In the last couple of months, three big Korean pop (K-pop) artists shocked their fans and took their own life. 27-year old Cha In-Ha, Choi Jin-Ri, better known as Sulli, (25) and Goo Ha-ra (28) fell victim to suicide in the course of just over 8 weeks. Their deaths sparked a conversation in K-pop culture that was long overdue – is the pressure on K-pop stars too big to handle? What role do the fans play in this?
K-pop is no stranger to obsessive fans that idolise their favorite artists. These hard-core fans, coined with the term sasaeng fans, will even go as far as stalking and invading the privacy of their Korean idols. Managers of big stars revealed that the average star has between 500 and 1000 of these sasaeng fans. They are often being followed by at least 100 of these fans (or stalkers) on a daily basis.
The term that the English-speaking fans identify themselves with is stans. This term stems from Eminem and Dido’s 2000-hit Stan, that tells the story of an obsessive fan that kills himself and his girlfriend because his favorite artist didn’t reply to the letters he sent. Another explanation for the term is that it simply is a portmanteau for the words stalker and fan. That doesn’t make it a lot better though!
Writings on the wall
The sasaeng fans have been around for quite a while. Even back in 2009, a fan of the boyband 2PM posted a picture of her writing on the wall using menstrual blood to show her adoration of the band. In 2010, a fan even went as far as posting a picture where she slit her wrist and uses the blood to write ‘Come back, Wonder Girls’, on the wall.
…One fan was caught trying to kiss their idol while he was sleeping
After these reports of people hurting themselves to get attention from their favorite artists, other fans went to even more extreme lengths to get their heroes’ attention. They intruded the privacy of their heroes and even went as far as risking their lives. Their homes have been broken into, where one fan was caught trying to kiss their idol while he was sleeping. Other fans chased two members of the band Super Junior in cars, which led to a car crash. The two stars weren’t hurt, but they were reportedly afraid to get into any car after the accident.
Boy group BTS was one of the few to break the national barrier, and they did it by just releasing their music in Korean. This quickly provided them with a large international audience, which keeps growing in many countries around the world . By expanding the boundaries of K-pop, the artists have been facing more and more pressure by the stans. They are constantly trying to get their attention on social media. Those cries for attention, in addition to the anonymous people cyberbullying the artists, puts a heavy pressure on them which can be detrimental to their mental health.
It puts a heavy pressure on the artists that can be detrimental to their mental health
The stans have basically taken over Twitter with videos of their favorite K-pop. People tend to get quite annoyed at their attempts to get views, as they use rather controversial methods to get them. They post them with popular hashtags, so people with autoplay see it and they get more views.
In order to showcase the sheer amount of K-pop stans that try to garner views on their fan-cam videos, I decided to do a little searching myself. I changed my Twitter trends location to worldwide and clicked on the first English trend. This trend was the hashtag ‘#IstandWithKingKaka’. The story behind this trend is that the Kenyan artist King Kaka released a controversial song, which hours after releasing it resulted in governmental threats making him fear for his life. Absolutely no reason for K-pop fans to get involved, is there? Wrong. The Twitter account planettminnie decided this was the perfect opportunity to gather views for her fancam video of the Korean artist Chaeyoung, part of the group TWICE.
You’d think that the ethical choice here is to avoid posting this video with a hashtag related to an event where someone is fearing for their life, but not for k-pop stans. After American rapper Juice WRLD’s recent death, break-through artist Lil Nas X tweeted ‘rip juice. So sad how often this is happening lately to young talented rising artists. ♥’. Even after the death of an artist the k-pop stans weren’t afraid to gather some views, and posted a fan-cam video in reply to Lil Nas X with the caption ‘So sad’. This must not have been what Eminem aimed to achieve when he released ‘Stan’, is it?