Why There Can Only Be One: Multifandom in Korea
I think it’s no secret that Korean fans and International fans argue a lot. There a myriad of reasons about why they argue; in my opinion the majority of spats are focused around various cultural differences, and one of the biggest may be the attitude towards multifandom.
What’s multifandom, you ask? Simply said, multifandom is the act of supporting more than one group. If a fan labels themselves as more than one fandom, say a B2UTY, Starlight, and an INSPIRIT; then that’s a multifandom fan.
While I think most international fans label themselves as multifandom, in Korea it’s entirely the opposite. When it comes to K-pop, fans pledge their loyalty to a single group. Sure you can switch down the line and like another, but the key is that fans only subscribe to one group at a time. For international fans this might be a confusing concept; after all, there are so many good K-pop groups, and Korean fans are located at the hub of it all. Why wouldn’t they want to support, or like, more than one group?
As international fans, we oftentimes don’t see the struggle that groups go through to make it; by the time we’ve heard about them, they’ve usually gotten big enough to spread abroad. Hundreds of idols debut every year, and very few of them make it more than a year or two out of debut. Because of this, Korean fans consider it very important to support your group with all you have. The market is small, and in order to survive fans need to defend their group to see them live for a long time.
Domestic fans are expected to invest, both with time and money, heavily into their idols. A CD, concert, random festival, or musical announced? Fans buy or attend every single one. A member gets casted for a drama? Fans watch every single episode. A new album, title track, or OST is released? Fans stream nonstop. Your group is actively promoting on music shows? Fans wake up at 4 a.m. and stand in line for hours, just so someone will cheer for their group at recordings. Because of the level of active involvement required to properly support one group, many fans don’t have resources to support more than one; and loyalty towards a single group is valued in fan culture.
When speaking with a Korean coworker on this issue, she told me that – in her fan days – there used to be a term for multifandom fans, “잡팬”(jap-faen) or “mixed fans.” To most international fans, this probably brings up this imagery of japchae or Korean mixed noodles. Although the name may seem innocent and cute at first, the word “mixed” that’s used in this context is slightly derogatory – the word for “mutt” uses the same word – and implies that the fan isn’t “pure.” The term is still used today, along with another “다팬” (ta-faen, literally “all-fan”), and searching both in Twitter returns some very nasty tweets; with the majority of them echoing the sentiment of “Please don’t follow me if you are one.”
Personally, as a Korea-based fan, I do not consider myself a multifan. True, I do enjoy the songs of other groups, and attend concerts, but, I only do full fan supports for INFINITE. That means that I will attend all music shows, concerts, and musicals that the boys make an appearance in. I will also buy all CDs and DVDs, on top of watching any and all TV programming they appear on. The level of support that I devote to them is more than any other group, which is why I don’t think I could label myself as a fan of another group.
Meanwhile, as an international fan it makes total sense to follow more than one group. Although fans want to support their biases as much as possible, there’s a limitation as to how much you can support a group when there’s a trans-something plane flight separating you. In the meantime, medians like YouTube make it easy for fans to fall in love with more than one group at once. Not having to go to nonstop promotions and spend money on musicals and concerts also means that fans have more resources to divide equally across more groups. International fans support their own groups in their own way. Unfortunately, because of the sheer limitation of distance they usually aren’t able to contribute as easily to groups as domestic fans.
Since I started being an active part of fandom after I moved to Korea, I have mixed feelings about multifans. Although I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being a multifan outside of Korea, I do believe that when international multifans come here, they need to selectively decide who they’re going to support. That means only actively supporting one group at a time. So, if both BTS and GOT7 are having a comeback at the same time, and one is a fan of both, one only attends all music show promotions for one group.
While international fans may see it is as rare chance to see idols when they visit Korea, they should understand why Korean fans may react negatively. Seeing idols and supporting their group is a normal part of daily life, and as it is, it many Korean fans feel like international fans don’t “support” their groups as much as domestic fans do; and it only makes matters worse if one is seen jumping group to group during active promotions. With the competition being so cutthroat, it’s understandable that domestic fans feel salty when they see temporary visitors spreading their loyalty so thin, but reaping all the benefits.
Soompiers, do you consider yourself a multifan or a single fan? What are your thoughts on multifandom vs. single fandom?
harmonicar is a former teacher who once taught at CNBLUE’s Yonghwa’s high school in Busan. She is an avid INFINITE fan, and was once served beer by Sungyeol in Seoul.
*The views expressed in this article solely reflect those of the author and do not necessarily represent Soompi as a whole.