Dear K-pop fandoms: I’m sorry I ever doubted you

December 23, 2018 – Mary De los Santos

Earlier this year, my college friends and I travelled to South Korea not knowing that I’d return as K-pop fan. Getting exposed to this genre was inevitable—the songs that were playing in Seoul’s restaurants, cafes, and shops all reminded us that we were indeed in K-pop central.

At first, I unconsciously started humming and singing these beats in my head, especially the catchy ones that were repeatedly played all day long. That’s how you’d actually know which songs were popular at the time, because these tracks were on no matter where our itinerary for the day brought us. But I never really realized that we’ve been hearing a whole lot of Korea’s music chart toppers until one night, at our AirBnB, a friend of mine connected his laptop to the flat screen TV and gave us a K-pop immersion.

He started playing music videos of popular K-pop songs while the rest of us watched. It was a tad confusing at first since they all sort of looked the same. I could neither understand the lyrics or what the heck was supposed to be happening in the music videos. But regardless of these, I was really in awe of their physical appearance (which I later learned is a make-or-break deal for Korean idols). Because, damn, just look at their waists and pretty outfits!

Being part of the fan chants and actually seeing these idols live was absolutely surreal! The struggle to buy tickets was worth it.

Though I couldn’t make sense of the language, I felt a ton of emotion as I listened. It was through the flow of the beats and the way they sang that I found my favorite tunes. It was really distinguishable from western and local songs, as K-pop mixes so many genres to come out with such addictive bops. All of this sparked some curiosity in me and I started asking questions—and I had so many of them.

The next day, our entire group was so hooked on “TT” by Twice that we would do the girl group’s poses in pictures and listen to this song during all our train rides. This song holds so much influence in my K-pop sojourn, and to say that it’s life-changing would be an understatement.

Google and Twitter then became my favorite social media apps from then on. I seriously started to research more on K-pop groups, and it also helped that I had a handful of friends that were already so deep into the K-pop cave. Whenever album teasers and music videos come out, I get to be a complete giddy fangirl with them.

I was that low-maintenance fan who just appreciated the music (and I swear my bank account thanked me for that very brief time). The idea of buying albums was a bit outdated for me since almost all K-pop songs were already on Spotify. But, of course, it wasn’t long until I gave in to the curiosity, and found myself investing so much on merchandise (I now belong to five girl group fandoms: Mamamoo, Blackpink, Red Velvet, Gfriend, and Twice—PLEASE, SEND HELP!).

Front row gen ad! Still, I could die in this moment.

Appreciating albums and merchandise happened when I started to watch unboxing videos online. I gotta say these Korean music agencies really set the bar high for physical albums. They definitely know how to make buying CDs relevant and collector-friendly. There’s so many inclusions and pre-order benefits that come with purchasing a K-pop album—posters, random photo cards, and a photo book.

The thrill of not knowing whose photo card you’d get was such an interesting experience for me that I gave in and started purchasing the albums as well. We all start with promising ourselves we’d limit our collection to just one or two, but now I actually have eight albums stashed in my room!

Anything K-pop groups endorse or sell becomes a hit especially when it has their names and faces on it. The marketing strategy more often than not highlights their looks (or visuals in K-pop lingo). I’ve had my fair share of purchasing such items from skincare, make-up, food items like potato chips and noodles, and magazine features. A lot of these are only available in Korea but then I discovered websites dedicated to selling K-pop related items and online group orders that made it harder to control my spending.

Being a K-pop fan is no joke. It’s definitely an expensive hobby and you have to consistently keep your purchases in check. Which is why I keep myself as grounded as possible when it comes to merchandise. I don’t really buy all the albums of my favorite groups because then I wouldn’t be able to afford basic necessities for myself. There are a lot of hardcore fans out there who really make a collection out of it and really give a chunk of their savings to support their fandom.

My obsession with girl groups started because I was just so enthralled by their looks. Now, seeing the girls’ close-to-perfect skin influence me to take skincare more seriously. And whenever laziness would struck, a music video was a sure way to motivate me to go and work out. 

I was even surprised to make new friends (or mutuals as they would call it) from the same fandoms I belonged to. It was refreshing to be able to communicate with them, mostly planning to attend concerts and fanmeets together. I never dreamed that I would be part of the K-pop community like this—heck, my friends didn’t see this plot twist coming either!

Fans of K-pop were not kidding when they said that once you get into a group, there’s no turning back. I’m only on my first few months as a K-pop fan and it’s already got me wrapped around its fingers. But, honestly, I have no regrets.