MANILA, Philippines – Fandoms are typically happy and stress-free communities. From holding record-breaking online activities, to setting up on-ground donation drives, their dedication to and enthusiasm in supporting their idols often earn our admiration.
But while there’s no doubting their devotion, the harsh reality remains: sometimes, it’s the most ardent supporters who bring harm to their idols.
“When I start getting more active in a certain fandom, it always surprises and alarms me how some fans act so entitled,” Rese, a 27-year-old fan of K-pop and P-pop groups, told Rappler. “The stark difference between fans who are pleased with their idols’ activities and the fans who are always nitpicking on even the most mundane things is pretty evident.”
Criticisms, Rese elaborated, are essentially welcome in each fandom. However, for some of these fans, their remarks and demands are either too harsh or out of line. “Even your most favorite celebrities won’t always meet your expectations, and it’s not like we’re here to just blindly support our idols. But fans should also know that they can’t always get what they want, and they need to learn to respect that.”
The ugly side of a fandom
Ash, Chels, and Kaydii, the hosts of “Spill the Soju” podcast, have been fans of K-pop groups since 2006. Throughout their more than a decade of following idol groups, they’ve witnessed several instances of celebrities being put into harmful situations because of their fans.
The list includes calling the idols’ personal phone numbers, hacking their social media accounts, stalking their idols’ group, overcrowding at airports, and in more extreme instances – camping outside their idols’ dorms or houses, installing secret cameras, placing recording or tracking devices at hotels or in cars, sending disturbing gifts or fan letters (a female fan reportedly sent a love note written in menstrual blood to OK Taecyeon, a member of K-pop group 2PM), and even attempting to kidnap them (SNSD’s Kim Taeyeon was dragged away in the middle of a performance by an obsessed fan).
“Long-time K-pop fans would know how aggressive sasaeng fans were before,” Jen, a K-pop fan since 2010, shared. Sasaeng, which means literal stalkers, refers to the fans who are so obsessed with their idols to the point that they’d trail them 24/7 and purchase their personal information. Unfortunately, sasaeng fans still exist today, though thankfully other fans and also the artists’ agencies have been more proactive in protecting the celebrities.
As a fan of both K-pop and P-pop groups, Rese noted that fans of Filipino celebrities aren’t as extreme as the sasaeng fans of South Korean idols. “There’s also cases of invasion of privacy, like how Filipino fans tend to stalk even the relatives to just get an update on their favorite celebrity, or flocking to them when the stars are on rest mode or vacation. It’s mostly like, just wanting to get closer to their idols, but not to the point that they’ll actively harm them,” she shared.
While most of the aforementioned instances include physical interaction, boundaries are also being tested online.
Jazz, a 30-year-old fan of P-pop groups SB19, Alamat, and KAIA, recalled that back in July 2021, after a game streaming, an interaction between a member of SB19 and a fan was misinterpreted by other fans. “The member was quickly judged and thrown negative comments.… [Some] fans tend to gatekeep their idols…and [place] malice even [on] the small interaction,” she said.
Dating scandals are the peak of fans’ online probing: fans tend to scrutinize the people who interact closely with their idols. If a K-pop artist, for instance, has the same poses and captions on Instagram as a person they’re close to, or wear similar clothing as a person they’re close to, this can already spark relationship rumors among fans.
“Some fans do get carried away with their strong passion and intense emotions towards the artist, causing bouts of jealousy whenever their favorite artists interact with the opposite gender or are caught in a dating scandal,” Ash shared. “[It often] leads to unhealthy obsessions, such as fans disregarding their health and personal priorities for the sake of keeping up with everything and anything their favorite idol does.”
For Jen, this is one of the fan behaviors she’s most exasperated with. “If [fans’] obsession with [idols’] private lives suffocates me, what more the celebrities? While I get the fascination and the curiosity to learn more about our idols, fans should learn to know when to be satisfied with the things [idols are] sharing, and understand when [idols] want to keep things private.”
And it’s not only the celebrities’ love lives that are closely monitored; even their comments and posts are being watched, too. Just one wrong post, and suddenly, they can be a victim of cancel culture.
For the hosts of the “Spill the Soju” podcast, cancel culture is when fans “cancel, hate, criticize celebrities online when they make a mistake or are involved in scandals or issues, that may or may not even be their doing, without waiting for proper investigation or doing it for the sake of it or to bring up their own fandom.”
“These celebrities are being put onto such a pedestal that fans sometimes tend to forget they’re humans who are capable of learning from their mistakes,” Rese said. “Fans have such high expectations and when they’re not met, the consequences can be brutal for the artists. The fans, who have been avid in declaring their love and support, are sometimes the first ones to turn their backs on their idols.”
Jen added, “It’s not like fans should tolerate wrongdoings, but with how easily they’ve attacked the ones they idolize, it makes you wonder how deep their admiration runs. Were they always waiting for them to be involved in a scandal to crucify them? And it’s important to emphasize how these scandals usually come from unknown and questionable sources. But even without proper investigation or explanation from the artists at all, fans have already made their judgements.”
Where do we draw the line?
“Generally, fans would strongly voice out their opinions and call out whoever needs to be called out across several social media platforms,” Ash said. “They would also mass-email the company for investigation or legal action against the perpetrators. Usually, there is unity against unhealthy behavior but there are instances when the opinion is divided because of differences in perspectives.”
For as active a community as celebrity fandoms, issues tend to circulate fast, with every fan chiming in with their opinion. But when it comes to keeping their idols safe, Rese said that the majority still know when to put their foot down.
“In the K-pop fandoms that I’m part of, there’s always a list of sasaeng fans to avoid,” Rese said. “There’s an explanation of the misdeeds they’ve committed, such as following the idols on a private schedule, or buying the celebrities’ private information, etc., and fans would know not to interact with them and report their accounts.”
But that’s not always the case. Jazz said, “Sometimes, issues are actually not being resolved properly. [Even inside the fandom], there are actually a lot of calling outs, subtweeting, and unstanning things happening that issues tend to just die eventually.”
Aside from fans calling out their fellow fans, agencies and even the artists also step in in hopes of stopping this disturbing behavior. Chels said, “Other times, the companies themselves post notices and heighten their idols’ security so that they can ensure their safety.”
Kaydii also mentioned that celebrities open up about these dangerous encounters on shows, interviews, and social media posts: “They would warn fans repeatedly of the unhealthy behavior and remind them not to do it while still trying to remain calm and polite.”
“Sometimes, they do let their frustrations and anger out but it is still unfortunate that, even at times like that, they have to be wary of their image. It is even more unfortunate and disheartening that it continues to happen not just to one particular artist but to artists from different groups, companies, and generations,” she said.
Contrary to what non-fans might think, these idols have been vocal in setting up boundaries with their fans, especially when it comes to the topic of romantic relationships. “Many idols have expressed to their fans that instead of [being] lovers [to fans], they are best friends [to fans] who are there to help [them] along the way,” Chels said.
“There are times when these exchanges are well-received. Other times, such as in dating scandals and sudden news of marriage and having a baby (such as in the situation of EXO’s Chen), there are as many displeased and somewhat entitled fans as there are happy and supportive ones. The former would express that they feel like their favorite idol has betrayed them and would demand an apology, while the latter would argue that they’re not anyone’s possession and they are free to love whether they want since they’re human beings, too,” she added.
“I find it really absurd that K-pop idols might lose their career just because they’re in a relationship,” Jen mused. “That’s peak entitlement for a fan. And it’s infuriating how they make it sound like the celebrities owe their private lives to them just because fans spent their money and time on them.”
In the Philippines, several local celebrities have also reprimanded their fans because of their remarks. SB19 member Josh has previously called out fans who were height-shaming him and asked them to be more mindful of their words.
Rese said, “I think it shows that we’re past the time where fans are constantly being treated delicately. It’s like celebrities are no longer that wary of losing support in case they speak up. And that’s a very welcome advancement, considering that toxic fans usually don’t listen to their co-fans. So we can only hope that when it’s the one they’re idolizing that’s speaking to them and asking them to step back, they will listen.”
What makes a good fan?
For these fans, what makes them different from toxic and obsessive fans is that they know how to respect their idols. “It really boils down to just being respectful – respecting their craft, their private lives, and the persona they share with us. If I’m not considerate of that, it’s easy to go overboard,” Jen said.
Rese noted that there’s nothing wrong with supporting an artist, but it’s important to remember that this support is something you’ve willingly given: “It was your choice to support them, so don’t make it look like they owe you for that.”
“We should also stop mistaking ‘passionate’ with ‘disrespectful and abusive,’” she added. “They have the means to go to places to follow idols, but they can’t even afford giving them something as basic as space? Call them out. Stop referring to them as fans, because they’re not acting like one.”
Ash, Chels, and Kaydii agreed, saying: “Every fan has a reason why they love a certain artist or why they stay in the fandom and these feelings or sentiments grow through time. If left unchecked, like in the case of love turning into infatuation, it can drown your senses and morals and make you do things that aren’t beneficial or healthy for anyone.”
This is why, for them, it’s vital to have a good understanding of one’s limitations as fans, especially in the areas surrounding personal lives. “By respecting their privacy, personal space, relationships, and identity off-camera/off-stage, you are respecting their safety and showing them that they’re more than just entertainment robots for you,” they said.
As a fan, know where you stand. Just because you’ve memorized their birthdays, allergies, and pets’ names doesn’t mean that you actually know them. And if you really want the best for them, demand for proper protection to ensure their safety.
The podcasters added: “Being a good fan isn’t judged by how much they can spend on their favorite artists in cash, kind, time, or effort. Rather, it is a characteristic of someone who can love them responsibly, support wholeheartedly, and act with only the best of intentions while sharing all the good they received from them to others. Manners maketh fans.” – Rappler.com