Fans. Obsessive Fans. Stalkers. If you're familiar with K-Pop, you probably have heard about some of their compulsive fans. When does strong admiration become a dark obsession?
by Avani Pammidimukkala
Ever heard of BTS? Blackpink? EXO? Twice? IU? Well, all of the groups and people mentioned are involved in the K-pop industry and they all have large fan bases filled with passionate and loving fans—except, some take their love for their idols to a darker extreme.
Korean pop, widely known as K-pop, is a genre of music based in South Korea which started to gain worldwide recognition and popularity in the 1990s. Today, there are more than 100 active K-pop groups and solo artists and another 20 groups and solo artists are ready for their debut every year. Additionally, like every other celebrity that you might know, these idols have their own fan bases which have been growing—and still are continuing to grow—over these past three decades and ongoing years.
I’m sure you know what a fan is, but to reiterate, fans/fanatics are people who show interest in and want to support someone or something because of that interest. I am an avid fan of several K-pop groups and solo artists, which also means that I am a part of their fan bases and am updated on news about the idols. However, sometimes I notice that some of these K-pop fans are high key obsessive; they’re toxic and delusional and VERY different from what most people would consider a “normal” fan. Some of these K-pop fans take things to the extreme which causes a lot of harm to the idols the fans think they are supporting.
So, that’s where the trilemma lies. I’m here to describe the drastic differences between a “normal” fan and one that's toxic, delusional, and obsessive.
“Normal” K-pop Fans
What is a “normal” K-pop fan? I believe that “normal” K-pop fans don’t go overboard with what they do for their idol. In other words, a “normal” K-pop fan would support their idols by purchasing their merchandise, attending their concerts, writing supportive letters to them, creating fanart and stories, and managing fanbases.
“Normal” fans don’t foster delusional feelings towards their idol, never resort to stalking their every move, or write hate comments if their idol does something they don't approve of. A “normal” K-pop fan would never feel that they have the right to dictate whatever their idol does.
I consider myself to be a “normal” K-pop fan of many different groups and solo artists. I love the idols, but I don’t think that the idols I support are “mine” in any way. What I believe about being a fan of a group or a solo artist is that as long as you support them while not making the artist uncomfortable, it’s okay.
“Toxic, Delusional, Obsessive” K-pop Fans
In the American celeb industry, we usually refer to fans who are overly obsessive as “stalkers”. However, there is a specific word in the K-pop industry that these types of fans are described as: sasaengs.
The Oxford Dictionary defines a sasaeng fan as “an obsessive fan who stalks, or engages in other behavior constituting an invasion of the privacy of a Korean idol or other public figure”. These fans are definitely not considered to be “normal” K-pop fans. While a “normal” K-pop fan supports their idol from a distance, sasaeng fans cause idols extreme discomfort and fear as they believe that they have the right to invade the idols’ personal space.
The reasons why these types of fans are so scary is because of the fact that they have their own networks and connections to other sasaeng fans. Because of these networks, richer sasaeng fans can offer to pay another sasaeng fan money to get private pictures or stalk an idol. Sasaeng fans can also bribe idol company employees to give them the idol’s private information like their airplane ticket information, address, and schedules.
Numerous idols have shared personal stories of their scary encounters with sasaeng fans. Some of these encounters include invasion of privacy due to a break in, kidnapping, receiving bloody notes, and receiving death threats.
According to Koreaboo, the members of K-pop group EXO were almost kidnapped by a group of sasaeng fans who rented a managing van identical to their own. Luckily, their manager noticed that something was off before they entered the van. Female sasaeng fans have also gone out of their way to shave their heads and cross-dress to be in the same bathroom as EXO members; due to this invasion of private space, EXO members now have people guard their bathrooms. BTS, another popular K-pop group, was chased by a group of sasaeng fans who stalked the group while they were relaxing and filming at a cafe in Sweden. K-pop idol Taecyeon from 2PM received a bloody note from a sasaeng fan that was written with her period blood. The fan wrote “You can’t live without me.”
Just reading this makes my spine shiver. But, it only gets worse.
These obsessive fans are usually the ones who write the hate comments towards idols and their groups. The K-pop industry is very scary because of the amount of hate that can surface from one piece of information, even though it is false. Obsessive fans can start a hate chain towards an idol that they dislike due to some reason (maybe the idol is dating “their” idol), and make them prefer death over receiving the hate.
An example of this was with K-pop idol and Korean actress Sulli. I have never listened to Sulli’s music, but I watched her K-dramas and was a fan of her acting. She was always smiling and a supporter of women’s rights, which is probably why no one noticed anything wrong. However, about a year ago, her manager found Sulli dead after hanging herself. And, this was most likely because of all of the online bullying that she received (may she rest in peace).
On the bright side, however, if a managing company of an idol or idol group sees or is notified of a fan exhibiting “sasaeng” behavior, legal action is taken to protect the idols and punish the sasaeng for his or her behavior. They can be banned admission to any sort of event involving the idols and be “cancelled” by the strong K-pop fanbases.
The Neutral Perspective
There isn’t really a neutral side between being a saesang or a normal fan. What is good is being a normal fan who supports their idol and does not hate on other idols. Being a normal fan is great because you can also support whatever your idol supports. While some K-pop fans are toxic, there are still a lot of fans who are great and help out their idols in any way they can.
Because K-pop fan bases are powerful, they can literally do anything they set their mind to do. For example, because BTS donated $1 million to Black Lives Matter, their fandom, the Army, followed up their donation with more than $2 million. In addition, K-pop fans made sure to spam several corrupt police stations with K-pop videos, which helped the BLM protests.
What this shows us is that being a fan of someone can be an incredible experience as long as you know your limits and are not too obsessive that you consider hurting someone else. You should only show your support to an idol you like without making them uncomfortable, and never show hate towards another idol even though you don’t like them. You should just keep those feelings of dislike to yourself. You should be a “normal” fan and not a “sasaeng” fan.