The Korea Diaries: EXO’s Wolfish Comeback Brings Out the Alpha Females

EXO may be the kings of the K-Pop world right now after finally making an impressive comeback and winning first on three music shows this past weekend, but things in Korea may not be as picture perfect as they seem. The One Shots’ editor Michelle tells her experience being a part of the EXO fandom during their comeback weekend. Please take note that this is a fan account. The Korea Diaries is an ongoing series over at The One Shots.

Let me just start by saying that before this EXO comeback, I thought of myself as a more casual EXO fan. Okay, yes, I knew all the members’ names; I’d watched a large majority of their interviews and variety show appearances, especially those of EXO-M; and I had and still have a huge crush on Luhan. But EXO never really took precedence in my heart; I always claimed I loved others more than them. Perhaps it had to do with the fact that they were gone for so long, and I was so busy fangirling over the groups promoting in the spotlight. Out of sight, out of mind, right? But now that they’ve made their big comeback, they’ve brought out the wolf in me, and I’ve learned firsthand just why EXO fans have become so infamous in the world of K-Pop fandoms.

My spiral into the craziness of the EXO fandom began with their very first comeback stage in Korea, at Mnet’s M! Countdown, Thursday, May 30, 2013. It was Tuesday night when I received a message from my friend that the name list had already been put up for attending M! Countdown.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with how attending a music show works, I’ll give a quick rundown here. It does depend on the group, but for the most part, some responsible fan puts up a piece of paper nearby the show’s building. This paper has that person’s phone number on it, and you are asked to contact this person to be put on a name list. Then, at a specified time, everyone lines up according to the order on that name list. Official fan staff from the group’s company will then show up and do the necessary verifications (checking membership, albums, digital downloads, etc.) and place the fans in the appropriate lines.

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Normally, companies will say that lists cannot be started until a certain time, usually the morning of the recording, but SM Entertainment had made no such statement, nor had they given any sort of instructions on how to organize for an EXO recording. Therefore, some fans had taken it upon themselves to organize a list. By the time I had found out about it, it was too late for me to leave my apartment and make it to M! Countdown before the trains stopped, so I went first thing Wednesday morning. I found the posting, took a picture with it, as it had requested, and sent the picture along with my name to the number written. The posting also said that check-in for the recording would begin at 7 PM that night. Again, keep in mind, the recording was not until Thursday morning. Looks like a campout would be in order.

I was about to leave and head to work when I noticed a fan had been looking at the posting for quite some time as well. I talked to her, and she told me that sign-ups for this name list had begun last Saturday. After some waiting around and talking to more fans, we found out via text message that the name list had been invalidated and that SM would not recognize it. Plus, an Mnet staff tore down the posting, saying that it was not allowed. No official postings on EXO’s homepage had been made, and everyone was still just as confused on how this recording would go down. Word spread, and the conclusion fans came to was that they would need to spend the night at M! Countdown and hope for the best.

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Since I had work until 10 PM that night, I did not arrive at M! Countdown until midnight, and by then, there were already about 200 fans in front of me. I parked myself down in my spot, made some new friends and waited throughout the long, cold night.

Finally, at 8 AM, SM fan staff showed up, and all of a sudden, the fangirls just took off, running towards this statue in the middle of the courtyard in front of the M! Countdown building. I legitimately thought for a second that we were just doing laps or something to wake up after a long night because I couldn’t even tell where the fans were aiming for, and many of them had ditched their belongings in our original line. Then I noticed the girls standing on a ledge with SM badges around their necks. From then on, it was just a massive mess. Fan staff seemed angry and told us that we were not allowed to stay overnight, thereby invalidating our perfectly organized line. They actually expected the mass of 400+ fans to then organize into two orderly lines. Yeah right. You have young sleep-deprived fangirls who have been waiting for their oppas’ return for a whole year, many of whom spent an entire day and night waiting for this comeback stage of epic proportions. You really expect them to allow fans who showed up at 8AM to cut in front of them in line? Too bad, it happened.

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I tried to stay on the outskirts of that clusterf**k because when I tried getting anywhere near the center of it, just to hear what the fanstaff was announcing, I was immediately pushed around, and all I could hear were the screams of girls being smushed by the masses. Mnet security got involved, but even then, it was chaos.

Fans looked like they got fooled when they got sent running in the opposite direction, away from fan staff, as if they were told the line would start over there, when, in fact, the purpose was to clear the area so that fan staff could organize a somewhat orderly line. Too bad that just caused distressed fans to run back and form a mosh pit instead of giving into the two lines that fan staff were trying to get together. I chose to not run and stay at the end of a line, away from the crowd in front of the fan staff, for fear that if I pushed my way into that mess, I would be sent to the back of the line, let alone end up with a sprained ankle or some other crippling injury that would kill my chances of seeing the boys completely. (Yes, I did see injured fans.) There were also rumors flying that foreigners were being asked to leave or join a separate line. I’m not sure if this was something that got lost in translation though because I was with two non-Asian foreigners, and we experienced no such discrimination.

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Eventually, after a good 40 minutes wasted with repeated running back and forth, shouting and pushing, two lines began to form, and Mnet staff began taking fans inside. Waiting all night proved to be fruitless for many, while many who had arrived just on time got really lucky. With the way the system was set up, it almost seemed as if the pushiest fans, the ones that could fight their way to the front, were the ones being rewarded, while the calm, cool and collected ones (i.e. my friends and I) were being punished for not being rabid and fierce enough. Yet think about it. As a fellow fan, would you want to be in a crowd with fans like that? Sure, they will probably have the ferocity to do the fanchant loudly, with lots of gusto, but don’t you think it might be hazardous to others to have these bully-like beings in the same room? Hence, the bad reputation of EXO fans in the K-ingdom.

Anyways, I fortunately ended up in the late 200s, and they decided to let in 370 people to the pre-recording that started an hour and a half later than originally scheduled.

But here’s where you might say I’m even crazier than you may already think I am. Although my friends and I were still distraught over the blatant disorganization and chaos SM fan staff caused, seeing the first Korean stage for “Wolf” blew us away and released so many endorphins that all resentment towards SM was temporarily replaced with gratitude that the boys were finally back, stronger than ever. Yes, they lip synced, and I admit “Wolf” is still a strange song that continues to grow on me with each new listen. However, you cannot deny that the boys’ stage presence and high performance level really make the song worthy of watching. The free Sehun poster and the fan meeting afterwards were added bonuses.

I had to skip Music Bank the next day, Friday, May 31, because of work, but having learned my lesson at M! Countdown, I arrived close to 8 AM, the check-in time for Music Core on Saturday, June 1, in hopes that I would be a lucky one and get a decent spot in the impromptu line that SM fan staff would arbitrarily make. After all, there would be no point in the fans trying to form an orderly line because SM fan staff would rule it invalid anyways. I did, however, already have my doubts because one of my all-time favorite groups, 2PM, was also performing that day, and being a Hottest would normally come first. But it was EXO comeback weekend, so I made an exception.

Fortunately for me, all signs led to Hottests anyways when I saw, from a distance, the line forming before my eyes. I don’t even know how to describe it, but all of a sudden, girls were making a mad dash towards me and pushing their way into two lines. Literally, in the blink of an eye, the line had gotten so long that all hopes of getting into an EXO recording that day vanished. The venue can only hold so many fans. Plus, as I rounded the corner towards the front entrance of MBC Dream Center, I saw another crowd of EXO fans in front of the main gates being reprimanded by security because they had gotten so rowdy that the gate almost fell down.

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I ended up putting my name on the Hottest list instead, and even though it was a bit after 8 AM, I was still in the top 50 fans. (Show up at 8 AM for Inkigayo, and you’ll be in the late 100s for 2PM. For some reason, MBC Music Core usually has the least amount of fans show up. It may have to do with the venue being the farthest out of the music shows, but for someone who has to travel a minimum of an hour to each of the music shows, an extra 20 minutes makes no difference to me.) This gave me access to the 2PM pre-recording AND the live show, which close to no EXO fans ended up getting into that day.

I did the same thing for the June 8 recording of Music Core, where I signed up with 2PM and was granted front row standing tickets during the live show. Meanwhile, EXO fans were banned from attending EXO’s pre-recording for being too rowdy, and MBC security threatened that they would ban EXO fans next week again if the fans did not leave the premises. Some EXO fans were eventually allowed into the main live recording, and SM fan staff rallied the Henry and SHINee fans to support EXO as well. (It was Henry’s debut weekend. His stage featured SHINee’s Taemin, while Minho is one of the MCs for Music Core.) Ironically, that was the closest I have ever gotten to EXO at a music show.

To finish off my EXO comeback weekend, I was then roped into signing up for EXO at Inkigayo the next day, June 2. A CL fan had recorded the chaos and uploaded it to YouTube, sparking its own sort of controversy.* Now, let me just say that while Inkigayo was insane, M! Countdown was ten times worse. The fans organized into the lines the most quickly at Inkigayo, and it seemed like there was less violence involved. Unfortunately for my friends and me, who you can actually see in the video, we had lined up towards the front of the initial line, nearby the fan staff. We thought we’d be in the top 100 fans, but suddenly, the fan staff decided that the line would start behind us. By that point, we had to round two street corners before we found the end of the line. By the time we received our numbers, I was number 868 out of the 1000+ fans that showed up, and more continued to show up throughout the day, mainly because there would be a fan meeting after Inkigayo that day. What ended up happening was, they let in the first 500 fans into the pre-recording, before the live show. The first 50 (I’m not 100% sure about this number, but 50 is usually the most tickets Inkigayo will grant a fanclub) fans were allowed into the live show. Then fans 500-900 (that’s me!) were allowed into the post-recording, after the live show. The ones after that were given the front rows at the fan meeting afterwards; then fans 1-900 filed in after them.

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(*Many were shocked by this video because at the end, it looks like the Korean fan slaps the CL fan in the face. I had heard from the CL fan’s friend that this was not the case and that the girl had just been trying to slap the camera away. From the Western perspective, we might not understand why filming a public event may be such a big deal, but Koreans do not like having their faces on camera. Check out photos from K-Pop events in Korea, and you’ll notice that many fans will cover their faces. Plus, Inkigayo is attended by many students since it is on the weekend. Many of these students lie to their parents and do not tell them they are going to a music show, so they would rather not have their whereabouts exposed in any sort of way, even if the likelihood of their parents watching a YouTube video titled “EXO fan stampede” is low. The video has now been taken down.)

Basically, I’ve come to the conclusion that while it’s true that EXO fans are a bit out of hand because of their young age, their passion is just perpetuated, if not caused, by a fan staff that does not handle the situation properly nor do they respect the fans. When I asked a fan staff a question about the queuing process during comeback weekend, I felt like the girl was going to bite my head off with her short, snappy answer before she rolled her eyes at me and walked away. However, I have met some nice SM fan staff as well since that encounter, so at least they do exist.

I understand they want to protect their artists from rabid fans, but a little trust in the fans can go a long way. Maybe if the fans see that SM is granting them some privileges and is willing to work together to accommodate everyone’s needs, they can calm down and respect their oppas from a comfortable distance. They wouldn’t feel this sense of desperation that they have to push and shove to get to their oppas. Of course, the fans need to do their part as well and prove that they can handle themselves. I don’t know how many more stories about the boys (and other fans) being pushed around at the airport I can take. From what I’ve heard from my friends that continue to line up with the fandom at music shows, the situation is still just as disorganized and hectic, and now that EXO has swept the number one spots in three music shows, I can only expect more fans to show up and more madness to ensue.

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While the system has definitely discouraged me personally from queuing with EXO for music shows, I will continue to support them in any way I can, including doing their fanchants at music shows, even if I’m surrounded by judging Hottests. It’s not the boys’ fault that things have turned out the way that they have, and I do want to see them succeed. After all, how can you not love these twelve boys? Okay, obviously, I have fallen into the SM trap, and sometimes, I am ashamed of some of the things I’ve done. But at the end of the day, I accept the spiral I have descended down because frankly, seeing the boys shine and live out their dream makes me happy. And although I’m thankful for my experiences of being able to see them in the flesh, I sometimes wish for the days when my EXO experiences were limited to the happy feelings that came from watching them on my computer screen rather than those feelings being tarnished by real life negative ones. So for now, I’ll keep my inner wolf girl locked up, and leave the fighting to the real alpha females out there.

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