The most interesting thing for me to realize was how many fandoms I’d been a part of since I was a child, without even noticing that I was doing so, without even knowing that this is how I was expressing my fandom. I grew up an only child, in a quiet household, and my Indian parents discouraged me from creating accounts online. Truthfully, I never found a need for that kind of Internet interaction. This is a trait that carried through my adolescence to the present-day in how I engage in fandom and express my fanning.
The first fandom I can really remember myself getting into came about from growing up in the late 2000s. This, of course, was loving the Disney Channel shows and Disney Channel Original Movies (salute to DCOMS!) of the late 2000s. I remember checking the channel guides waiting for new episodes of Hannah Montana, getting all the fun associated merch, and going to see Hannah Montana: The Movie in theaters in 2009. I listened to the official Radio Disney station for years, listening to all their playlists and am proud to say I’m still in possession of Radio Disney Jams 10, featuring a video performance of the evergreen Nobody’s Perfect. My early-day fanning was pretty much just me, with the sometime-resignation of my parents.
Fandom has changed a lot since I was a kid. As a tween, I had no hope of getting in touch with celebrities I adored like Britney Spears and Whitney Houston. Now, I’ve not only spoken with some of my celebrity favorites on social media, but I’ve even fought with a few.
The technology of fandom is changing, too. Parasocial relationships — a largely one-sided relationship between a fan and a public figure they feel close to due to social media — are everywhere online. And the companies behind some of the biggest acts in K-pop are pioneering a new way to monetize them. They’ve developed online platforms to help K-pop fans feel as though they have direct access to their idol favorites. That access helps shape the way these fans interact with the idol as a form of friendship and how they engage with other fans
I’m always online. Obviously. I spend a lot of time – too much time? – on Twitter, but I also do a lot of fandoming across different apps for Korean idols. Hell, at one point I actually lowkey lived on streaming app V Live because the phone I had at the time had notifications that worked so when one of “my” favorites would go online, so would I. I was awake so dang early back then. These days, I may sleep through my notifications, but I stay active on the different apps for my faves. I don’t use LYSN or bubble but I have been on Universe for Monsta X and Brave Girls (especially my bias Minyoung).
And of course, I’m on Weverse. Most of my favorites (and one former favorite… Gfriend) are on the Weverse app and I use the app to communicate with other fans and moon over idols. It’s more “personal” and private than just trying to communicate with an idol or other fans on Twitter and so, for the most part, it feels safe to engage.
I loved talking with Areum Jeong and Nicole Santero (who runs the @ResearchBTS Twitter account) because they’ve got insight for days! I also am grateful to Maxim and Leigh, two fans who graciously provided their thoughts about the apps they use to engage with their faves. So many wonderful fans provided their insight and I only wish I could’ve used it all in the final piece!
I had to change some things because of the YouTube copyright crap – so there’s no music in this version and so I can’t include the edits, challenge, or song I included when presenting this live. But aside from the things that had to be changed to avoid a copyright strike and messing up my video, this is the presentation I gave for PCA 2021.
Thank you all to everyone who filled out my survey or did video or text interviews a few months ago (okay so like… in May) and who supported me as I tried to put this together. Being in fandom has been super hard and very upsetting at times, but actually one way I was able to cope with what I’ve been going through from other fandoms… has been to engage deeply with ARMY (BTS is my primary fannish interest) and fandoms for other Korean artists.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to talk about a fandom space I’m in and to share insights about the communities I’m in and that other people like me are in!
I will NOT be going anywhere with this presentation beyond this post (like in terms of a long-form write up). Any future writing about Black k-pop fan experiences will get a new survey, no interviews outside of experts in these spaces, and a closer look at my direct experiences in these fandom spaces. I just wanted to do celebratory fandom piece for once – one that didn’t ignore that there are VERY valid criticisms to be had on the way there.
Below the cut is the abstract I used when applying for the conference! Thanks again for participating and watching and supporting me! And thanks A TON for your patience with me actually remembering to post this publicly!
I’ve been keeping up with what’s been going on with ENGENES (the fandom for BE:Lift’s flagship boy group Enhypen) for a hot minute. The most concise description of what is ongoing is here at @ENbackup on Twitter, the first three tweets in a thread detailing the issue with one member of the group and multiple members of the fandom on Twitter and fandom platform Weverse:
On 25th June 2021, the video [EN-CORE] ‘BORDER CARNIVAL’ MUSIC SHOW BEHIND EP.4 was released on ENHYPEN’s YouTube channel. At the 10:50 mark, a member is heard saying a racial slur. This has caused disappointment, offense and shock amongst ENHYPEN’s international fanbase.
ENGENE has demanded a statement from BELIFT, ENHYPEN’s label to clarify this situation. However, BELIFT does not have a public email address for fans to contact them in case of such situations. This neglect has forced fans to take to social media to voice their concerns.
Concequently, BELIFT continued failure to act has exposed ENGENE to harassment, slurs, death threats and violent images on all social media. Posts and hashtags demanding for the label’s actions have been suppressed on Weverse while vile racism roams on the feed unsupervised:
@ENbackup goes on to showcase several examples of extreme antiblack racism on fandom platform Weverse in that thread:fw
When I began the research for Last Night at the Telegraph Club in earnest, I knew that I needed to know more about those lesbians of color. More specifically, I needed to know what it was like to be a Chinese American lesbian in San Francisco in the 1950s, but they were nearly invisible in the historical record. The few times I came across references to Asian American lesbians, they were mentioned in passing or relegated to the footnotes.
It was enough to make one think that queer Asian Americans didn’t exist back then, but I knew that wasn’t true. What has happened is that our experiences have been erased or marginalized, deemed less important than the experiences of white LGBTQ people.
If you’re like me and you like learning more about queer histories of color, please check out this piece and get hyped for some awesome histories that you probably didn’t know before!
Another negative example is the way that parasocial relationships can develop for people who aren’t actually celebrities thanks to the increasingly blurred line between creator and consumer. Anyone with a platform is someone who other people may develop a parasocial relationship with. Even I have been the object of other people’s parasocial relationships. I have my own fans (and anti-fans) that think they know me and have developed their own relationships with other people online over their perceived relationships with me or based on the content I have created! It’s incredible… and also occasionally terrifying to realize that people have created connections between you and them that do not actually exist and are reacting to you (sometimes very negatively) because of that.
The four people on the cover image for this piece – comedian John Mulaney, BTS leader RM, actress Zendaya, and Japanese rockstar Miyavi – are all people I’ve had some level of parasocial engagement with. In Miyavi’s case, I’ve been parasocial-ly interested in him for 16 years, over half of my life. I follow him and his wife Melody (whose music I did love back in the day) on Instagram and when they announced that they had a son back in February, I think I crowed about that kid like he was one of my friends’ kids.
Parasocial relationships, at their base are pretty neutral. It’s the behavior that fans bring to the table – and, sometimes celebrities actually – that shapes it to be positive or negative.
I chose the quote I did, about how people who aren’t celebrities can be subject to parasocial relationships, because it’s something that affects me to this day. As I showed in my latest WFRLL piece, a lot of strangers on the internet are deeply attached to negative parasocial relationships with me and they do use that (and their racism, obviously) to excuse the frankly horrifying way they talk to and about me, heaping on racist abuse because… they think they know me and that I deserve their (mis) treatment.
But then, as someone primarily in a celebrity-oriented fandom (BTS’ ARMY), I’m seeing positive aspects of the parasocial relationship every time I sign onto my account. Every time one of “our” guys posts a selfie, updates us on Weverse, or does… pretty much anything… we all come together to shout in glee and unpack together. That part is pretty good.
I found my own Trinidadian upbringing confusing. On one hand, I was made to believe that race mattered very little, echoing sentiments of postraciality that surfaced after President Barack Obama was elected. My schoolbooks emphasized that Trinidad and Tobago was a rainbow utopia, evident by the shoehorning of as many creeds and races as could possibly fit into small, grayscale pictorial representations. I’d look at my face in the mirror—my light but definitely brown skin, my broad nose—clocking my features against the fact that my last name was confusingly Chinese (my great-grandfather on my dad’s side came from there) and wondering what the hell I was.
In the Caribbean, there are so many complex relationships with our Blackness, what Blackness could look like and who got to be Black in the first dang place. In islands like Trinidad where you have a more visible history of non-Black people of color (primarily Indian and Chinese) marrying and loving Black people, Blackness is complicated. And so is your understanding of where white supremacy fits in to the conversation. Because the people in power in Trinidad, in the Virgin Islands, in Jamaica… aren’t actually or typically white people. And yet, white supremacy thrives in these places to the point of harming people of color who live there.
A lot happened in 2020. While it’s been one stressful year, it’s also been a year where I’ve pretty much stayed booked and busy and writing. So for those of you who aren’t super duper online, here’s what you’ve missed in terms of content, milestones, and strange or stressful things.
Aside from the kiss-and-dissolve, the majority of their intimate moments are fight scenes. Which is fine if you personally view fighting as foreplay but the whiteness leaps out about a fandom that sees violence – including kidnapping and the threat of torture – as a precursor of romance, but clearly reciprocated affection between Finn and Rey as uncomfortable… for her and for them.
It doesn’t matter that for Rey/Kylo shippers, The Rise of Skywalker provides more fanservice than an A.C.E. concert.
Because while they’ve gotten ninety nine percent of what they wanted from the franchise, they didn’t get the big thing that they really wanted:
Kylo Ren’s redemption in the form of an utterly unearned Happily Ever After where Ben and his tradwife Rey pop out little Skywalker spawn to perpetuate the Skywalker family’s genetics and their shitty legacy.
I listen to music all the time. When I’m working on Day Job, writing the next thing that’ll make nerds frothy mad at me (because I’m right), or even now as I rewatch Love O2O for the millionth time, I’ve always got music playing somewhere. Last year, I did a similar list and I wanted to start a tradition by uh… keeping that energy.
Artist: Megan Thee Stallion
What Had Me Hooked: I love Megan Thee Stallion. I shamelessly and publicly have called her “my baby” when talking about her. I adore so much of what Megan does, how she carries herself, and how hard she leans in to having fun and being herself. “Body”, the lead single from her first studio album Good News, is a fun and sexy song where Megan and a bunch of beautiful dancers and celebrities basically celebrate their fine physiques. Every time I hear this song on one of my playlists, I have to dance!!
Also, this is a thing these Korean bloggers (her and TK Park aren’t the only ones) do repeatedly when people are talking about antiblackness: they bring up violence against migrants and women in Korea. But only ever to dismiss antiblackness.
Setting: There is not much to say about the setting of this video beyond how this looks like the filming budget was light. Like I remember seeing a twitter meme asking for folks to name videos that looked like they cost $10 (an exaggeration, of course) and I honestly thought of this video immediately?
Sound: Written by Big Bang’s leader G-Dragon and with music/arrangement by Israel Dwaine Cruz, “Ma Girl” is a smooth R&B track that sounds like it was ripped from the 90s. It’s a love song with Taeyang crooning about missing a love that he fears that he’s in the process of losing, and I mean… in the end it is basic. It’s comfortable in its familiarity though, sounding exactly like something I could imagine hearing on the radio as a younger adult or teenager.
A high point is the feature where G-Dragon and T.O.P pinged that part of my brain that had imprinted on the group back in the day before I went back to being a casual fan for the better part of a decade? They’re so YOUNG here!!
Styling: Yes, I see those cornrows. In “Ma Girl”, Taeyang really showcased the Light Skinned Energy TM that he’d become known for in some circles of international VIP and wider K-pop fandom. (Okay, look… it’s largely the Black parts, but still.) It’s not enough that he sounds like Omarion in this track… he has to look like him too. Back in 2008, while Black fans of K-pop (they were there, trust me) undoubtedly caught themselves kekeing over the visuals in this song and praying for Taeyang’s poor scalp with those tight ass braids.
“Ma Girl” looks and sounds like this for a reason.
Back in Cultural Appropriation in the Age of K-Pop Part One, I mentioned that:
As talented as Big Bang was when introduced to the Korean pop landscape, they were still functionally a Korean B2K cover group. Voice, visuals, and styling all pointed to the same conclusion: that Yang Hyun Suk clocked that Korean audiences wanted popular Black music… but not from Black people.
The recording this is from on Patreon (out 12/10) is uh… 20 minutes long and this is kind of a segue away from the thing I was actually focusing on and therefore not super relevant. But I wrote and recorded it so… here it goes anyway.
The first setting of the music video – and the part worth clocking and commenting on for me – is a part of a strip mall that looks like something you’d see in the United States with English signs for a tattoo parlor, a corner store or bodega (the store on the right), and a pawn shop (trust me on that one). If I went outside right now, those three things are probably right close to each other in my own neighborhood. They are not anywhere near where any member of (G)I-DLE calls home because of where these businesses are located.
The use of the corner store/strip mall as a locale for the video is to ping viewers’ brains into going “ah, yes, they’re in ‘the hood’ and so this song is authentic”. You see similar attempts to situate Korean (and Korean American) artists accordingly in older videos like CL’s Hello Bitches or Dumbfoundead’s “Mijangwon” where the setting has its own very loud character.
Described as belonging to “the boom bap hip hop genre” both the music and visuals of “Uh Oh” were put together to evoke this sense of authenticity in hip hop that always makes my teeth itch. I do think that (G)I-DLE – and Soyeon in particular in the group – are really talented and make interesting and innovative music that their peers aren’t always doing. Like 4Minute before them, this is a hip-hop oriented group and that means a lot of their song stylings lean heavily on things like “boom bap” hip hop or trap or whatever they think will catch an audience that knows them but isn’t familiar with hip hop outside of them.
Clothing wise, the young women of (G)I-DLE are all wearing clothing meant to make you think they’re hip hop. Whatever hip hop actually means to them. From them on down to the back up dancers, this is a really good example of “hood cosplay” specifically because it’s the clothing and hairstyles in context. On their own, in a montage of the girls hanging out at an indoor mall or playing laser tag or something… the outfits would literally not have the context of “we’re basically cosplaying folks who live in ~the hood~” and you could handwave away some of that.
Also, at one point Yuqi does have what looks like bantu knots in her hair and even if we reset the video so it was entirely in the desert or they were floating in outer space… I have to say that that doesn’t help.
“I didn’t necessarily plan to make ’90s-style music when I started working on the song, but I wanted to do hip hop. So I thought about what kind of hip hop would be unique to (G)I-DLE and not too cliché, and I thought of boom bap hip hop.”
After all, it was a white woman feigning outrage (that she later admitted was a lie) that killed Emmet Till in the first place. But while white readers ordered so many books about white privilege during the summer of Black Lives Matter protests over the police murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor that they created a shortage, the majority of books about women’s anger often depict all women’s anger as being equal, a force for good and never a tool used to silence and punish others; they largely ignore the slew of white women having meltdowns at the sight of non-white people having barbeques, enjoying swimming pools, or birdwatching that abound on the internet. Perhaps that’s because the idea that white women’s anger is, has been, and continues to be a source of terror for a lot of marginalized people is simply not something white women, even “good” white women who marched for Floyd and Taylor, are particularly interested in buying.
I think it’s been interesting how I have constantly been accused of anger – when I am at best mildly annoyed and deeply inconvenienced – by white people who are angry that I exist and that I write what I do.