K-Pop is known for many things, particularly its music, synchronized dances, vibrant costumes and eye-catching concepts. Apart from the theatrics, however, another thing that sets K-Pop apart from other areas of the music industry is its interaction with fans; most notably, the parasocial, pseudo-close relationship between the idols and their fans.
Besides being dancers and singers, idols are trained to “serve” fans by showing their best sides, evoking impressions of polite, caring and kind beings. In return, fans go to great lengths to support their idol groups, pointing out their talent and impeccable personality. The relationship between fans and idols is strengthened by events like fan signs and concerts — and then some.
K-Pop runs the extra mile when it comes to relationship building. From fancafés to community apps designed for Android and iPhone, the industry always offers a place where fans can feel closer to their idols.
In The Beginning: Fancafés
During the earlier days of K-Pop, entertainment agencies encouraged fan interaction and communication in online places called fancafés, which were online platforms hosted in third-party web portals. Most entertainment agencies used Daum, South Korea’s second-largest Internet portal. These companies used Daum to share concert and performance information, as well as connected fans and idols using their bulletin board.
However, the worldwide expansion and international popularity of K-Pop changed the demand of fans. Many groups have international fans that don’t have access to these fancafés. South Korean fans often share snippets of the idol’s posts from the café on Twitter, but they have to add the English translation first to accommodate the international fans.
In the Middle (and Today): VLive, Twitter, Instagram
Fancafés or any platform that is exclusive to South Korean fans was no longer useful, especially when new platforms rose. Most notably, VLive started connecting fans and idols via livestreams in 2015. Offering their services both in English and Korean, the livestreaming platform enabled idols to stream live videos at their time. During their livestreams, fans can actively comment and ask questions. The actual live has no subtitles but VLive re-uploads the idol’s livestream complete with subtitles in a few hours for the benefit of the international fans. They also upload a recap of their idol’s livestream for fans who don’t have the time to watch an hour-long VLive.
Apart from VLive, idol groups also launched their Twitter accounts to interact with fans through tweets, selfies or song covers. The presence of K-Pop idols on Twitter led to record-breaking likes or tweets that occupy Twitter’s year-end lists. Hashtags also became a part of “K-Pop stan Twitter,” as fans trended hashtags during their idol’s birthdays or to help their idol group win awards.
During their pre-debut days, idols were discouraged from using social media platforms like Instagram. However, as idols, they now have the opportunity to open their own accounts to share glimpses of their life.
VLive, Twitter and Instagram share a common feature: they are accessible to international fans, too. Fans can easily subscribe, sign up and comment on the posts of their idols. Fans can also interact with their idols via tweets, as well as stay updated with their idol’s daily comings and goings. These interactions evoke the feeling of closeness between fans and idols.
The Future: Weverse and Universe
In 2019, a major development in fan platforms took place when Big Hit Entertainment launched Weverse, a community app and web platform that promoted a different type of fan-idol communication. On Weverse, idols posted Instagram-like stories, uploaded photos and occasionally commented on the posts of fans. Apart from interacting with their idols, fans can also purchase merchandise and concert tickets via the platform.
In the beginning, Weverse had two idol groups: BTS and TXT. But as Big Hit partnered with other companies and eventually turned to HYBE, the fan-centric community app accommodated more artists like SEVENTEEN, GFriend and N’uest. HYBE’s partnership with Scooter Braun’s Ithaca Holdings opened Weverse to Western artists.
While Weverse is free, fans can buy a membership plan, which costs $30. Premium members have access to ticket pre-sales and other exclusive promos. It also has a few downsides. Since Weverse allows everyone to sign up and leave comments on the artist’s posts, there is a higher chance of “haters” leaving unpleasant comments towards the artists and the fans.
In late 2020, another platform emerged in the running. Korean game publisher NCSOFT created Universe, which was a fan app that had similarities to Weverse. It aims to facilitate fan-artist interaction through a variety of offline and online activities. Universe is set to go online in 2021.
With the evolution of fan-idol interaction, it’s easier to say that fan platforms will continue to be a necessity in maintaining stronger relationships between fans and their idols. This dedication will forever remain one of K-Pop’s stronger suits against other genres of music.