their favourite celebrities can be (is) genuine (as well). Okay maybe not entirely true for the celebrities. Let’s be real here okay. But who cares right? As long as we have that love, even if it is an unrequited one, you can still be happy. Yay? This wishful platonic relationship can go awry once fans are starting to lose grasp of reality and ended up being delusional. In rare cases, even celebrities can go rogue. A sense of belonging and entitlement towards something or someone you adore and cherish can be both bad and good. Let’s start with the bad one, simply because I want a happy (happier) ending.
Bad fan entitlement; what is it all about? Pretty obvious. It’s bad when a fan becomes obsessive with their idols to a point of crossing the boundaries of moral values and one’s privacy. That includes their safety and well-being. There are so many examples that we can look at like sasaeng, blackmailing, death threats, and et cetera but since my fellow authors already wrote long paragraphs of their own, this article is going to be unnecessary too long (there’s just too many to list and it can get redundant) so I’m just going to talk about the fundamentals of this pressing matter. The ugly side of this issue will be covered by other authors.
Let’s move onto the good one. If fans feel entitled with their idols, it’ll help both counterparts in many sort of ways. Dedicated fans can boost their idols’ career, and even bring them to a whole new level. For an example, let’s look at the relationship between Army and Bangtan Boys or better known as BTS. Usually, idols from small and lesser known company won’t make it until their third year but BTS broke the trend. With their charm and talents, and a very dedicated fan base, BTS is now one of the biggest names in K-Pop. They’ve far exceeded anyone’s expectation. Their album sales are huge for today’s market and they charted considerably well by just sheer fandom strength. Other artists like IU, who is loved by the public (back then are mostly of ahjussi fans), also feel entitled to help her cause by fully supporting her comebacks and new releases. IU now, is an immovable household name in the industry.
K-Pop is not painted in black and white nor covered with rainbows and sprinkles. Even so, we should remind ourselves that there are places we can’t go and in this case, the harsh reality as a fan and the underlying fantasy as a celebrity. Uncontrollable obsession can only bring harm to both parties. But a healthy one, is beneficial to both.
Fans should really know their boundaries regarding the personal lives of their idols. I get it that fans are the reason why idols could have been successful in their own careers and that there is indeed a bond between the two parties, however they should not cross their lines and just stay as fans. Some fans are losing their titles already, from a “fan” they are slowly becoming “masters” wanting the idols to be their “slaves”. But of course there is always a side to each party and it’s visible to recognize whoever is at fault, if none of them are at fault, and if both of them are at fault.
A recent situation relating to the topic is AKB48 member Sutou Ririka. I may not be that into J-Pop nor AKB48 but obviously it is absurd and that no one should blame the fans for being angry so. For the AKB elections, Sutou Ririka even went to the Top 20 through the efforts of the fans who paid for their precious votes. If I was one of those fans, I would genuinely feel bad that I was supporting someone so much and she decided to announce her marriage and quit being an idol. If I was them I might question myself “to whom was this effort even directed to?”.
If it is happening in the J-Pop community, it is probably happening in the K-pop community as well. With Moon Heejun and Sungmin’s cases, it’s evident that fans had enough. Just how bad did they treat the fans that they ultimately decide to boycott and turn their backs on them two. I really pity those fans who were only supporting but suddenly gets a slap on their faces saying “oppa doesn’t care about you”.
However, most of the time, it’s the fans who are being unruly and unjust towards their idols. As I’ve said in the intro, they are acting like “masters” to their “slaves”. Once, a fan became angry and threw a sign sheet towards Seventeen’s Joshua just because he has a stye under his eye. An EXO-L was seriously disgusting holding up a “rape me” card that caused Suho’s discomfort. When Sonamoo’s Minjae strained her high note and a fan said “That wasn’t tiring! You should quit smoking!”.
Bottom line, both fans and idols need to take a step back and try not to cross their boundaries. It’s ideal to maintain a fan-idol relationship as its way. Fans should stop caring about the personal lives of their idols and come up with the mindset that they are just humans like everyone. Idols should stop being over clingy to their fans too, and always treat their fans with respect and being honest.
Fan entitlement is just one aspect of fandom culture that tends validate the crazed fangirl and fanboy stereotype that is sometimes associated with fandoms as a whole. It’s probably one of the ugliest aspects of it in my opinion, and that’s largely because fans can be ruthless and still maintain the mentality that they have every right to be. This manifests itself most clearly in the context of dating scandals, given the way many fans project themselves as a romantic interest for their favorite idols.
It is, of course, completely illogical for fans to view celebrities as their boyfriends, girlfriends, or some other figure that is in a position to emotionally cause distress if the news of their actual romantic relationship is revealed. However, idols go to little lengths to stop perpetuating this idea that fans are not fans and but some bizarre collective significant other. In fact, some idols even seem to encourage this idea by calling their fans their girlfriends, essentially fueling the fire of delusion. And why wouldn’t they, when it sells? Right up until the point where Dispatch releases a few photos and illusion falls to pieces in front of everyone’s faces.
International fans tend to be more detached in situations like this (though they aren’t exempt fan entitlement as a whole by any means). But Korean fans, who physically interact and see their favorite idols face to face, always seem to push back the hardest when dating rumors, news, or even male on female interactions occur in relation to their bias. If it’s not dropping them outright, it’s shouting cruel things towards them as they emcee on Inkigayo or refusing to sing along to their parts during the group’s performance. And that’s all child’s play when you consider what a fan turned anti can really do.
However, fan entitlement extends far beyond dating. The idea that idols are obligated to act a certain way because their fans are the ones that pay the bills is disturbingly common and one that essentially makes these idols a consumer product. And in a sense they are, but they are also humans, and no amount of entitlement is going to change that. In a recent and entirely pertinent turn of events, EXO’s Baekhyun was under fire for an Instagram comment he made that calming and politely asked fans to stop taking pictures of him while on vacation. I think it’s easy to see instances of idols being frustrated with being stalked and photographed in the most private of circumstances and say “Well, they wanted to be a celebrity. This what they signed up for. It’s part of the job description.” But I don’t think it really is.
As much as humans seek contact and community with others, I think there’s a part in everyone that needs space sometimes. And to deny someone from that because you consider yourself a “fan” is denying someone a fairly basic human decency, in my opinion. Fans don’t own their idols, they don’t own their image, and they don’t own their privacy. Voluntarily buying merchandise or streaming songs is not going to give anyone that right.
In the K-Pop industry, fans are essentially seen as a necessity for a group to have in order to succeed. They’re a consumerist entity that keep the group afloat and negate all chances of failure for the group’s members and company with their boundless support and will to spend. With more fans comes more success, so it seems like the angelic residents of a fandom can never do harm, right? They can only provide popularity and help boost their idols into fame.
This is the case, most of the time.
However, like the issue with most instances where a large congregation of people take interest in the same thing, the matter of differing views and contrasting beliefs on what a ‘good fan’ must entail crop up. So, while one fan may take on the stance of being a relaxed and uninterested follower of a group who only seeks satisfaction through indulging in their music, others may be more intense.
Fan entitlement can be used to describe an array of things, ranging from a fan feeling as if an idol is their possession to expecting an idol to value them above all else. This is clearly shown in the Korean entertainment industry through the vendetta a plethora of fans have towards the faintest idea of their idol engaging in a relationship. For some reason, the objectification and perfection of idols has been normalised in the industry to a point where once the façade breaks and an idol does something that could be viewed as ‘controversial’ – like have a relationship, nightmarish reality ensues. This is due to the deep-rooted entitlement some fans have towards the idols they follow; one which makes them feel personally betrayed when said idol finally decides to show their more humane aspects to the world; or has them exposed through trusty Dispatch. A famous case of fan entitlement and its destructive power is the ever-trending topic that takes twitter by storm known as #SungminOut. This movement was started by fans who believed Sungmin from Super Junior should no longer be in his group because… well, he got married. Bizarre, right?
The damaging entitlement some fans possess towards idols is probably one of the most dehumanising aspects of being an idol; these fans will see you as an object of their affection – quite literally – until you do something they view as wrong and they shun and boycott you. However, it’s not necessarily averted in any instances, or brought to light by Korean entertainment nearly enough as a negative thing. In the end, it is these fans, entitled or not, that give idols their fame and career. Though they are in the wrong for being possessive over idols, most companies would never speak up about such an issue as it may have detrimental effects on the future of the group in topic. Also, many may view these fans as being entitled to their feelings of betrayal, and believe that idols do owe something to their fans, when in reality they don’t – which is a scary prospect. So, though fan entitlement is wrong in any shape and form and promotes a controlling relationship between fan and idol, it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
It isn’t a secret that most of the world views K-Pop idols as “products,” marionettes that are preened and polished in order to appease the eyes of the public. To an extent, this true, as much of what K-Pop idols say and do is sifted through a fan-friendly filter. Idols rarely ever speak an ill word of their fans, and variety shows are riddled with fan-service and aegyo. Although this approach is marketable and successful in forging a sense of togetherness between idols and fans, it often results in fan-entitlement.
One of the biggest factors that contribute towards fan-entitlement is the way idols are handled in the first place, presented as objects who serve little purpose other than to please their fans. Whilst it is true that there are many people out there who simply do not think before they act, it is also important to consider the bigger picture here. When it comes to fan-entitlement, there are obviously aspects of idol culture that encourage it, and that is something that we should be mindful of.
The world needs to realise K-Pop idols are not products, they are people. However, many fans do not have this viewpoint, which prompts the idea that they “own” idols. Overly zealous fans objectify idols and sometimes even delude themselves into believing that there is romantic potential between themselves and their favourite singers. Whilst this entitled behaviour can prove somewhat annoying, fan-entitlement can easily become a very serious issue when it is overly obsessive.
It is all too common to hear of idols being sexually harassed, threatened, followed and spied on, all by people who claim to be “fans.” In my opinion, it is when people cross this line that they lose the right to call themselves fans. For anyone who wants to call themselves a fan, they need be prepared to accept that their favourite artists are worthy of respect and basic human rights. There are many who suggest that overly entitled behaviour is acceptable, as without fans, then where would idols be? However, there should always be a symbiotic relationship of mutual respect between idols and fans. The notion that idols “owe” their fans for their contribution towards their success is a toxic mindset that is both dehumanizing and unsettling.
Overall, fan-entitlement is obviously a huge issue that can escalate very quickly and potentially violate the privacy and personal safety of idols. Given all that is at stake, agencies and managers need to enforce tighter regulations in order to ensure the privacy and safety of their artists. Whether it be teenagers protesting that their favourite idols belong to them, or singers who are followed into the bathroom, there seems to be a lot to worry about. On the whole, it is impossible to disagree that idols are not getting the respect that they deserve as human beings. Whilst it is easy to point out this problematic behaviour, we must also consider the underlying culture that is endorsing fan-entitlement, and ask ourselves what allowed it to become such a huge problem in the first place.
Looking at the J-Pop industry, specifically the idol group industry, fan interaction is everything from the live shows to the handshake events. Although it can create a special bond between fans and idols, some fans can take it to the extreme where they can’t be considered a fan anymore. There has been many incidents recently in the idol world that puts the wellbeing of these idols in danger. In May 2016, idol singer Mayu Tomita was stabbed over 20 times by the “fan” Tomohiro Iwazaki just because she returned the gifts back to him and ignored his social media advances. She had previously reported him as a stalker but nothing was done until this incident happened. I think the idol industry made the idol world how it is now since it puts in the fan’s mind that they have a “chance” to be with their idol (due to the no dating rules and having those handshake events) and so some may be delusional.
Another incident that has happened recently, luckily it didn’t get violent, is the arrest of a HKT48 member stalker. The man reportedly had driven by the apartment of the 18-year-old member at least four times at a low-speed just in the past month, the mother of the member noticed and reported this. The “fan” thought that it might be possible to meet her if he pass by in front of her house. The “fan” became acquainted with the member through handshake events over the past three years. I think the idol culture “idols that you can meet” is taken too far but it won’t change because it makes money. These members don’t join in ever thinking that a creep might follow them and so I think companies need to take the risk more seriously.
Fans and the general public alike tend to separate idols from other “regular” singers and performers by defining the additional behaviour that is expected of them. Most notably, being free of any kind of “scandal,” and appearing as an attractive, ideal boy or girlfriend type. Ultimately an idol is set apart as a role model before being a performer.
In K-Pop, this “boy/girlfriend” position is commonly stipulated by agencies as a requirement for debut in order to maximise the idol’s appeal to their target market, i.e. young, usually single men and women. This aspect of idoldom is taken so seriously that contractual dating bans are common. Unhindered by personal relationships or unsavoury scandals and thus available for fans to project their innermost desires upon, the public “purity” of idols is sacrosanct. Of course, once an idol acts outside of these expectations, all hell tends to break loose. It’s safe to say that idols come under considerably more scrutiny than other celebrities, and the pressure they face is extreme. These lofty expectations can, in turn, go to fans’ heads and cause them to behave unreasonably when an idol does something unapproved.
What’s really interesting to me is what specific acts are considered deal breakers to fans. Korean idols have been at the centre of all kinds of scandals and controversies ranging from silly to serious, which can provoke various responses from fans and the general public. Fans tend to defend their favourites in the face of any and all accusations, whereas the public are naturally less forgiving. This is all pretty much as you’d expect; nobody wants to think of someone they admire as intentionally committing a crime or making some other kind of error, grievous or not. The public are less likely to be familiar with the idol’s personality, stage or otherwise, and so are quicker to judge, correctly or not.
However, it’s when an idol enters into a public relationship or marriage that many fans suddenly show their true feelings. It’s extraordinary to me just how overboard fans go when the curtain is suddenly drawn back and the object of their affection is shown to be a normal human being in a relationship with someone else. Super Junior member Sungmin is a prime example of this. Even today, almost three years after his wedding to actress Kim Saeun, a notable section of Korean fans are waging a campaign to have him removed from the group entirely, as well as harassing him and his wife via social media on a daily basis.
Most international fans balk at the entitlement shown by these Korean fans, but an astonishing number of international fans also seem go out of their way to defend their mentality as something that should be respected as part of fan culture. If the idol and the agency set up this image of potential availability or them, then really the idol is obliged to live up to it,and woe betide them if they don’t. You might have seen a lot of “legitimate reasons” for the backlash against Sungmin floating around on certain websites, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone able to expand on why his relationship is so offensive it requires his expulsion from the group he’s been a part of for over a decade beyond him simply daring to make it public knowledge.
Many idol fans insist they know idols can and do have relationships, and that they’re not bothered by this, but quickly change their tune once an idol is lulled into a false sense of security and thinks their fans are ready to handle them confirming that they’re involved with someone else. When the relationship announcement comes from an idol who has previously involved in some other controversy, it often becomes a bigger deal, even if that scandal involves serious criminal accusations. I believe the reason for this is that this time it directly affects the fans’ feelings instead of just affecting some stranger unknown to them.
JYJ’s Park Yoochun is a recent example of this; whatever your feelings about the sexual assault cases he was involved in, most would naturally find the whole affair to be more shocking than his relatively normal relationship with a non-celebrity woman. But this is K-Pop fandom. Though the context of his marriage announcement would certainly be a surprise to anyone, an unexpectedly large number of fans are wringing their hands over the thought of “releasing” their idol into the arms of this strange woman. The distrust of her intentions and scrutiny of her actions was immediate, and her SNS posts were instantly picked apart by fans and media alike.
Obviously, this isn’t to say that there aren’t any fans who are happy about the news – plenty certainly are, and aren’t shy about saying so – but to me it further highlights how idol fandom places fans as the unofficial gatekeepers of idols’ entire lives, and convinces them that idols’ partners need to somehow earn their trust and respect before they deem to approve of the relationship.
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