MANILA, Philippines – There’s no denying the way K-pop has dominated pop culture in recent years – and besides the talent and hard work of the artists themselves, we owe part of its worldwide success to its fans.
Recognized as the backbone of the industry, K-pop fans, or “stans,” are known for their passion for and dedication to the groups they support. These stans are used to making hashtags quickly trend globally – whether to celebrate their idol’s birthday or promote a group’s album release.
But aside from supporting a group’s official activities, K-pop stans have also shown that they can channel their like-minded passion and interest towards other worthy causes. They have been known to mount social justice campaigns and donation drives, often in the names of the idols they support.
In the Philippines alone, fandoms of several K-pop groups have successfully organized activities like setting up community pantries, providing relief assistance to typhoon victims, and leading feeding programs and donation drives for frontliners. The fans say they choose to step in every time they see a lack of government support in certain situations.
It’s no surprise, then, that K-pop stans have also come together to air their concerns and act on them for the upcoming 2022 Philippine elections.
‘K-pop is a movement’
“Hindi naman porket K-pop stan ka eh nakakahon ka na sa pagiging K-pop enjoyer.… Hindi mo naman na talaga mahihiwalay ‘yung nature ng entertainment sa pagpapatakbo ng bansa natin eh,” Marc, a 32-year-old teacher who volunteers for the KPOP STANS 4 LENI group, said.
(You can’t just be boxed in as a ‘K-pop enjoyer’ just because you’re a K-pop stan…. You can’t really separate the nature of entertainment and how a country is run, anyway.)
He continued, “For example, TWICE is about to have their world tour and we’re not included in its stops. Kasi pangit ‘yung pandemic response natin.… Talagang apektado tayo (Because the Philippines responded poorly to the pandemic…. So we were really affected.) We can’t enjoy the mobility that New Zealand, for example, has. Bare minimum na nga lang pero ano ‘yung priority ng pamahalaan natin (We’re already asking for the bare minimum, but what does the government end up prioritizing)?
It’s also the discontent with the current government that drove Ceejay, a 22-year-old marketing and sales relationship assistant, to volunteer for KPOP STANS 4 LENI.
“Sawang-sawa na ako sa pandemic na ‘to. Hinihiling ko na talaga na sana may mabago na, kaya ako na mismo ‘yung nag-volunteer. Kasi kung kaya kong mag-ingay as a K-pop stan, kaya ko rin mag-ingay as a Filipino, as a citizen of this country,” she said.
(I’m so fed up with this pandemic. I’ve been wanting change to happen already, which is why I volunteered. Because if I can make noise as a K-pop fan, I can also make noise as a Filipino, as a citizen of this country.)
Angel, a 19-year old Psychology student who holds Twitter Spaces to discuss the elections, says that Filipino K-pop fans’ experience in defending their idols and scrutinizing their issues can be beneficial to how they see and treat the upcoming elections, too.
“K-pop fans often see the mistreatment of entertainment companies towards their idols, so they speak up against those things. Similarly, if K-pop fans can do that for their idols, then it should not be too different from demanding fair treatment for the people of the country. That common ground, I believe, is very important in realizing that being a K-pop fan and being a Filipino are not mutually exclusive to each other,” she said.
Majo, one of the core members of KPOP STANS 4 LENI, said that while their members and volunteers have different motivations for joining the group, they are all bound together by their shared love for K-pop.
“I’ve always seen K-pop as a movement. I hold the capacity of the fandom and its talent to organize in a high regard. There’s a level of awareness that only fellow K-pop stans understand.… While people outside the circle might think of us as either very young people, or [people] who don’t know shit, or people who spend on senseless things, I actually know that we’re real smart people who are able to do things and move mountains,” she said.
‘We’re not alone’
When Vice President Leni Robredo filed her candidacy for president on October 7, that’s when the Facebook group and Twitter accounts for KPOP STANS 4 LENI were formed. The movement was initiated by two separate K-pop groups that were both advocating for Robredo and decided to unite and form a core team.
Zee, an accountant, was the one who made the Twitter account. “It was a spur of the moment thing, to be honest,” she said.
The K-pop account made its debut with a video tweet of Robredo announcing her intention to run for president. A MAMA (a South Korean awarding ceremony) fancam of K-pop groups BTS, GOT7, and ITZY standing up to cheer was superimposed on the video to make it look like the groups were cheering for Robredo instead.
Zee, however, did not expect the tweet to go viral, and for fellow stans to express their support for the same candidate, too. “A lot of people and fellow stans were inspired, knowing that we’re not alone in this, that there are other K-pop stans out there who are using their platforms to support the same candidate,” she said.
The online presence of Filipino stans has always been significant. In 2020, the Philippines ranked fifth among unique users discussing K-pop on Twitter.
The same pleasant surprise was felt by Majo and her group of friends who started the Facebook group. “It started as a running joke…but the circle just grew. Within 24 hours, we had more than a thousand members. That’s how fast everything happened.”
“We weren’t expecting that it would blow up the way it did. In a sense, napasubo kami. Pero keri lang, napanindigan namin (We bit off more than what we could chew. But it’s okay. We were able to live up to the challenge).”
Angel also didn’t expect the flood of listeners who participated in her #PolitiKPop Twitter Space. Originally meant as an educational discussion for her moots (those are following her stan Twitter account), the space ended up reaching other Filipino K-pop fandoms, too.
“Most listeners (of the #PolitiKPop space) are K-pop fans who are (1) interested and knowledgeable in politics, or (2) interested but are not that knowledgeable in politics, or (3) neither interested nor knowledgeable in politics, but are willing to give such discussions a chance,” she said.
A safe space for the community
Already accustomed to mobilizing quickly online, it was easy for these Filipino stans to plan their activities.
“The first month (since we launched) was very overwhelming,” Majo said. “Again, we weren’t expecting for it to blow up the way it did. It was overwhelming to manage everything and build these groups. It’s volunteer-run, so there’s a lot of people signing up for things, but when it comes to the actual work itself, it’s actually a different ball game.”
But she added that they’re “trying to make the most out of what everyone can contribute,” considering that most of their volunteers are students and young professionals. “We understand when they can’t do things. But if they can, we know that they will.”
Given that they’re still in the early stages of planning, what most volunteers currently do is participate in brainstorming for possible activities or help monitoring their current activities. Ceejay, for example, is part of the KPOP STANS 4 LENI’s Legal AdHoc committee, wherein she reaches out to other professionals to fact-check necessary information that is needed before their group releases publicity materials. Marc, meanwhile, helps in handling their Twitter Spaces. When a discussion is ongoing, Marc’s usually the one live-tweeting what the speakers are saying or filtering out the concerns and questions from listeners.
Majo shared that while they are open to volunteers, they also make sure to filter all applications. “It started with us adding our friends, people we can personally vouch for. It’s also a network of adding friends that we trust.… We also ask a series of questions – Kailan ka naging K-pop fan, ano ‘yung groups na stina-stan mo (When did you become a K-pop fan, which groups are you a fan of)?”
“Some questions have answers that you’ll only know if you’re actually a K-pop fan. And even then, we do go through their profiles. A bunch of volunteers stalk those applying before we add them. The smallest hint that they’re not okay, their application is automatically declined.”
Majo said that this rigorous process is needed to ensure that the group will only involve individuals who share the same political beliefs as they do. “It’s a safe space for all of us, so we have to be careful,” she said.
Angel echoed the sentiment, saying that aside from the reach and engagement of her K-pop fan accounts, it’s primarily the fandom environment that pushed her to talk openly about politics.
“I’m blessed that my Twitter mutuals are open and understanding whenever I am socio-politically vocal in my account, so they also contributed to me being more comfortable in using my platform for political awareness and participation,” she said.
Angel continued, “In the #PolitiKPop space, I try to make it a point to emphasize that what we are doing is not a transfer of information, but an exchange. It’s important for listeners to realize that it is not the speakers alone who hold the information, but they too, possess important insights that are vital in discussions such as this.”
For Mei, a 25-year-old who works in engineering, admitted that she volunteered for KPOP STANS 4 LENI because she feels safer identifying herself as a K-pop fan rather than, for example, her work persona.
“Hindi ako pwedeng mag-volunteer sa Engineers for Leni kasi…hindi maayos ang political climate sa mismong office. Alanganin na ako doon.… Mas gusto ko na ‘yung nagiging anonymous ka kapag K-pop stan. Hindi porket naman na anonymous na tayo eh hindi na kami totoong tao. Mas gusto ko lang talaga na makapag-freely rant na walang magiging repercussion ‘yung pagsabi ko ng opinion ko,” she said.
(I can’t volunteer for the group Engineers for Leni because the political climate at the office isn’t that great. I need to tread carefully there; I would much rather, then, that I be an anonymous K-pop stan. Just because we’re anonymous doesn’t mean we aren’t real people. I just would rather prefer that I be able to rant freely, to not have any repercussions just because I speak my mind.)
The battle has just begun
With five months before the May 2022 elections, these Filipino K-pop stans know that things are just going to be busier and more hectic.
“For the past two months since we were created, we’ve done a couple of activities online like Twitter Spaces, mass report hours, giveaways,” Majo said, but she added that there’s still a “lot of things cooking up.”
She added that their group drew inspiration from the machinery of the K-pop industry. Usually, the months and weeks leading to a K-pop group’s comeback (the release of their new album), entertainment agencies have lined up various activities to hype the upcoming release. This, as Majo said, is what their group is gearing up for.
Activities such as mass report hours, mass streaming, and giveaways are common to most K-pop fandoms. Mass report hours usually happen when a fandom wants to block or report a certain account or content that is usually harassing their idols. For KPOP STANS 4 LENI, they said they’ve mass reported content that perpetuated fake news about candidates.
Mass streaming, meanwhile, is what a fandom does when a group releases a music video or a specific video or audio content. In the K-pop industry, fans usually aim for high views and streams for the first 24 hours after a group’s release. KPOP STANS 4 LENI said that they “mass streamed” Robredo’s video about her plans for the COVID-19 pandemic response.
Holding giveaways is a way for fandoms to encourage their fellow fans to support their activities. Usually, fan bases do giveaways by asking their fellow fans to show proof (usually a screenshot) of them streaming or voting. A random participant will then be picked to win a specific prize.
What KPOP STANS 4 LENI did was encourage other stans to register to vote. They listed several rules such as posting a photo while wearing a pink shirt, mentioning why they decided to register, and using specific hashtags. Chosen winners will then win an album by various K-pop groups and artists.
“We build our programs in a way that we make sure that there’s an online attack and there’s an offline attack. K-pop after all is internet culture. The online space is where we spread information but we make sure that the call to action is offline,” she added.
Aside from utilizing other social media platforms like Tiktok, they also plan to hold cupsleeve events (which involves fans printing out their idol’s faces onto coffee cup sleeves) and sell merchandise – activities that are also common to a K-pop fandom. But this time, they will be in the theme of the upcoming elections.
Zee added, “From online, we’re trying to move on the ground. Online is a big space for us to promote but we know that the real battle is one the ground. We have to reach people who have no access to social media.”
At this point, they’re aware that the road ahead is not easy. In fact, their emails have already received phishing/flooding attempts. Zee said that they were even labeled as trolls.
But Marc said that they choose which battles to engage in. “Hindi pa naman official campaign period eh (It’s not the start of official campaign period yet). So we’re being strategic. We’re preserving our mental headspace and energy and brace ourselves for what’s to come.”
An opportunity for the K-pop community
As organizers, they also acknowledge that there are other Filipino K-pop fans who’d like to separate politics from K-pop.
“There’s fans who say that we’re here to have fun and that we’re not here to politicize the music that we listen to. That’s respectable and okay. We’re not asking to interact with them. If they don’t like us, they don’t have to follow us. But our group is a safe space for those who actually share our advocacy, want to learn and expand it in their real-life circles,” Majo said.
She also refuted the notion that K-pop shouldn’t be seen as something political. “When I look at K-pop, I think of it as soft power on steroids. It is political. The way they market themselves, the way they raised their country’s economy with these concerts and merchandise, they way they packaged South Korea as a cool country for foreigners. The politics of K-pop made that happen,” she explained.
Angel said that instead of getting hurt or mad, she uses these comments to continue her advocacy. “I use these comments as fuel to push our agenda further: the crossover of K-pop and politics. The fact that we receive comments and reactions like these mean that our efforts are being seen outside the community – and that is a good start already. I believe that eventually, when people see what our case is and what it is for, they will begin to understand that K-pop is as much a platform for change as it is a field of interest.”
She continued, “The more we shy away from politics, the more we will be susceptible to its negative implications.… I hope that the way we demand justice from K-pop entertainment for better treatment of our idols will also translate into how we demand accountability from our government.”
Majo highlighted that their group, despite being formed by their shared love for foreign artists, are very much willing to fight for the country.
“This upcoming election is very important for me, for us. It’s a make-it-or-break-it thing. Will the type of leadership that we have continue? Or will it end? This presents a real opportunity for us to show that the narrative is going to change,” she said.
Majo added that with the amount of Filipino K-pop stans utilizing their platforms for the upcoming election, it could also be a way for other people, especially those not part of the fandom community, to view these fans in a different light.
“This is also important for us, the K-pop community, to be seen as real people, and people who think. My pet peeve would be people who are outside the community who often 1) infantilize and call us “baby bra warriors” or 2) dismiss us saying that we’re not real people or just hiding behind our accounts or we haven’t really done something for the community except be fans.”
“It is important for others to see us as a legitimate group of people, and a solid collective of thinking, doing, and organizing individuals,” Majo said. – Rappler.com