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On falling back into fandom

By Patricia Manarang Published Dec 04, 2020 5:00 am

My coping mechanism involves trying to consume as much media as possible to silence my own fears and anxiety. K-pop was the obvious choice.

When lockdown first started in early March, I don’t think anyone was expecting it to go on for this long. It did, though, and the lack of physical human interaction coupled with my inability to hold sustained conversations online led me to find solace in things that didn’t really require a lot of effort from my end. Everyone deals with this pandemic differently, and my coping mechanism involves trying to consume as much media as possible to silence my own fears and anxiety. 

I’ve grown up partaking in fandom culture, basically bookmarking parts of my life based on what fandom I’m in at the time. One Direction and other British boy bands, the Harry Potter and Percy Jackson series — you name it, I was probably very much into it. In recent years, though, life has gotten in the way and I did kind of miss being a part of a community like that. I then decided to just catch up on what I’ve missed in the K-pop world. I’ve always been a huge fan since high school, but once college rolled around, I started getting overwhelmed with all the work I had to do. I had no choice but to just become a casual listener. Since there doesn’t seem to be a lack of content in the extremely fast-paced industry that is K-pop, it was the obvious choice. 

I found a group that I had only heard about a few times before, but I hadn’t actually bothered to check out since they started being active just as I entered college. The Boyz is an 11-member group that debuted in December 2017, and every single one of them is extremely talented. That previous sentence is the most basic description Google will tell you, but I promise if I were given the space I would go on and on about them till the word count hits the 10,000s. 

I’ve always been extremely emotional, which is a fact that has probably contributed to why I go all in when it comes to my interests. This was mostly harmless when I was a kid, but during this quarantine, I resolved to try and “fix” myself by trying to reel myself in.  That didn’t really work out since The Boyz brought out every conceivable emotion in me. I was swept away by their passion and love for their craft, and they really interacted with their fans in such a way that made me feel seen.

They took me back to the initial rush I felt when I was in fandom back in high school, especially when it came to exploring their discography and finding more about the members themselves. What’s different about them from other groups is the way they reel you in with their sincerity. It makes you want to root for them, to see them succeed and to see them be happy. In the time I’ve been a TheB (their fanclub name) so far, I’ve been compelled to show my support to them by sending them letters and streaming their music. It feels great to see them accomplish things, and it helps, too, that the members are close to my age so it seems like I’m seeing my own friends flourish. 

Aside from the change brought about by this new group, there are a lot of differences between how I went about fandom culture in the past and how I go about it now, and I’d like to think it’s because I’ve “matured” a little bit.  

To a lot of people, stan accounts serve as safe spaces where they can build friendships and happily talk about the things they love with others who are just as passionate as they are.

Back then, I wanted to befriend everybody. Brushing aside warnings of “stranger danger” on the internet, I set up a stan account and I wanted to appear popular and fit in, too. I was undoubtedly way too obsessed with the fact that I was way cooler online than I was in real life and, looking back, I was probably more preoccupied with maintaining appearances than actually supporting my favorite artists. In my defense, I never stooped to edgy jokes or troll behavior, but I don’t think interacting with all those people benefited me either. 

To a lot of people, stan accounts serve as safe spaces where they can build friendships and happily talk about the things they love with others who are just as passionate as they are. To me, though, I’m more than content with the small quiet world I’ve built for myself now. I just use my social media for updates and to freak out over things alone inside a locked Twitter account with little to no followers. I’m not currently at a place emotionally where I can make new friends or keep up with group messages, so my online presence right now mirrors a silent eye keeping watch over everything. 

The last change I’ve noticed is not necessarily just in me, but in fandom culture as a whole. Blame it on the tides of time, but fans are not as quick to blindly defend their favorite celebrities anymore. This isn’t really an age thing, either; I’ve seen 14-year-olds being more eloquent and socially aware now than I ever could be when I was their age. Calls for accountability, for education, and for our idols to do better are just some occurrences that have become commonplace. I don’t think I’ve ever seen as many email petitions and actual efforts to “teach” others where they went wrong than now. Fans work quickly too, and a lot of the artists themselves address the issues at hand and correct their actions. 

More than a coping mechanism for quarantine, though, I feel like diving back into K-pop was the right choice for me in the long run. This chapter of my life strangely feels like it’s going to last, and I don’t think that scares me as much anymore.

The best thing about this is that it all stems from a place of love and genuine care from their end. Fans understand and acknowledge that the people they idolize are humans, and that they make mistakes. Some mistakes are born from a lack of knowledge, an honest slip-up, or societal imprints that a lot of people have yet to unlearn. We’re all just stumbling through life, and it shows that the artists care about their fans, too, if they’ve felt like they’ve hurt or disappointed them by what they’ve done. 

On a more personal note, I feel like this time around I’ve become softer. I’m not sure if it’s because the state of the world started wringing me dry, but I’ve started looking at my idols more tenderly. Hope has been in short supply, and sometimes it feels like I’m grasping at something, anything, just to tether myself to the ground. The absolute happiness I’ve received from watching The Boyz’ performances and all their other content is something I still struggle to put words to. I can’t thank them enough, and sometimes the support I give feels lackluster compared to what they’ve done for me. Because of that, my writing has gotten a little sappier, my thoughts a little more upbeat. 

More than a coping mechanism for quarantine, though, I feel like diving back into K-pop was the right choice for me in the long run. This chapter of my life strangely feels like it’s going to last, and I don’t think that scares me as much anymore.

Banner photo Art by Pat Oliveros