When you’re head deep into fan culture, you develop close relationships with people you only just met. You understand fans, and they understand you. Like meeting fellow hunters or church members or rock collectors you just…get it.
Being so deeply…involved…in fan culture, I have had the opportunity to even, if only briefly, be friends with people I never would have guessed. The couple from Switzerland, the Japanese fanwomen and an Indonesian girl at music core, an exo mom from Singapore at Asia Song Festival, my not-so-friendly Speed friends, my shinee friends from church, Sylvi who we met on a bus ride to see cherry blossoms, and even my two best friends here in Korea.
Interacting with fans from all over the world has allowed me to compare and contrast behavior. While it isn’t fair to project fan behavior on an entire country’s behavior, there are some striking differences between countries that suggests that perhaps it has to be cultural as well.
From my many stories, it is easy to see the behavior of many Korean fans. Not all–but many. This isn’t to bash any particular country so I hope no one gets sensitive. If you know anything about my experience here in all–you know that I love it. But let’s be honest. The Korean fan experience is life-on-the-line irrational crazy nuts. From waiting in line 26 hours for a festival, to getting literally stampeded for Music Core, to being shoved out of chairs by tumblr girls, if you want to bee a fan you have to be vicious and crazy.
The Japanese fans…are not like that. They are anything but that. They are calm. They are rational. They are orderly. They don’t try to override authority or break the rules.
Of course by “they” I’m sure there are exceptions. I’m speaking from my experience at an exo concert that was a very big deal, with exo fans who are widely acknowledged to be the most vicious fans of them all.
But first, for example, there is no waiting in line over night for floor tickets. No. Getting floor tickets is a fair process.
You have to be a part of the “official Japanese fanclub”, which you need to have a Japanese passport to join. It feels a little exclusive. Okay really exclusive. But it’s Japan–that’s how they keep order.
So the fanclub has official goods, get special perks, and have access to the floor seating. The official fanclub members pay for a floor seat if they want it and their particular seat is not decided by who spent the most time in the cold darkness, but by lottery.
Yes. You can pay for a floor ticket and end up near the stage. Or very far from the stage. And guess what? The actual stage arrangement isn’t released until hours before. So while you have your ticket, with your seat number on it, you have no idea what that actually means until you walk into the venue.
This way there’s no fighting or selling or hectic trading beforehand. There is no mad dash to the front with your hair pulled back by security guards. Your seat is your seat. And you’ll find it when you get there. You’ll sit there. And you’ll stay there for the entire concert. And you’ll like it.
Another example–“No Photography” is actually enforced.
No, we don’t have Japanese passports. But a Japanese girl in Korea was selling hers on Twitter and we were like–yes please! Before even digitally deciding on a price, she asked a question. “Will you take pictures?” What is the correct answer to that question? Is this a tumblr girl who needs pictures for her blog? Will saying yes increase our chances of getting them? We decided to tell the truth–no we won’t be taking pictures. We fangirl way too hard to hold a camera steady. To which this girl responded very positively. The Japanese are very strict about their no picture policy. I don’t know why–they just are. If you get caught taking pictures you don’t just get taken out of the stadium, like even the most aggressive guards at Olympic Park rarely do, but you get actually kicked out of the fan club. Like, your name is scratched off the list of people allowed to officially stan exo. No more goods. No more floor seating. No more happiness for you. Spit on and trampled by the people you used to call friends.
We promised not to take pictures and met the girl in the subway, exchanging two tickets for an envelope of cash. She said she didn’t know where the seats were, just that they were on the floor. That’s okay–we understand–lottery okay.
It really shouldn’t come as a surprise where our seats ended up being. I wonder if this girl knew where her tickets were located, if she would have sold them. We walked in, kept walking and walking and then we were there–no one between us and the extended stage. I wouldn’t even call it luck as almost expectation. The oceans part for us, the kpop gods rain down their confetti for us. That’s just the way it is. And while we and the girls around us had perfect views of the stage, I didn’t spot a single camera. Even phones were off once the lights dimmed.
Thirdly–the fans themselves. We started chatting with the Japanese girls next to us and became quick friends. Same with the girls behind us. And they didn’t turn on us when the concert started like many of our korean “friends” do (frenemies). They didn’t whip out stalker stools and giant cameras and run us over after the opening notes. No, instead we all stood up together and squeed together and laughed together whenever person x looked our way (frequently).
Maybe it’s because Korean isn’t our native language. Maybe it’s because they have no idea what’s going on, and we have no idea what’s going on, but we’re here and loving it. But in a much larger sense, does anyone really have any idea what’s going on?
And lastly– just the energy was entirely different. There was a feeling of…how do I put this…respect? Like, they recognized a line. A line that had entertainer on one side, and audience on the other. And while they may peer and wave over that line, no one tried to jump over it. You are performers, and I paid to watch you perform, and that’s the extent of our relationship.
Whereas you could tell the who were the Korean girls in the audience because in between songs someone would yell “BAEKHYUN OPPA SARANGHAE” (I love you) and the dome remained completely silent. No one laughed or replied. To the point where it was almost awkward.
But then the craziest thing happened. They performed one of their sad and pretty songs, and instead of breaking the last note with maniacal screaming the Japanese fans stood up. And clapped.
There was clapping at an exo concert.
Is this a ballet?
Silvia and I just kind of looked at each other and smiled. That’s the way this song should be responded to in all honesty. That’s just Japan. That’s the way it is.
After the concert, a girl tapped us on the shoulder and showed us her phone. It was a google translate that said, “did the camera hurt from shooting you?” We were a little confused. Yes there was a camera next to us the entire time. Exo boys sang into that camera when it was their line which was then projected on the jumbotron, which is why they saw us a lot. We figured that that camera must have hit one us and we just not have noticed.
But later, I remembered a particular moment. It was when the rapper was trying to get us all hyped up after the slow songs–getting us to chant with him. I guess the Japanese girls weren’t really used to this rambunctious behavior, but Silvia and I weren’t afraid to respond E-X-O! And then–there was a camera in my face. Dear Lord here it comes. Mr Rapper and moved on to another part of the chant, but I knew the camera man was just biding his time. I suddenly became very conscious of the fact that I had slept on the floor the night before, with wet hair that was now Ms Frizzle wild, that I hadn’t reapplied any makeup since that morning and I had forgotten to wear my waterproof mascara. But alas–there was nothing to be done. So then it came E-X-O time again and for a brief moment we were there on the Jumbotron. Because that’s how we do.
So instead of being sensitive and giving us disgusted looks, the Japanese girl smiled and empathized. We were all here and had enjoyed this concert together. I didn’t have any bruises to my body or esteem, and I didn’t have any negative memories mixed with the positive. It was all calm, orderly, and efficient.
I noticed it in the subways too. In Korea there is pushing and shoving at every stop–upstream meets downstream and there are shouts as people try to run off and others dash to snag a seat. But in Japan…no. There were two lines to get on the subway. And you stood in that line. And the people came off and then you got on in the order you were in line. In rush hour, there were even traffic police with orange cones and whistles. And the tour buses–they have an occupancy capacity! Like, there’s a line to get on the bus to Kiyomizudera and there’s a counter that ticks down to maximum capacity before the doors shut and the bus pulls away. That’s just Japan that’s the way it is.
It would be fascinating to spend some more time in Japan and actually observe whether this orderly, calm, structured behavior applies to more than just transportation and fan culture. If there is an overarching pattern, or if these just happen to be similar.
And it would be even more fascinating to compare other countries. So…anyone want to fly me to China? I have some friends in Macau.