Being a K-pop fan can be an amazing ride, but it’s no walk in the park. Streaming goals? Fanchants? Merch? Just when you thought you got the basics down, you might cross paths with more confusing terminology and concepts on your journey as a baby K-pop stan.
If you’ve dipped your toes in the K-pop universe with the first part of our starter guide, maybe you’re ready to conquer more, and we’ve got you covered. In this second part, we’ll walk you through core aspects of fandom identity, and everything that happens after a comeback: music shows, concerts, awards season, and more. By the end of this guide, you can proudly declare that you’ve levelled up as a K-pop fan.
Fan identity is a big deal in K-pop. Beyond a mere label, fandom names form the basis of that identity, and symbolise the special relationship that K-pop artists share with their fans.
You might already know some of the most prominent fandom names: ARMY for BTS fans, BLINK for BLACKPINK fans, ONCE for TWICE fans, Carat for SEVENTEEN fans, and the list goes on.
Many K-pop acts announce an official fandom name shortly after debut—ARMY was founded on 9 July, one month after BTS’ official debut—while some fandoms only have an official title months or years after debut. For example, f(x) only announced the official fan name MeU in 2016, seven years after their debut.
Often, these names are also accompanied by official or unofficial colours that represent both the group and the fandom. Notably, purple has come to symbolise ARMY after BTS member V declared “borahae” to fans in 2016, which translates to “I purple you”. On the other hand, TWICE have designated apricot and neon magenta as their official colour.
V LIVES, WEVERSE, FANCAFES
At this point, we all know that K-pop is largely centred around fans. Modelled specifically to create a special bond between groups and their fans, idols will often go the extra mile to connect with their community even offstage through apps like V LIVE and fan community platforms.
There’s quite nothing like the rush of adrenaline you get when you get a notification saying your bias is live on V LIVE and dropping everything to tune in. Powered by NAVER, V LIVE is a live streaming app where idols host a live chat session with their fans, often to update them on their upcoming projects or just hang out.
Another way idols connect with their fans is through fan community platforms. While you have Twitter and Instagram, fan community platforms are a special corner of the Internet where you get candid thoughts and reactions (and of course, selcas) from your favourite groups.
Through the years, fan community platforms have grown tremendously with a wide selection of new services popping up, like Fancafe, Weverse, LYSN, UNIVERSE, and Bubble.
[🎬EVERGLOW VOD]— EVERGLOW OFFICIAL (@EVERGLOW_STAFF) June 28, 2021
EVERGLOW - BTS '쩔어' DANCE COVER.
▶ https://t.co/B18U5eZYST#EVERGLOW #에버글로우 #BTS #쩔어#이유 #시현 #미아 #온다 #아샤 #이런
Streaming goals and charts
For many fans, this is where the real battleground lies. Part of your comeback era duties is to stream as much as possible for your favourite artist, and it’s a coordinated effort with almost military-like levels of mobilisation. With more K-pop acts standing a chance to rank on global charts like Billboard’s Hot 100 or Global 200, streaming has become more important than ever. Moreover, streams also factor into music show wins, which will be elaborated on later.
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Streaming goals can vary widely from group to group, and each comeback may have different parameters that are laid out by fanbases on Twitter or Carrd. Aside from the hard numbers, these guides typically include instructions on how to stream properly on platforms like Spotify or YouTube, to ensure that every play or view counts.
Check out some examples of streaming guides below:
— Global Goals for 'Permission To Dance' and 'Butter (Week 8)'. #BTS_Butter #PermissiontoDance pic.twitter.com/pMGjVno4WY— BTS Global Charts⁷ (@BTSGlobalCharts) July 3, 2021
hi, i made a yt streaming guide to help us reach & surpass our comeback goals for yt ! let’s do this for twice :D#TWICE #트와이스 @JYPETWICE pic.twitter.com/fg9GOylK6V— ًzak 🦈 (@zakishyun) May 21, 2021
[🚨] FINALIZED GOALS— ReOrbit 💚| LOONA Voting Team (@ReOrbit_) June 28, 2021
These are the finalized goals for this era! We also have our first achievement:
[🏆] 20k+ preorders for [&]!
Please keep all of these goals in mind as we move forward!
This update was made on June 28th, 2021 10:02am KST#LOONA #이달의소녀 @loonatheworld pic.twitter.com/aa7HVPy1gs
Some of these goals may also cover strategies for charting, both domestically or internationally. In Korea, both the Gaon and Hanteo charts are industry standards that measure song or album sales.
There’s also a highly coveted achievement called the “Perfect-All-Kill (PAK)”, where a song simultaneously reaches number one on six domestic music sites: Melon, Genie, Bugs!, Vibe, and Flo. IU currently holds the record for the most number of PAK songs, with 20 under her belt. On the other hand, BTS’ ‘Dynamite’ holds the record for the most hourly PAKs, with 610 hours spent at number one.
A huge part of K-pop is the merch. From physical albums to apparel, you’ll definitely be spoilt for choice especially since there are merch drops for every release, anniversary, holiday, and more. Essentially, it’s an entire world of its own within K-pop.
Fans share how they started their K-pop merch collections
Albums are the quintessential artist merch and for K-pop acts, it’s always much (much) more than a CD. In every album, you would get a photobook, which is a catalogue of photos of the group and each member, photocard, which are collectable cards printed with exclusive photos of each member, and other items like a bookmark or postcard.
TWICE 10th Mini Album— TWICE (@JYPETWICE) May 20, 2021
<Taste of Love>
TITLE Track & M/V
06.09 6PM (KST)
Full Album & Physical
06.11 1PM (KST) , 06.11 0AM (EST)
📌<Taste of Love> Pre-ordershttps://t.co/8tejIho6b6
+ Up Next : Timetable#TWICE #트와이스 #Taste_of_Love pic.twitter.com/U7oY3g8eHr
Photocards, as simple as it sounds, are some of the most important and valuable pieces of K-pop merchandise. Randomly assigned and highly sought out after, many fans boast a large collection of photocards that usually amount to over thousands of dollars. In fact, depending on the member and group, an individual photocard can sell for over USD 500.
WTT— 𝕙♡𝕓𝕚 🥞 𝗵𝗲𝗹𝗹𝗼𝗺𝘆𝗮𝗿𝗶𝗲𝗹 (@hoseoklaurent) July 17, 2021
Have: OT7 photocard collection
Want: Jeong Hoseok, the man himself pic.twitter.com/5xtBZaailK
Beyond albums, K-pop groups also release an array of apparel, accessories, stationery, plushies, and even food. For example, BTS most recently dropped their merch line for their chart-topping single ‘Butter’ which included hats, facemasks, t-shirts, and butter cookies.
I wanna dance🤸— HYBE MERCH (@HYBE_MERCH) July 15, 2021
'Butter' OFFICIAL MERCH
2021. 07. 16. 11AM(KST) @weverseshop @BTS_jp_official#BTS_Butter #PermissiontoDance pic.twitter.com/skkMh4m2qP
Ordering K-pop merch is usually a straightforward process, that is if you live in Korea, Japan, or the US. If you live anywhere else, it might be a little more complicated but still relatively simple nonetheless. To get your fix of merch, you can either do group orders or buy from merch resellers.
Organised by local fanclubs, group orders are when you order merch, be it an album or a plushie, along with your fellow fans. It happens usually on Twitter with fanclubs opening a pre-order call that anyone can join in on. All you have to do is either fill out a form they’ve provided or message them on your order and pay a small down payment. It’s easy and a great way to mingle with your fellow fans.
[usa/can] TXT FIGHT OR ESCAPE GROUP ORDER— moonlunaar (@moonlunaar) July 21, 2021
🌼 $16.62 usd / random album
🌼 $33.25 usd / one set
🌼 two payments [album + dms]
🌼 inclusions only g.o! check form :D
🌼 CLOSING: 08/13 00:00 CST
✨ free domestic if i win the fancall!
📝 form: https://t.co/SVgImefDSR pic.twitter.com/eCCOor0bBw
Alternatively, you could also turn to merch resellers who usually bulk order items from Korea to sell online, and the process is as simple as online shopping.
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Beyond buying merch, fans also try their hand at making their own idol-inspired items. Whether it's illustrations and stickers or apparel and accessories, you can also get well-designed and specially-crafted merchandise from your fellow fans.
‼️(🇮🇩) ppani.makes Fanmade Merch Shop NEW ADDITION‼️: TXT FREEZE Lyrics Sticker Set & Acrylic Keychain✨ #TXT @TXT_members @TXT_bighit— tep 🐬 $15 (@taeppanii) July 31, 2021
check it out on ig: https://t.co/0JuldZDwMU
order via shopee: https://t.co/LOikbS9V1z
rts are really appreciated hehe thankyou ^^ pic.twitter.com/LbYwlUYhMo
Music shows and voting
So you’ve played your part to stream the new song non-stop on Spotify, but that’s only half the battle won. For most K-pop groups, performing on Korean music shows is integral to the promotion cycle. Each major broadcasting network has their own weekly show, and there are currently six key programmes:
- Inkigayo (SBS) every Sunday
- The Show (SBS MTV) every Tuesday
- Show Champion (MBC M) every Wednesday
- M! Countdown (Mnet) every Thursday
- Music Bank (KBS2 and KBS World) every Friday
- Show! Music Core (MBC) every Saturday
Fan voting is crucial for artists to secure a music show win, and because each show has a different algorithm, voting methods vary across the different programmes. Generally, these are the common criteria:
- Digital sales (downloads and streaming)
- Album sales
- Social media (SNS) score (i.e. YouTube music video views, Twitter mentions, etc.)
- Pre-show voting
- Live voting
- Broadcast (i.e. number of times played on TV and radio)
Each music show will have different weightages for the above criteria, and there are some exceptions for each programme. For example, Music Bank has an additional panel of selected voters from the Korean public, while Show Champion allows international fans to only take part in pre-voting.
Artists are ineligible to win in the charting week of the song’s release, meaning that nomination only begins in the next charting week after the song’s release. Additionally, with the exception of Music Bank, music shows also have their own respective apps or websites for pre-show and live voting:
- Starpass (SBS The Show)
- Melon AZTalk (SBS Inkigayo)
- Idol Champ (MBC M Show Champion)
- M! Countdown (Mnet M! Countdown)
- Mubeat (MBC Show! Music Core)
All things considered, the points will be calculated and the group with the highest final score takes home the win, usually in the form of a trophy and an encore stage. For many K-pop groups, bagging the first win of their career can be an emotional affair.
If you’re interested in looking at the numbers, here’s an example courtesy of KshowAnalysis for Inkigayo.
🎯 210718 [Inkigayo] FINAL#BTS #PermissiontoDance (90%) win Live-vote to secure#aespa + #BraveGirls or #Taeyeon can be nominated pic.twitter.com/2AVAA1yWrh— KPOP Music Show Analysis (@KshowAnalysis) July 12, 2021
If you’re feeling overwhelmed already, fret not! Many fanbases typically include instructions for music shows on top of streaming guides, and you can simply follow their steps to carry your idols to first place.
Moreover, music shows also feature fancams, which are separately filmed videos that only focus on one particular member. While “fancams” as a term generally refers to fan-taken videos, music shows have also begun to upload official fancams for fans to gush over their biases.
Last but not least, who could forget the iconic “ending fairy”? Referring to the final close-up shot, an ending fairy is any member who has the opportunity to strike a final pose. A relatively new phenomenon in the world of music shows, no one really knows when exactly ending fairies came about, but many trace it to 2016 when survival show Produce 101 was known for these close-up shots at the end of the performance.
Since then, ending fairies have become a staple on music show performances, and idols put on an array of expressions ranging from cutesy to sexy. Known for tropes like exaggerated heavy breathing, the concept has even been parodied by acts like SHINee and WINNER’s Kang Seung-yoon.
Ah, concerts – they’re always a magical experience; but K-pop concerts are unlike anything else. From twinkling lights to impressive performances, K-pop concerts are an entire world of their own.
While there’s nothing like the real thing, here’s a quick rundown of what to expect at a K-pop concert. Beyond the incredible feeling of seeing your favourite groups and idols perform, there are three essential facets to K-pop concerts – lightsticks, fanchants, and fan projects.
Similar to flickering lighters and phone flashlights waving in the air, lightsticks are what illuminate the vast sea of fans aptly called ‘the ocean’. Boasting varied designs and meanings, these lightsticks engulf the entire stadium in an enchanting display of lights and colours.
The most beautiful lightstick ocean 💜pic.twitter.com/zQ932QZMqf— Mcue. (@seokjcue) October 14, 2019
All K-pop groups have their own unique lightsticks with their own meaning and names, specifically designed to fit them and their fans. For example, EXO has the Pharynx, Red Velvet has the Kimmanbong, SEVENTEEN has their Newrat Bong, and so on.
10 unique K-pop fandom lightsticks: BLACKPINK, Big Bang, DAY6, and more
Alongside your twinkling batons, fan chants are another thing you’ve got to prepare before you head to a K-pop concert. Fanchants are chants that fans recite during a particular performance or song. There’s usually an official one set by the group themselves or a fan-made one that often started from a recurring joke.
For example, the BTS ARMY created an unofficial (but so dearly loved) fanchant for Jungkook’s 'Euphoria'. Inspired by a BTS vlog from 2016, the adorable fanchant is said during the track’s dance break.
This is how loud euphoria fanchant was, everyone was singing the whole song with Jungkook #BANGBANGCON21 pic.twitter.com/HNtjctzwtm— jessie (@jessie08665237) April 17, 2021
Groups also set their own fanchants for some of their most popular tracks, which are easy to learn thanks to guide videos.
Fan chants will usually echo specific lyrics of the song or recite the name of the group and all its members. For the most part, it’s simple. For a group like SEVENTEEN with 13 members, it’s definitely quite a feat to get through; but when you do, it's so impressive.
Even during a time of silence for the live music industry, K-pop still pushed forward, being one of those at the forefront of online concerts and livestreams. And in true K-pop fashion, it was nothing short of magnificent.
BTS explore the universe with over 1.33 million fans at MUSTER SOWOOZOO 2021 – gig report
With live chats, multi-camera views, integrated technology, and out-of-this-world production sets, they’re an entirely magical experience of their own.
[#오늘의방탄] 방탄의 목적지는 언제나 아미💜💫 #방탄에겐아미뿐 #우린우리대로빛나 #MUSTER소우주14일공연 pic.twitter.com/mdraRYSNfv— BTS_official (@bts_bighit) June 14, 2021
Another aspect of K-pop concerts are fan projects. While they are nothing new to music and concerts, K-pop fans usually take it to a whole new level. These projects are endearing efforts organised by fans to surprise their favourite idols and show them their never-dying support.
The moment when they noticed fan project "FOREVER 5HINee" (｡’▽’｡)♡ #SHINeeWorldTheBest2018FromNowOn #SHINee #샤이니 #ONEW #온유 #JONGHYUN #종현 #KEY #키 #MINHO #민호 #TAEMIN #태민 pic.twitter.com/sJiI1YHPWd— SUPER 5HINee NOONA ᕦ(ò_óˇ)ᕤ 5HINee World (@supernoona_TM) June 28, 2018
These include heartfelt banners, coordinated light displays, fan-made videos, stadium-wide messages, flying paper planes, balloons, and more.
K-pop fan projects also often extend outside concerts, with fans putting together projects for their idols’ birthdays, group anniversaries, and more. Grand in every scale, you can expect nothing less than setting up large billboards, buying land, adopting whales, and claiming a literal star.
NCT Vietnam Union bought a star for NCT in celebration of their debut day. WOW pic.twitter.com/jf9d6i81Hj— ً (@bburaytvc) May 26, 2016
Beyond concerts, there are also live events called fansigns (or fanmeets) where fans get to meet their favourite groups face-to-face. At fansigns, fans get to sit and talk (and oftentimes, give gifts) to idols while they sign their albums. Getting into these events can be quite difficult but they're always a lot of fun.
Groups will usually announce their fansign event on Twitter or their fancafes, where they lay out the mechanics of attending the event.
There are two essential ways of getting into a fansign, with the first being a lottery. Fans, usually those who purchase an album during a specified time frame, are picked at random with one album purchase equalling one ticket.
2021 SVT 5TH FAN MEETING <SEVENTEEN IN CARAT LAND>— 세븐틴(SEVENTEEN) (@pledis_17) June 24, 2021
▶ https://t.co/rTdQIE0P8I#세븐틴 #SEVENTEEN#SVTinCARATLAND pic.twitter.com/WBnC3pBWkc
Fans can also get into a signing on first come, first served basis where the first 100 or so to purchase an album get access to the event. While it's a fairly simple and comparatively easy method, only a few K-pop acts use this method wanting to give all their fans an equal chance to get into a fansign.
Even in the advent of the pandemic, fans can still attend fansigns – this time, it's just over video call. Taking on the same mechanics for an in-person fansign, fans are selected either by a lottery of first come first served basis.
[TRANS🎥] 210725 O!WHAT VIDEO CALL FANSIGN— MARKLEE,THAILAND🇹🇭 (@MARKLEE_TH) July 25, 2021
OP ขอให้มาร์คร้องเพลง Officially Missing You ด้วยกันค่ะ ✨♥️
©️markermelonlee#NCT_MARK #NCT_마크#NCTDREAM @NCTsmtown_DREAMpic.twitter.com/AC4CMRGIqc
The end of the year is always an exciting (and busy) time for K-pop. With award shows galore, December is non-stop action for both groups and fans alike.
At the end of every year, there is an onslaught of award ceremonies and festivals to celebrate the year that has passed. From honouring the best albums and songs to spotlighting up-and-coming groups, awards season is truly as glamorous as it sounds.
[#2020MAMA_Stanbot_Making Film]#2020MAMA #Twitter #Stanbot #Making pic.twitter.com/r00hCJweXy— MAMA(엠넷아시안뮤직어워즈) (@MnetMAMA) December 21, 2020
While there are plenty of award shows in K-pop, here are some of the biggest and highly anticipated ceremonies every year.
- Mnet Asian Music Awards (MAMA)
- Asian Artist Awards (AAA)
- Melon Music Awards (MMA)
- Golden Disc Awards
- Gaon Chart Music Awards
Beyond awarding and celebrating K-pop groups and artists for their work, these award shows also see some of the grandest performances and stage productions.
If you missed the first part of Bandwagon's K-pop Fan Starter Guide, check it out here where we cover all the basics you need to dive into the world of K-pop.