You and I, we’re pretty deep down in the Kpop rabbithole by now, so I think it’s about time we had this conversation. Official Kpop fanclubs – are they really worth all the faff? Let’s be clear: by official fanclub, I’m talking about the ones that you have to hand over cash for, and get a printed name card in return.

In the UK, such fanclubs are generally seen as the territory of pre-teens and hardcore geeks only. Not so in Korea, where card-carrying membership is essential to have a cat in hell’s chance of getting into live music shows and special events held in Seoul. As an average international fan, that’s not so much a deal breaker to part with your money. So, what’s the current state of fanclub membership for non-Korean based fans? What’s the process like, and what exactly do we get for jumping through all the hoops and parting with the dosh?

Applying is the first fandom test
So you want to join up… but how and where? Assuming the fanclub doesn’t need you to provide proof of your event attendance (as some have asked for concert ticket stubs in the past), what you really need to know is WHEN. Kpop fanclubs are generally not open to apply year round. Some open for a short period every year, some only every couple of years, and some have only opened once to date (I’m looking at you, SHINee.) If you’re following the artist’s official twitter or Facebook accounts you’ll get a heads up the application date is coming. Plan to apply early and get your credit card at the ready. If the notice is in English, that’s a good sign you can apply – as some bands still do not open their fanclub to fans living outside of Korea. Don’t panic if there’s no English immediately in sight on the application page. Ticketing agencies Yes24 and Interpark are used widely, and they do offer some English information and email support. I’ve used both of these sites to join INSPIRIT, Infinite’s fanclub, and while Interpark’s system was pretty simple and English-friendly, Yes24 was Korean only, and threw me for another loop, as it refused to work on my mac beyond the first few screens. After talking with other fans online, I found I had to use a PC with a certain OS; and even then, a problem with the postcode box on the form required all fans outside of Korea to enter incorrect postcodes and then update the information later. Still with me? Yes, some people I know gave up before this point, too befuddled by the overcomplicated systems seemingly set up to vex the average fan. It’s like they don’t even want our money! Too late. I’m in!

My card arrived! And SOMETHING else…?
It may take a good few months, but yes, you really do get a geeky plastic card and a bunch of random official goodies, which usually aren’t announced beforehand. Thankfully, everything I’ve received from INSPIRIT has been high quality and useful stuff; for example, branded card cases, tote bags and cute little zippy pouches. In 2014, 4th Generation INSPIRIT all received a yeobong, the official lightstick, as part of their membership. This item regularly sells out at shows, so it was a pretty sweet deal. However, bulky items like lightsticks obviously make the delivery cost rise. If your fanclub’s delivery cost is almost the price of the membership, you can expect a decent pack of goods, or one very heavy lightstick.

Priority tickets in Korea – the joy and the pain
Official fanclub members usually get priority ticket sales over concerts in Korea. Fanclub sales begin a few days before the public sales and allow members to buy one ticket per show in selected areas. This, in principle, is a great benefit as long as you have the money to get to Korea as well. But be warned: you’ll be competing with thousands of Korean fans (and scalpers) to grab a ticket in the first few minutes of online sales, which can be an exercise in sheer frustration. To get one, you have to be online when sales open, which in my experience has been around 8pm KST (11am UK time). You’ve got to click through all the correct Korean buttons and enter credit card details at the speed of light to secure a ticket, and most are gone within the first 5 or 6 minutes. If you are lucky enough to get one, internationally bought tickets can only be collected at the venue, in person, on the day of the show; that can put a time dent in any plans you might have for joining goods or fansite lines on the day. Fair’s fair: the Korean-based fans have the same online ticket battle on their hands, but it’s vexing that official membership generally does nothing for you even when the band is on world tour in your country. no ticket sale priority, no little goodies, zip. That’s something I’d like to see change in the future, even if its just something simple like an exclusive badge, or early entry to the pit, I think it would be a added incentive to join up.

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The holy grail: easy fancafe access
In 2015, INSPIRIT upped its game by adding automatic fancafe level up privileges to the 5th Gen package. Although the fancafe is in Korean only, higher level membership allows you to see exclusive photographs and videos, and join chatrooms where the boys sometimes do pop in. Very little English information was given on how to take up this benefit, but international fansites took pains to screenshot each step and help everyone out. Being able to step qucikly up the ranks without having to answer complicated Korean questions was a huge bonus for me; I think this was a smart move and other fanclubs should follow suit, to help international fans get more involved with the DAUM fancafes.

Meanwhile, in Japan…
As I live in Japan, I’ve been able to join the Japanese INSPIRIT club too. I’ve noticed some big differences in the way they operate, for good and bad. For example, the fanclub have a physical presence at some live events, giving information on how to sign up. That’d be useful on world tours for international fans. I’m not an official V.I.P, but at a BigBang concert in Japan I saw a V.I.P only goods stall alongside the main goods stalls. That’s a pretty sweet bonus. As for goods, well, I only got a keyring with my Japanese fanclub card, but its the live show tickets that really keep me renewing. Japanese INSPIRIT are able to enter a lottery for Japanese concert or event tickets before they go on general sale. I can’t choose the seats, but I’ve been pretty successful in getting show tickets. When I first joined, the club also allowed us to pre-order concert goods, which was a great bonus to save line time. It also offered CD and DVD preorders with special benefits like rare photographs and posters. This, I feel, is what fanclubs should be about: offering fans a good chance at tickets, some exclusive stuff, and some concert day time-saving.

Fanclubs on the go
Last but not least, mobile fanclubs are also really popular with Japanese Kpop fans. You pay a monthly fee through your phone bill and use an official app or webpage to apply for ticket lotteries. This would be great to see more of in English and the fees are a lot lower as no physical card (or goodies) needs to be sent. Global EXO-Ls can already join up this way and see exclusive news and pictures, and it’d be a smart move for other bands to follow suit.

Ultimately, I feel like jumping through the fanclub hoops is worth it for me, because I love getting the goods, and the fancafe level up alone was a huge bonus for me this year. I also secretly enjoy the online camaraderie between international fans it brings out online, as we all try to help each other navigate the forms and hoops. So I’m interested to know if you’ve had a similar or different experience with Korean fanclub membership. Feel free to comment below!

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About Author

British writer and editor living in Japan. Currently studying Japanese, Korean, K-pop dance, and the fine form of 이성종's legs.