Dossier 9: Online Fandom

Adding up the numbers

Modern day fans no longer simply busy themselves with buying albums and kissing posters. They have deep knowledge on how to manipulate the (online) world towards their goal. Be it political activism, in-depth narrative analysis, or streaming number manipulation, their reach with social media algorithms is wide and far.

Our image contributor Christina Eugenia Puentes, a 31 year old artist and student living in Colombia, is a casual member of western and eastern pop music fandoms since 2008. Her inspiration and research for her image contribution came from her own experiences on K-pop and J-pop stan twitter throughout the years.

The illustration is a representation of the quasi religious fervor and activity of online support for artists worldwide. The fan portrayed is engaging in a Youtube streaming marathon to artificially inflate music video views, playing from various devices at the same time. Below the image you can read about all of the references.

Illustration by Christina Eugenia Puentes

When pop music fandoms meet politics

Though kpop fans made worldwide headlines last summer during the BLM protests in the United States, the first moment where kpop fans took political action sparked during Chile’s protests in late 2019. The influence of kpoppers in the movement was big enough for the Chilean government to publicly accuse them of collaborating with foreign political actors trying to destabilise the country on purpose. This short video shows protesters dancing to a kpop song in full costume during a protest.

Another moment of intense online fandom activity was seen in July 2020 when kpoppers clogged the twitter replies of Spanish far-right pundits and parties with politically themed “fancams”. The videos were shared with the hashtag #Fachaqueveofachaquefancameo (roughly translated to Fascist I see, fascist I [spam with a] fancam). This “fancam” shows girlgroup Mamamoo dancing on top of fascist dictator Francisco Franco’s grave.

Streaming guides and the know-how of number manipulation

Many online fandoms are known for their high degree of collaboration and intimate knowledge of social media algorithms. These tactics were originally deviced by fans to “protect” the image of their favorite artists and include cleaning search results by spamming certain key words, making it impossible to find controversial or negative posts, or spamming videos of their artists (called “fancams”) in hashtags started by anti-fans, swiftly rendering the hashtag useless and making it easy to take down by reporting it as spam. These manipulation techniques have been adapted by other fandoms (it’s now common to find fancams of anime and videogame characters on twitter). 

Fans also know how to artificially inflate Youtube views, online music stream numbers and engage in competition against rival fandoms to break view/stream records. Everytime a new music video is released, graphics containing “comeback goals” are shared in social media with the respective stream/sales numbers the fandom aims to achieve. Though these milestones are often meaningless outside of the fandom, many fans see the participation in streaming as extremely important and will devote hours and hours of their time to it for free. Competition against rival fandoms often turns nasty and vindictive.

Fanmade infographics explaining the lore contained in in Loona’s videography, or “Loonaverse”

Loona (이달의 소녀, translated as “Girl of the month”) is a South Korean girlgroup known for the conceptual continuity of their high budget music videos, shot by video production company Digipedi. Every member of the group has an assigned color, a representative animal and a solo music video release that was originally revealed every month leading up the group’s debut.

Hints (some of them hidden in single frames) are introduced in every new music video and teaser, building an ever larger narrative and increasing fans’ emotional investment in the group. Loona’s fans, also known as “Orbits” are encouraged to analyze the videos, watching them frame by frame, then sharing their own theories on social media. Dozens of hour long videos about the “Loonaverse” are currently found on Youtube. Orbits are also infamously known for constantly and annoyingly spamming Loona on social media to “convert” people into becoming fans, up to the point of internet meme-dom when musician Grimes, who collaborated with the group, jokingly admitted Loona member Go Won was to be the godmother of her son X Æ A-Xii, prompting an avalanche of memes and perplexed western gossip articles.

The BTS Theory Room

Worldwide superstars BTS’s fandom, known as “Army”, are also known for theorizing around BTS’ lyrics and music videos. This video showcases an Army filming an entire room that was used to analyze motifs and frames contained in every BTS music video, and when it was originally uploaded (2019) it caused a stir among fandoms, shocked at the degree of dedication someone could devote to a group’s videography.