Throughout my teenage years, I've had two phases of hardcore celebrity obsession. The first one started in 2008, when I caught an episode of American Idol Season 7, and my 14-year-old self fell head over heels for the ruggedly beautiful contestant and winner David Cook. I even actively joined a fan club and brought a cake to school in honor of David's birthday once (or perhaps twice.) When I was in college circa 2013, One Direction shed their boyish image and grew facial hair, and I was more than smitten. From forums to fanfics, I got as deep into the fandom as I could, even creating my own 1D content and art.
But then came early adulthood. David Cook was no longer my type, One Direction went on hiatus, I got distracted by real-life happennings, and it seems as though I've finally graduated from my fangirling phase. Or so I thought.
At 24, I discovered the charm of K-pop which I consider to be a personal breakthrough that I never saw coming. I'm very particular to the music that I listen to, and the K-pop genre was so far from my taste growing up. So, when I found myself fawning over supergroup EXO, I was utterly surprised and, well, knowingly doomed.
It's not even the music that reeled me in. It didn't matter if I didn't generally enjoy dance music or understand what they're singing about. I just got hooked on watching them pefrorm and paying extra attention to how they moved and projected in front of the cameras. And it didn't hurt that I found EXO the most good-looking bunch of boys in the scene. Needless to say, my third phase of celebrity obsession commenced.
From endlessly scrolling through various videos of them on Instagram to spazzing with my best friend who's a bigger fan than me, I was slowly getting pulled into the hell hole that is the EXO-L fandom. Soon enough, as you may expect, I became a stan.
Stans ("stalker fan") and the stan culture are massive in K-pop. From being thoroughly updated with their idols' schedule to shedding serious cash for merch and gifts for the idols themselves, K-pop fans are probably the most invested ones in the stanwagon. And as I became one with them, I plunged into the depths of Stan Twitter, the other-wordly side of the social media platform with a whole new language and engagement patterns.
I created a stan account because I was curious as to how I would act if I un-filter myself online when it comes to my obsession with EXO. In my personal Twitter account, I would limit my EXO-related tweets in fear of annoying my followers (A.K.A. people who actually know me in real life) and coming off as an overly crazed fan. And so, user @chanberrry came to be.
I could no longer hold it in when it was announced that my top biases (bias is the term for one's favorite in the group) Chanyeol and Kai were appearing on my favorite Korean reality show The Return of Superman which follows the lives of mildly famous dads and their toddlers. My favorite boys plus Korean babies? Of course, the inevitable happened: I snapped.
With proper tagging and a couple of retweets from my best friend who already has a following, I got a few follows and some engagement. And it was when EXO released their repackaged album with the title track "Love Shot" and an accompanying video that I had the most fun tweeting and putting my bursts of emotions into words.
Some may indifferently reduce stans into "screaming teenagers" due to the amount of capslocked posts that populate their profile. But, being one myself, I realized that there's no helping the agressive, incoherent spazzing, and stan accounts are made exactly for this purpose. Stan Twitter is a real community and a safe space for us to react the way we want to without holding back in fear of judgement.
Having a stan account and following other stan accounts also mean that you get to be updated with every move that your idols make. Since EXO just released a new track, they've been promoting non-stop recently, and so the wave of content never dies down. And with that, I found myself constantly checking my timeline just so I wouldn't miss anything, be it updates on their appearances or candid photos posted by their fansites.
With such attention to every move that EXO makes, Stan Twitter notices every single detail to the point that they can call out something that doesn't seem right. For example, during the first two live performances of "Love Shot," EXO-Ls rallied against the fact that Chen was missing during the first verse of the song, only entering the stage for his part after Baekhyun. They were able to get the attention of EXO's choreographers, and by the third performance, the blocking was changed and Chen was given his spot on stage right from the beginning of the song.
Outsiders may think that hardcore fans are ridiculous for being this sensitive or demanding. But it's clear that they have a voice that their idols and their management listen to. Contrary to the belief that the fan-idol relationship is one-sided, K-pop fans are valued to a certain degree that no other fandom can say so for themselves. The way I look at it, the fans support their idols with massive efforts, and in return, they become a crucial part of the idols' decision-making process in the spirit of respect and giving back.
The emotional investment that K-pop fans make is indubitably huge. And by huge, I mean that "fan wars" are an everyday thing mainly because their aim isn't simply to consume content but rather to elevate their idols as the best ones in the industry. They label them as "Kings" and "Legends" and would passionately jump on the defense when they see an "anti" throwing shade at their fave. Backing their idols up should be normal. But it is when fans cross over to to being plainly offensive that this stan culture becomes toxic. I myself is no stranger to "serving tea" especially when it came to defending Kai from "Love Shot" haters.
Whether you think that these K-pop "stans" are petty or not, it's obvious that they are a force that no one should dare mess with. (As Xiumin puts it: "Don't mess up my eris.") They're not just screaming teenagers hiding behind the keyboard. Along with their talented idols, they carry the whole K-pop industry and keep it alive. EXO alone sold 10 million physical albums throughout their career as of their latest comeback, an astounding feat in the music industry in the age of Spotify and YouTube. And this is all thanks to the collective effort of their diehard fans.
I've only been on Stan Twitter for less than three weeks, with 220 tweets as of this writing and an average of 12 tweets per day. In my personal Twitter account, my last 12 tweets spanned 10 days which only means that I've felt freer speaking my mind when it comes to EXO and letting my thoughts be heard by the 28 like-minded individuals who currently follow me (and perhaps the whole online EXO-L fandom.)
And even though having a stan account is a massive distraction and triggers my obsessive tendencies to be up-to-date with everything that's going on in the internet, I find that this side of Twitter has become a haven for me whenever I needed an emotional outlet and felt willing to stop my world for nine precious boys. And, honestly, that's not something that I, or any other fan, should ever be ashamed of.
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