How to Safely Navigate K-Pop Fandom
By Lenika Cruz
K-pop fandoms, the universe of devoted fans of Korean pop music who meet online and in person, are powerful spaces for connection, validation, and joy—not just for people of Asian descent, but also anyone who sees themselves reflected in the different faces, identities, and personalities of the people drawn to this international movement.
Here are a few tips from fans and experts on how to use them safely to support your mental health.
Protect Yourself First
Being a fan online comes with the benefit of anonymity and privacy. At the same time, Dr. Keneisha Sinclair-McBride, a psychologist at Boston Children’s Hospital, advises people to think of what they post on the internet as permanent. And if fandom conversations online become stressful or toxic, protect yourself. “Have a low tolerance for people being rude to you,” Sinclair-McBride says. “Block and report.”
Remember That Other Fans Are People Too
When you interact with other fans online, feel empowered to shape your own experience and keep things positive, says Linda Charmaraman, the founder and director of the Youth, Media, and Wellbeing Research Lab at Wellesley College. “You are co-creators of the social-media space,” she says.
“Remind yourself that this is a place where people are going to be less filtered than other places,” Charmaraman says. “They might think they have full rein to say whatever they want. They might not have the social skills to know what’s appropriate.” If you run into a difficult exchange online, it can be helpful to message a friend directly instead of having a conversation with strangers—and remember that you can always find a new community if one isn’t right for you.
Be Safe If You Meet in Person
If you make plans to meet online friends IRL for the first time, let other people in your life know where you’re going, meet in a public space, or go to K-pop events as part of a group, recommends Sinclair-McBride.
Respect the Humanity of K-pop Artists
This tip may seem obvious, but much of the K-pop industry is built on making idols seem perfect. “The people you like in these groups are still a product of the society they live in,” says K-pop fan Abby Miller. “They’re part of a system.” That means they will likely make mistakes or disappoint fans at some point. To get the most out of being a fan, it’s important to keep perspective. “We shouldn’t actually be idolizing our idols,” says fan Gino Lucas. “We should be trying to humanize them and humanize ourselves.”
Be Open and Curious
“Explore everything. Be open-minded to experiencing new things,” recommends 21-year-old fan Soobin Park. “Try to figure out what you like and don’t like. The internet right now is so big that you can really delve deep into the things you enjoy by going through social media or different forums or YouTube videos.”
There’s a lot to learn about in the world of K-pop, which can be exciting. Familiarizing yourself with Korean language and culture can make the experience more enjoyable and enriching. Being aware of social issues within K-pop, such as cultural appropriation and insensitivity, is an important way to be a respectful and engaged fan.
Don’t Worry About What Other People Think
Chances are someone in your life won’t understand or may even be judgmental of your fandom. But if a K-pop artist makes you happy, embrace that and focus on the powerful connections you can build with others who share your interests.
Honor Your Limits
Following a K-pop group can be overwhelming—so many artists constantly release new music, videos, and fan content. It can feel impossible to keep up. Know that it’s OK to step back from fandom activities to focus on other parts of your life, whether it’s school, work, family, or friends. Take breaks from social media or even feel free to be a fan entirely offline.