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MANILA, Philippines – K-pop fans have different ways of expressing their love and support beyond collecting photocards and streaming music videos like there’s no tomorrow. Others would take things a step further, preferring to engage IRL or “in real life” with other fans through cupsleeve events.
Cupsleeve events, or CSEs, are gatherings where mutual fans of a K-pop idol or group come together in person and socialize out of mutual endearment for their favorite artists. Having become an integral part of their lives, CSEs are organized and attended by K-pop stans of different ages to celebrate both their personal and career milestones. This commonly comprises their birthdays, comebacks, and debut anniversaries.
Derived from the piece of carton that wraps around drink containers, cupsleeve events are usually held in cafés where fans would avail of fan-made commemorative goods such as banners and stationery that are then packed in kits – cupsleeves included, of course. From securing venues to building these fan-made kits, most cupsleeve events are funded by K-pop fans themselves.
Set-ups could veer more interactive with programs and games comparable to that of your typical birthday party, or through a more casual arrangement in which fans are simply encouraged to buy drinks, appreciate the themed decor, and take photos.
It doesn’t end there; cupsleeve events could also take the form of pre-packaged parties held in fast-food chains. Older fans who are of age can also swap coffee for alcohol in “beersleeve” events, dancing and drinking the night away to their favorite K-pop songs.
The practice originated in South Korea and has since made its way to local fan communities across the globe, allowing fans to not only celebrate their idols’ impact on their lives but to also meet fellow supporters.
Saving the date
Mavia is a self-proclaimed tita multi-stan, balancing fan duties as an ENGENE (fan of K-pop boy group ENHYPEN), MOODZ (fan of South Korean singer-songwriter WOODZ), and Army (fan of K-pop boy group BTS).
A Pampanga-based fan working in the metro, Mavia would devote time and effort to attending these events, no matter how tricky braving the Manila commute can get. At times, even booking an AirBnb for convenience when scheduled to attend more than one cupsleeve event.
“Going to a cupsleeve event, for me, is like having a date with people I barely know but somehow feel a special connection with,” she told Rappler.
The date, that is, grants her the chance to meet fans of different ages, witnessing how each fandom’s “culture and how they interact” has changed. Mavia confessed she does get overwhelmed at times, as newer generations of K-pop groups tend to have younger fans.
“But don’t worry! Just interact with them! They don’t bite,” she also joked.
Now being able to allocate her hard-earned money towards K-pop merchandise, Mavia tries her best to avoid being impulsive with her fangirl spending habits. For a cupsleeve event alone – which is more often than not plotted as a whole-day excursion – costs for food and transportation should be accounted for. Mavia also makes sure to prepare extra cash for not only claiming CSE kits but also for scoring other fan-made merchandise to support fan artists.
According to Mavia, CSE attendees tend to go big with their outfits to coincide with an event’s given theme. From color palettes to decade-reminiscent fashion, fans would devote the days leading to the CSE to assembling their best fits. Bringing the right photocard is essential, she also emphasized, with other fans opting to bring dolls that look like or represent their favorite idols.
As Mavia put it quite accurately: “Cupsleeve events are basically meeting cute people, dressing up cutely, and bringing cute stuff! Everything is cute!”
Attention to detail
Ayra regularly accepted design commissions for cupsleeve events before the pandemic. Nowadays, she focuses more on running her own stationery business as well as another design-related side job. If time permits, she would take on a few CSE requests primarily for NCT members Jaehyun and Taeyong.
For Ayra, design heavily affects the reach and appeal of CSEs: “The design from the pubmat to the inclusions will help you gain engagements and traction for the event. Kapag maganda yung pubmats and inclusions, maraming naeengganyo umattend (If your publication materials and inclusions look nice, more fans would feel inclined to attend).”
Depending on her hectic schedule, Ayra gets the work done as quickly as two days to two weeks, taking into consideration the complexity and the bulk of her existing commissions. Given that visual factors shape a good chunk of the CSE experience, Ayra would intricately conceptualize her designs, drawing inspiration from an idol’s songs, hobbies, and personality.
It then becomes a back-and-forth affair, from consulting with organizers for feedback to keeping in touch with manufacturers for larger prints. She also regularly encounters limitations such as budget and time constraints, which may influence her final design choices.
“It takes a lot of time and effort to come up with the designs and execute them perfectly,” she also told Rappler, admitting that the design process could get “quite stressful” as she tends to overthink the quality of her work.
While it’s been a while since she’s been actively involved with cupsleeve events, Ayra did take note that the pandemic has changed the way these gatherings are organized. “Since the pandemic hit, organizers had to be creative and make events more accessible for everyone,” she said.
CSE organizers can now accommodate “online attendees” by shipping their CSE kits straight to their homes, allowing them to still feel included and commemorate a given event. However, this also “doubles the work” on the organizer’s end, adding to the already taxing undertaking that is putting a cupsleeve event together.
Counting down to D-day
Twitter user Chelly PH has been organizing back-to-back cupsleeve events for her favorite K-pop artists since 2018, starting her CSE journey with boy group BTS. Given the steady return of in-person events in 2022, Chelly PH began holding CSEs once more but for other groups this time around, such as K-pop boy groups SEVENTEEN and ENHYPEN.
“To be honest, dahil kay SEVENTEEN’s Wonwoo kaya ako nag-organize [ulit] ng CSE (I started organizing cupsleeve events again because of SEVENTEEN member Wonwoo),” the account’s main admin told Rappler.
Sharing the same birthday month as her favorite member or “bias” led her to the idea of holding a CSE instead of an old-fashioned birthday celebration, serving as an opportunity for her to meet other Carats, or fans of the group SEVENTEEN.
Chelly PH held her first cupsleeve event in SM Fairview, later transferring to Fairview Terraces to accommodate the growing number of attendees. It takes her and a team of only two other co-admins about a month to fully materialize these get-togethers. The tasking would also be clear-cut. For instance, one admin would be in charge of having a standee made while the other would take care of the designing and printing of CSE kits.
Unlike most organizers, Chelly PH also regularly holds cupsleeve events for all members of her favorite groups rather than solely her bias. Despite having organized numerous CSEs, the work doesn’t always get easier.
“Hindi siya ganong kadali kasi need namin kausapin yung mga manager or supervisor para mabigyan kami ng permit. Sa supplies, kami po mismo nagpiprint ng kits. Maarte kami pagdating sa kits [kasi] gusto namin maganda talaga yung prints and high quality,” she said.
(It’s not that easy because we need to talk to the manager or supervisor to be given a permit. For supplies, we would print the kits. We’re nitpicky when it comes to kits because we want them to look good and be of high quality.)
Another challenge lies in the physical toll. Chelly PH revealed that it would take the team well until dawn to finalize not only the kits but also the decor, prizes, raffles, and games. There’s also the added layer of logistical concerns like late payments for CSE kits they themselves manufactured, packed, and distributed.
“Hindi naman po maiiwasan yan. Hindi po ako naniningil ng late fees as long as nagsasabi po sila saken na malalate sila magbayad, or kahit nakalimutan nila dahil may work sila,” she said. (These things can’t be fully avoided. I don’t charge late fees as long as attendees notify me beforehand, or even if they forget to pay due to work.)
Finding sponsors – such as fellow fans and K-pop shop owners – to supply raffle items and other prizes is also no easy feat since some potential sponsors would disregard their requests due to their busy schedules.
In most cases, the small team behind Chelly PH would shell money straight out of their pockets in order to bring these events to life. With attendees amounting from 60 to even 100 fans, the big day for Chelly PH would usually take about six hours for two batches of programs given the limited seating space in cafés.
The true gift
Cupsleeve events are one of the many facets of K-pop fan culture that may have the tendency to invite skepticism from non-fans and casual listeners alike. Like collecting photocards, it all boils down to questioning all this effort for personalities who “don’t even know you exist.”
But for these K-pop stans, it’s more than simply a show of appreciation for their favorite idols. The appeal of cupsleeve events lies more in fostering a sense of community with fans and simply put, building friendships. Gaining not only new mutual followers online, but also CSE and even concert buddies.
Prior to becoming a CSE organizer, the main admin of Chelly PH had no CARAT “moots” or mutual followers from Twitter who are also SEVENTEEN fans: “Mas na-motivate akong ipagpatuloy mag-CSE kasi gusto kong magkaroon ng CARAT moots. May mga attendee din ako before na mag-isa lang sila, pero ngayon may circle of friends na sila and isa na ‘ko dun”
(I feel motivated to continue organizing CSEs because I want to have more CARAT moots. I’ve also had attendees before who would come on their own, but now they have their own circle of friends and I’ve become a part of that.)
For Ayra, the most fulfilling part of lending her creative expertise to CSEs is seeing her designs printed on full display at the venue, as well as being featured in the social media posts of attendees.
“As a designer, I constantly stress and worry about the output of my work,” she said. “But once I see my clients and the event attendees na masaya with what I’ve done, very worth it yung pagod and stress.”
(But once I see my clients and the event attendees satisfied with what I’ve done, the exhaustion and stress become worth it.)
Mavia believes she was “born to be a fangirl forever,” citing Justin Bieber and One Direction as her fangirl roots. A K-pop stan for almost half of her life, she had this to say about her entire CSE experience: “Gaining these fun and diverse experiences, which I could reminisce about when I get older is really fulfilling!”
However, she too is well aware of how “cringey” or foreign the concept of cupsleeve events could be to the uninitiated.
But for her and many other fans involved in cupsleeve events, these get-togethers are their special way of “doing it for the plot” and more importantly, enjoying their youth: “When will I ever get to experience these things if not in my free and liberated early 20s right?” – Rappler.com
Mika Geronimo is a Rappler intern