K-pop newbies are the lucky ones; to them, K-pop is still a magical world where the men with muscles can still wear sequins and it’s not because they’re a live stripper, and the women can dress up as cats and it’s not child’s play. Many ‘experienced’ K-pop fans may still feel those things, and rightly so! But as we spend more time in the K-pop fandom, the wallpaper gets a little damp and slowly, bit by bit, begins to peel away from the wall – exposing K-pop as about as glitter-and-rainbows filled as an overcast UK Monday morning.
Bit heavy? Let’s go back to basics. For most fans, buying their favourite groups’ albums and merchandise and light-sticks is enough. Some express their support through covers or art or even fan-fiction. We might even go to the airport to show our support for our idols on their arrival. Hell, we might even follow them and crowd around them and start tugging at their clothing and- wait, no we wouldn’t.
“Why would you do this, you crazy humans.”
What does it mean to be a K-pop fan?
“The Korean newspaper JoongAng Daily reported that one ardent fan spent “about 1 million won (about 900 US Dollars) per month to chase around idols, mainly by sasaeng taxis.” In order to stalk her idols, she does part-time jobs at convenience stores and lies to her parents about attending a hagwon (private school) to get the 800,000 won per month.”
Admiration. Obsession? …Harrassment? Fans who cross the line, who violate an idol’s right to privacy, are often referred to as ‘사생’ [sa-saeng] fans. Incidents range from managing to get hold of personal phone numbers and repeatedly calling the idol (and even their family), to vicious stalking which can often result in the harm of both fans and idols alike. These sasaeng fans devote their entire time to the idol(s) in question, trying to get as close to them and gain as much information about them as possible. Illegal taxis known as ‘sasaeng taxi’ are a popular mode of transport, whereby the fans will pay a taxi driver a large sum of money to follow the vans transporting the idols, with the drive time often spanning over long periods of time. One Korean newspaper claimed that these drivers are willing to go up to 200km/h, to chase the vans. An incident in Singapore involved eight sasaeng taxis following Super Junior’s van after their Super Show 3 Tour in Singapore. Eventually the vehicles caused a pile-up of six cars, including Super Junior’s van, after one collided with an uninvolved car.
“Do I have to live like this? Because of you?”
While the experience of privacy invasion can be damaging psychologically to a celebrity, the actions they take against it can be equally as damaging, especially where their public image is concerned. A group particularly plagued by sasaeng fans is JYJ. The group reported incidents of GPS trackers being placed on their cars, their personal phone calls being exposed, and even breaking and entering by fans into their dorm. The group were pushed so far by the sasaengs that after a few incidences of retaliation had occured, the media attacked the group, rather than the sasaeng fans.
In one particular great display of strength, Yunho (now, of TVXQ) forgave a fan who poisoned him. He was hospitalised and she was arrested, but he insisted upon not pressing charges. The general feeling is that the girl didn’t even feel sorry after she was forgiven, perhaps because she may have thought she was never in the wrong in the first place.
A more recent instance of sasaeng behavior was at the wedding of EXO‘s Baekhyun’s brother. EXO had visited the wedding to pay their respects, a few members were even asked to sing there. Apparently, the problem arose when the EXO members arrived, accompanied by an array of screaming fangirls, all flashing their cameras and attempting to follow the members into the wedding – successfully, I might add. While the security did manage to remove the non-guests after around ten minutes, the wedding had effectively been intruded upon, angering the wedding guests and especially Baekhyun. He lashed out at the fans, challenging their actions, but the fact still remains that those actions will have cast a lasting shadow on the memories of the wedding for the family.
Sasaeng fans aren’t really the only ones causing trouble though. In the background, though hidden, there’s a sense of international superiority or elitism. The notion that sasaeng culture only exists in South Korea, or even that it’s just an asian thing, is a view held by many – not all – K-pop fans across the west. “Of course, we could never behave in such a way because we’re the bigger people, the western fans who know how to respect our oppas.” Um, hello – EXO in London, SMTown New York (those big pink buses, anyone?). I’m not saying every single international fan is a sasaeng or that every Korean fan is a sasaeng. Quite the opposite in fact; there are instances of sasaeng tendencies all over the globe. Okay, there might be less instances in western countries, but then it’s also true that idols rarely stay over a week in a foreign country. Just that when the opportunity is there, there are those who take it.
It’s gotten to that point in my editorials where I’ve spat everything out in one big breath and now I’m gasping for air, somewhat drowning in my own thoughts. Slow down! Maybe it’s time to stop before I offend anybody. Or before I stop making sense.
Have you ever experienced or witnessed sasaeng culture in full flight? Or maybe you met an idol in unexpected circumstances? Let us know in the comments below!