For most people, the statement Korina Sanchez posted after attending Wanna One's concert last Saturday may seem harmless, or even amusing. But if you're a K-pop fan, you've probably heard the same remarks from your titas and friends. You've also probably been asked the same questions over and over again: Why are you "going gaga" over these people, e, magkakamukha naman sila? No one really gets it unless you're knee-deep and drowning in everything and anything K-pop—in other words, kinain na ng sistema.
But what we don't understand is why a media practitioner with decades of broadcasting experience would make such a baseless, insensitive comment. Reini Evangelista, who we spoke to via email, is a K-pop fan and a Krew member of the Korean Cultural Center (KCC) Philippines summed it up smartly: "While admittedly, there are fans who follow K-pop idols just for the looks, I believe there are more fans who follow and support the groups and artists because of the quality of their music, the messages they give through their songs, and their dedication to their craft."
What K-pop Stardom Really Means
Unlike in our local showbiz, the South Korean entertainment industry rarely prioritizes talent and good looks. Being able to sing well and winning the genetic lottery won't guarantee success unless you've put in the minimum amount of effort and years of training. Most K-pop idols auditioned and trained as kids, leaving their homes at the tender age of 13 to 15 to live in dorms provided by the entertainment agencies they signed with. From there on out, their adolescence will be spent attending language classes, dance lessons, acting classes, and vocal lessons—all while attending normal high schools like kids their age. They undergo monthly evaluations, maintain a certain weight, and perform at various showcases so that between the ages of 18 and 25, they could get a chance to debut—that's if they're good enough. It would take years for someone to debut in a K-pop group. A prime example of this is Big Bang’s G-Dragon, who trained for 11 years under two different agencies. Sandara Park only had to do two years of training yet on 2NE1's third anniversary, she revealed that her hardships continued even after her debut.
Most K-pop idols auditioned and trained as kids, leaving their homes at the tender age of 13 to 15 to live in dorms provided by the entertainment agencies they signed with.
Wanna One went through all these things and more. Ayen, a Wannable (i.e., what Wanna One fans are called), has been stanning the group for 11 months now. "The look is just a bonus," she began, when asked about her opinion on the Facebook post. "[If you] fail to see the talent that was right in front of you, [then] excuse me, madam! K-pop idols went through extreme hardships!"
We don't expect everyone to know what Wanna One went through so here's a brief explanation: Wanna One is a "project group" that came together through a South Korean reality show called Produce 101, where ~*literally*~ 101 trainees from 54 Korean entertainment agencies were pitted against each other for a chance to debut as a group for one year.
Yes, just one year. Some Wanna One members like Hwang Minhyun and Ha Sungwoon joined the reality show despite the fact that they've already debuted in K-pop groups NU'EST and Hotshot, respectively. Each week, the viewers (or the so-called "national producers") get to vote for their favorites until they end up with an 11-piece boy band. Since the end of the show in July 2017, the group has performed in various stages all over the world, raking in awards and endorsements while producing Korean chart-topping hits in the span of one year. Only five months after they debuted, they won the Best Boy Group Award at Mnet Asian Music Awards (a.k.a MAMA, the so-called MTV Awards of Asia) against huge K-pop groups such as EXO and BTS.
The group is rumored to be releasing their final album in November 2018 which means that the show Korina Sanchez saw last Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena might just be the last time Wanna One would be performing in a concert together because it's the final stop of their "One: The World" tour.
Why K-pop Fandoms Are So Savage
To be fair, Korina's was right with most of her assumptions. Looks do play a major part in becoming a fan. A recent study published in the International Journal of Market Research confirmed that visuals highly affect Philippine K-pop fan preferences. One of the researchers of the study is Erik Paolo Capistrano, PhD., an associate professor at the University of the Philippines Cesar E.A Virata School of Business. In an interview with Cosmopolitan, he mentioned that Korean entertainment companies put a lot of effort into the visuals of their K-pop idols because they know fans would appreciate it. "Visuals attract fans and expand fandoms, but there are other factors that make them stay. Fans know that as well. Over time, they would look at things other than visuals to stay with a K-pop idol and fandom."
When K-pop fans bond, there's a certain level of belongingness that encourages them to identify with one another, share information freely, and create herding behaviors. This is why fan wars exist not only between different K-pop fandoms, but also with the general K-pop fan community against other mainstream fandoms.
Korina's statement on the Philippines' contributions to South Korea's economy is also correct. K-pop fangirling or fanboying is a ~*crazy*~ business. Personally, I've spent about P5,000 on K-[op merchandise alone and about P25,000 just to see BTS up close and get a high-five from GOT7. And that's just my fangirling expense from 2016 to 2017. This year, I even went to South Korea to make my fangirl dreams happen. When Korina said that "kids get their parents to spend" she also wasn’t exactly wrong. Admittedly, a majority of the K-pop fans in the Philippines are young. Erik mentioned that out of the 949 Filipino K-pop fans surveyed for the study, 70 percent are 23 years old and below.
However, age plays a very small role in K-pop fan behavior. "The factors that affect K-pop behavior, in my opinion, and observation, include peer pressure and media intervention. The quality of media—traditional and non-traditional—coverage also influence the way fans behave. Social media activity, most especially, affect a lot of K-pop behaviors," Erik said. He defines "peer pressure" in terms of fan interactions. When K-pop fans bond, there's a certain level of belongingness that encourages them to identify with one another, share information freely, and create herding behaviors. This is why fan wars exist not only between different K-pop fandoms, but also with the general K-pop fan community against other mainstream fandoms. This herding behavior is further exemplified by the collective shade thrown at Korina Sanchez through social media, prompting her (or her page administrators) to delete the controversial post.
This wasn't the first time the media drew flak for covering K-pop poorly. In 2017, a journalist got the ire of Big Bang fans when she reported on the possible disbandment of the group. When BTS was accused of cheating at the BBMAs last year, K-pop fans also quickly came to their defense. Not long before the Wanna One mishap, netizens also pointed out that when Korina Sanchez interviewed MOMOLAND, a rookie K-pop girl group that rose to fame due to their hit song "Bboom Bboom," she strangely answered "Annyeonghaseyo" to their Tagalog praise: "Maganda ka."
To Erik, who's also a K-pop fan, the obvious lack of coverage in terms of quality and quantity could be because the Philippine consumer market is still geared towards Western acts, while local entertainment companies are more concerned with their homegrown talents. "My own feeling and impressions about it are that Philippine media 'cheapens' K-pop in the way they cover it. Another prime example is the way some Philippine talent agencies try to copy K-pop acts. They do not realize that it takes millions of pesos and years of training and management to even debut a K-Pop group."
Why K-pop Fans Have Major ~*Feels*~
After talking to hardcore K-pop fans about the issue, it all boils down to respect. To Reini, parts of Korina's statement overstepped the boundaries of a mere observation. As a fan, she wished the reporter tried to educate and immerse herself before publishing her opinion on a public platform. "It's unfair for the fans because they are being belittled and 'dumbed down,' and unfair for the artists as the implication is [that] they're getting all the support just because they look good, and just that. That reasoning is definitely very shallow."
When you know just how much passion and hard work goes into every performance, it becomes hard to not want to be involved.
Debbie, who's been a fan of Wanna One since Produce 101, felt the statement failed to describe what really went down at the concert. She was there, screaming her heart out along with other fans in the lower box section. "Sana mas malapit pa ko. [But even from where I sat] talagang nanginginig ako, kinilabutan ako!” More than the performances, it's the fan interactions that made an impression on her. She related that the fans in the general admission and upper box sections organized a fan event for Wanna One and the whole arena even sang Happy Birthday to member Lai Guanlin. As the concert drew to an end, Minhyun even said this through an interpreter: "Now the world tour comes to an end tonight. It just [seemed like] yesterday that the members and I dreamt of having this concert. Thank you so much for sharing this last concert with us. It's a shame that it has to come to an end but on the other hand [we're happy] to share this moment with you."
When you know just how much passion and hard work goes into every performance, it becomes hard to not want to be involved. Erik puts it very simply and clinically: "As far as my personal experiences go (I've been to Bangkok, Taipei, Hong Kong, and Seoul), Philippine fans are more passionate and really more involved."
Now, what's the middle ground in all of this? Where people are most passionate and involved, it never hurts to be careful. K-pop may be a niche market but that doesn't mean we should spew out ill-informed opinions about it. With social media being an open field for everyone's ~*feelings*~ it's very important—especially for people of prestige—to think before commenting. After all, the K-pop fandom thrives in social media. It's a force you really don't want to mess with.
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