Stan Life: The Psyche of Being a Hardcore Fangirl

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Stans redefine the word ‘dedication’ by how fanatical they can get about celebrities and artists. Sherry Corominas deep-dives into the mindset of being immersed in the fandom life.

With Korean actors, actresses, and idols dominating the endorsement scene in the Philippines, it is undeniable that the Hallyu Wave is here, that it is in full swing, and that it is definitely here to stay for the foreseeable future.

But what does it really even mean to be a fan of these artists? Many might think that buying a few albums, going to the Philippine-leg of concerts or locally-organized fan meetings by big corporate brands, and grabbing something like the BLACKPINK-inspired ‘Love Sweet Series’ donuts from Krispy Kreme or the McDonald’s BTS Meal are enough to consider these consumers as super fans.

Yet the fact of the matter is, there’s an entire world of the fandom life that the general public has never even seen, nor are they even aware of – the world of full-blown K-entertainment fangirls and fanboys whose dedication to their respective favorite artists requires so much more time, effort and financial resources than the aforementioned – that it has practically redefined what dedication is.

Falling into the Fandom Rabbit Hole

The coverage and the experiences in the world of fandom are so wide and all-encompassing, that I don’t even really know where to properly begin for anyone to be able to catch all the bases.

I can reference my experiences in my journey as a hardcore fangirl of K-pop girl group whose smash hits once dominated speakers all over the Philippines with a viral dance move long before dance challenges were cool and before TikTok even made it big, and a rising Korean actress who instantaneously captured hearts all over the world with her portrayal of a super confident, incredibly stylish, sexually-brazen and ballsy children’s book author on a massively popular Netflix K-drama.

But I think how I fell into the fandom life isn’t too different from how many others have for the fandoms of their respective faves.

It honestly can just start with something as little as a meme that you find yourself getting curious enough about to look more into it. But more often than not, it really starts with one innocent YouTube video where you find clips of such good-looking young men and women being their charming selves that it becomes so to fall down a rabbit hole of YouTube videos. Before you know it, it’s already 4:00 a.m., and you’ve definitely messed up your circadian rhythm.

Then you’re on Google to know a little bit more about them, which leads to meticulously going through their list of projects. It won’t be long until you find yourself following their official social media pages, and maybe even a few dedicated fan-made pages.

You’d love to go on and on about your newly-found fave to your friends and your family members, but while they seem to be happy you’ve found something that sparks so much joy in you, they can’t always share your level of enthusiasm for your new interest. At some point, you’ll find yourself still yearning for more after consuming practically every single piece of content you could find online about this artist who has become your recent obsession.

Online Communities and Stan Twitter

Enter Stan Twitter. Twitter is an online platform that has undoubtedly revolutionized the way people have connected all over the globe. But now you find yourself asking “What is a ‘stan’ then?” and “What is its relationship with Twitter?”

Because Twitter has streamlined online communication between total strangers over their shared interests in certain topics, it has made for an environment where fan communities could not only grow but also undeniably flourish.

Fans will express a more casual kind of love and support for their favorite celebrities, and this usually includes liking their social media posts, checking in on their new projects, and watching a few of their interviews from time to time. Stans on the other hand are super fans who – on top of doing the aforementioned – have a much deeper level of investment, and are utterly committed to knowing every single thing they possibly can.

Stan Twitter is a side of Twitter that has catered to the need of these stans, which has subsequently become an outlet for them to share anything and everything about their favorite celebrities – creating an online community where they can find like-minded individuals with whom they can share their thoughts and feelings, instead of just endlessly screaming into the void.

Stans will know every official schedule of the artist as it appears on their official fancafe (a webpage made by an artist’s agency as a way to communicate with fans – mainly those based in Korea, as international fans do have to out in a bit more effort when signing up for these pages). With the advent of stan Twitter, it has become much easier to share information that was once only easily accessible to Korean fans to other international co-stans en masse.

Whether it’s an up-to-date and complete archive of that’s artists’ social media posts; a frequently updated list of all officially scheduled appearances; overseas trips for international concerts, conventions, and promotions; your favorite artist’s new photo releases from their latest endorsements and commercial films; seasonal voting information on official polls where your faves are nominated; or sometimes even some basic information about your favorite artist’s close family members – it’s all on Stan Twitter. 

One would think that the craze behind the K-wave would slow down just as more traditional entertainment outlets have everywhere else in the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet with all the advancements in technology that have made virtual fan signs, fan meetings, and online concerts possible and accessible, stans have felt connected to their faves more than ever. Plus with how much more time people have been spending staring at their screens (and not to mention binging on K-drama) instead of going out, and how the Hallyu Wave seems to have made these fixations more acceptable to mainstream audiences – it would seem that more and more people are slowly getting sucked into stan life!

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The Cost of the Stan Life Experience

While being a K-entertainment stan can be seen as a hobby that adds spice to their daily routine, it’s something that can be quite consuming in terms of time and finances.

K-drama stans can find themselves set back around $300 dollars purchasing the official Blu-ray edition of their favorite K-dramas, and that’s not even including a physical copy of the drama’s original soundtrack and other official merchandise tie-ins.

K-pop stans can easily rack up spending tens of thousands of pesos over the course of their stan life after collecting the complete sets of their favorite artists’ albums – including all available versions of the same album (with differences mainly being on the album cover and the photoshoot theme or content for the photobooks and its other inclusions, like a bonus track or two), grabbing all editions of their fave’s official lightsticks, subscribing to generational fankits with a membership to the official fanclub, purchasing tickets for concerts and fan meetings (don’t forget to add airfare and lodging on top of that), and even purchasing and/or trading photocards with fandom friends to complete a personal collection.

Official merchandise sold by the artists’ company isn’t where the purchases stop either – on top of buying practically anything their fave endorses on an official capacity (and having those items sell out in a matter of minutes), stans will also find ways to procure any other item their favorite celebrities sport or use, all to feel a bit closer to their idols. There’s a reason why massive corporations find it extremely lucrative to bank on these Korean celebrities as their corporate brand ambassadors.

Being a dedicated stan definitely isn’t cheap… more often than not, you will have many of the more successful and established artists always gently asking their fans to refrain from sending them all these expensive gifts, encouraging their fans to use their hard-earned money for themselves. But the dedication doesn’t end with their wallets; many fans also engage in voting on official polls and contests set up by the weekly music shows, awards shows during awards season, or any other idol and celebrity-related apps for any other promotional reasons. 

I’m sure this has everyone who isn’t involved in fandom begging the question “Why do you spend so much time, money, and energy on people who don’t even know you?”

I’m self-aware enough to understand a lot of this can be broken down to the inherent design the genius capitalists behind the South Korean entertainment industry have created. The industry has pinned down how to generate success for these entertainers on an almost formulaic level, that they’ve been able to produce so many of them. And a key aspect of this involves how their entertainment industry has successfully marketed all these talented and charming individuals as some sort of love interests or at the very least objects of affection that fans can project their feelings towards and develop parasocial bonds with.

If one needed any more proof, look no further than the expansion these companies have undergone to better promote the direct interaction between fans and their faves. These entertainment companies have gone beyond the realm of the social media giants, and have created spaces that feel more intimate (FanCafe Boards, WeVerse, DearU Bubble by the LYSN App, U Cube, to name a few) – to further strengthen the ties between artists and their respective fans.

While I understand that this idol-fan relationship is transactional to a degree, I do feel that these celebrities do still sincerely love and care for their fans. With all the commercial success these celebrities enjoy, the public does tend to forget that many of them tend to be the loneliest people. And sometimes fans are there hoping to provide enough of a presence in their fave’s life, optimistic that it could let them feel a little less lonely – even if only a little bit, just like their fave has made them feel less alone too – thereby, in a way, having fans and faves find a degree of comfort in each other.

Even when the fans do not need to be recognized for all the time, effort and resources they’ve put in to further their faves’ success, many of these celebrities are just so humbled by the overwhelming support they receive, that they cannot help but constantly thank and acknowledge their fans for all the hard work – which just further endears them to their fans.

Beyond that, it should also really be considered how much hope and light these idols have provided the people who eventually became their stans…because more often than not, these artists came into their fans’ lives during a time where they were suffering great difficulties. In these individuals’ darkest hours, these idols were the ones who provided them an immense amount of joy and relief. These entertainers can provide a much-needed break from the harsh realities of everyday life.

But on top of that, there’s just something so fascinating in seeing all of these people start from the bottom, and continuing to rise through their hard work, all while keeping their heads down. To see these artists grow their skills and their talents, all while maintaining the humility and kindness that drew so many to them in the beginning just adds to their charm.

Maybe we see a bit of ourselves in them, and maybe their success gives us a bit more faith that our personal efforts will bear fruit for us eventually in our own lives too.

It isn’t surprising just how many people have found so much solace and a gentle kind of warmth in the bright smiles of these idols. Plus, in my opinion, there’s something rather powerful about giving out love so selflessly with no expectation of reciprocation. It’s rather tender and sincere, it’s almost… noble. 

When people say they don’t understand how these parasocial relationships work, and how they could never understand how these fanboys and fangirls feel, I’d make a direct parallel on how what these people feel is not inherently too different to how so much of the general public just outright loved and adored Princess Diana and Pope John Paul II throughout the 80s and 90s. Or maybe to how everyone grew so attached to the cast of Friends over the course of 10 seasons, that they couldn’t help but tear up while watching Friends: The Reunion.

Better yet, how many grown men openly weep when they see their football heroes suffer great defeats during the FIFA World Cup, or how many other sports fanatics could spend so much money following their favorite athletes through multiple qualifying competitions throughout the world, building all the way to the Olympic Games.

Perhaps maybe even how the gay community in the Philippines at large is deeply invested in beauty pageants and is so well-versed with and up-to-date with all the most relevant contestants and designers involved, especially for the crowning glory of all beauty pageants – Miss Universe.

These parallels are everywhere if one cared to look enough. I think it is part of human nature to be endlessly fascinated by what is beautiful, glamorous, remarkable, mystical, and powerful.  This kind of behavior has been prevalent in human society for quite some time now, from the advent of religion, and how it subsequently extended to the reverence in monarchies with their divine right to rule and all).

It really shouldn’t be treated as some kind of fringe behavior. Honestly, the only thing making a key difference is how the South Korean entertainment industry as a whole managed to adapt, better capitalize off of, plus change the general landscape enough to make these K-celebrities seem a little bit more accessible than the other larger-than-life figures I’ve mentioned above.

How the Composite Role of Fandom Makes It All Worth It

I think what most people can’t see is that this – being a hardcore fanboy or a fangirl – goes beyond being just a hobby.

It’s not just a pastime that provides us with a sense of escapism. A lot of it is about building a community that provides those in the group a sense of reassurance, offers its members opportunities to develop kinship, and most importantly, helps everyone alleviate their personal feelings of loneliness. It’s actually quite similar to how entire generations have found so much affinity within the fandoms for Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and Game of Thrones, and how these fans have identified so much with their respective fandoms, that even some of the lore within those franchises have made it into the mainstream and invaded pop-culture.

Stan Twitter also created an environment where these fans can make their creativity thrive by being an avenue where stans can freely share fan-created work. Because it has become such a safe place for these people to let their creativity flow freely, it gives younger stans an opportunity to hone their skills, and older fans an opportunity to revisit the talents they indulged in their teenage years.

Society might try to tell everyone that fandom is a frivolous thing that’s really just for the younger folk, but if I had to put my two cents in, I’d argue that it’s keeping active in fandom that makes one feel young again, and keeps one feeling young!

The communities built around fandom have made it so that you will always be transported to a time when you were more carefree. Staying in fandom may even reignite all the creative passions you possessed in your youth.

But I think the most significant part of coming into stan life is how stans tend to build up such strong bonds with each other through organizing things as a fandom.

These people have done so much work together – whether it’s starting a hashtag party, pooling money to give gifts to their faves, coordinating bulk-buying albums or streaming parties, campaigning to collect enough to purchase subway and other billboard ads for their faves – not just in South Korea but in the fans’ local country as well, or raising funds to donate to charities or adopt animals on behalf of their idols, these stans always ride these ups and downs together.

They start off becoming friends because of their common interest – their fave artist – but later on, because of their shared experiences within the fandom and overcoming collective struggles together as a community – these people slowly start seeing each other as family.

The fandom provides a place where these people feel safe enough to express and explore some of their deepest thoughts and feelings, and it really helps these individuals cope with their own personal issues, especially with regards to mental health.

The fact that so many of these individuals are given a mouth-piece, and an opportunity to feel heard with no judgment just becomes its own form of therapy for so many; and what makes it even more beautiful is the fact that they’re listened to by people they have formed such strong bonds with – people who have come to know, people they have come to trust, people who they have come to care for them as comrades, and people who they have come to love as friends.

Plus with Twitter Spaces opening up recently (which provides a platform where all these fans can have a podcast-like interaction with all their fandom friends), the personal connection between these stans just gets stronger. Sometimes that kind of safety and love in a community that absolutely supports and believes in you is what some people really need, and all they could ask for. 

I personally have been so fortunate to have been able to personally meet so many of the friends I’ve made as a K-entertainment fangirl.  It’s been really cool to meet friends from outside of my hometown but still under the national fandom (shout out to all my co-stans in Manila and Davao!), and more extraordinarily, my friends in the international fandom scene.

It’s honestly been a little surreal that I was able to meet some co-stans from Singapore when they flew to the Philippines for the Southeast Asian leg of a fan meeting, receiving advice from South Korean and Japanese co-stans on how to get into a fansign in Seoul so you can have one-on-one conversations with your faves, and even flying out to Los Angeles to go to the K-Con Convention + Concert with American co-stans!

It can be both so humbling and eye-opening just getting a chance to meet and experience friendships with these people from all corners of the globe!

So while to the general public, the life of fandom is quite definitely something, to hardcore stans like me… honestly? It can be everything.

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