Photo credit: TAN XUAN EN, JIA WEI

Spending on K-pop: A hobby or an unhealthy obsession?

Some fans have spent over $10,000 on albums and photocards.

Kirby Tan

Will redo the same personality test until I get the results I want.

Published: 13 June 2023, 1:09 PM

Devotion comes in various forms, whether it’s in a pledge, vow or LED billboard truck. 

On May 24, LED trucks that featured flashing words and dancing idols lined the entrance of South Korean entertainment company HYBE. While some trucks were sent in protest of K-pop group ENHYPEN’s choreography for their new song “BITE ME”, others stood in support. 


ENHYPEN’s choreography involving female dancers sparked controversy as some fans believed it was too sensual. PHOTO CREDIT: TWITTER/@SSSHHHANA, TWITTER/@SASHISOO


To fight in what netizens dubbed the “ENHYPEN Truck War”, Twitter user @Sn0wQweEN and other international fans raised over PHP106,000 (S$2,540). One user, @jangkkungyaz, even donated PHP25,000 (S$600).

@packayeji will go down on en-history "truck war🙌🏻" #enhypen #engene #darkblood ♬ Bite Me - ENHYPEN

While it seems as though international K-pop fans don’t spare the expenses, local fans are no different. Polytechnic graduate Jia Wei, 21, has spent over $10,000 in just four years. 

Tucked in a corner of her room are binders of photocards and piles of albums; an extensive collection that houses innumerable duplicates.

Like her, many fans buy multiple copies of the same album. With each purchase coming with a “mystery” photocard, K-pop albums are almost akin to blind boxes. Even though most fans bulk order to get their desired photocard, this isn’t the case for Jia Wei.

Instead, Jia Wei’s large orders serve as her “golden ticket” to meeting illustrious idols. 


During COVID-19, most of these fansigns were done through video calls. Now, the in-person format has resumed. PHOTO CREDIT: JIA WEI


At these intimate meet-and-greet sessions, or fansigns, she receives autographs, takes photographs and interacts with idols. To attend, she entered raffles, where one album corresponds to one chance. Naturally, she bought as many as she could.

Jia Wei said that because these raffles are highly competitive, the number of albums bought is a “sensitive” topic among fans. 

“If you tell people how many albums you buy, the number of albums needed will only go higher. So, nobody tells,” she explained.

Despite these odds, she has won entry to seven fansigns.

Before Jia Wei could really savour her triumphs, she had to spend over $1,000 on flight and accommodation. Without taking her meals into account, the few minutes spent with these idols had cost her a small fortune.  


Fansigns are mostly held in Seoul, South Korea. PHOTO CREDIT: JIA WEI


“My family knows about my spending habits but are not aware of the extent of them,” she said.  “I don’t want to tell them either as I think my parents would kill me.”

To pay for her trip and fansign raffles, Jia Wei sets a substantial portion of her part-time salary aside. She shared that because her only other expense is food, she has the freedom to fund these lavish expenses. 

“I don’t really know why I spend so much on K-pop… I’m just a big fan,” she said. “But it definitely feels rewarding when the idols start to recognise you, which is why I want to keep going for these fansigns.”

Yet, even with these intentions, Jia Wei believes she exercises restraint. She said: “Thankfully, I know when to stop myself so I still have enough savings to fall back on.”

But the same cannot be said for every fan. In February this year, Philippine television show Kapuso Mo Jessica Solo reported that a teenager stole two million pesos (S$48,000) from her family business to buy K-pop merchandise. 


She had hidden her collection from her family by putting it in her closet. PHOTO CREDIT: GMA NETWORK


While this is one of the more extreme cases, it’s not hard to imagine how easy it is to get swept up by the Korean wave. With fan edits flooding social media, events and crowdfunding campaigns popping up every now and then, fans of this genre express their unwavering support and adoration both online and offline.

This bubbling excitement can be infectious for many, including 16-year-old Tan Xuan En. 

While she actively listens to K-pop, she never felt the urge to collect photocards – not until her friend started encouraging it two years ago. Now, she has spent close to $500 on albums and photocards. 

“She often encouraged me to spend money on K-pop, saying stuff like ‘Why don’t you just buy? You have so much money, just buy’ and ‘Just buy, you only live once’,” said Xuan En, adding that she found her friend very persuasive.  

“If she didn’t peer pressure me, I probably wouldn’t have spent money on K-pop at all,” she said.

Even though she said she doesn’t intend to collect K-pop merchandise in the long run, she hasn’t made any definite plans to stop. Until then, her collection will only continue to grow. 

Xuan En’s collection may sound substantial to those uninvolved in K-pop, but it pales in comparison to other fans’. While she got her most expensive photocard for $15, the “most expensive photocard ever sold” was 3,213 USD (S$4,300). In 2020, a study by E-commerce firm iPrice even revealed that K-pop fans can spend up to 1,422 USD (S$1,900) on albums, concert tickets and merchandise.

Given how much some fans spent on their K-pop collections, potentially losing interest can be a nightmare – but for Chloe Liaw, 21, this became a reality.

As an avid fan, Chloe invested 11 years and over $3,000 on K-pop concerts and merchandise. However, with all investments come costs. Fueling these expenses meant that she had to spend less on food and eat less than she wanted to. 


Chloe has attended five concerts including K-pop group Seventeen’s. PHOTO CREDIT: CHLOE LIAW


To recoup some losses, she started listing her array of albums, photocards and concert merchandise on marketplace app Carousell. But as time went on, she found herself stuck in a perpetual cycle of buying and selling. “I started buying photocards of new groups that I liked but I got tired of them pretty quickly, so I went to sell them again.”

Eventually, she stopped buying merchandise altogether. “My parents hated that I was collecting merchandise,” she explained, adding that they didn’t see the value in “collecting people’s faces” since she could just look at them for free online. 

Their constant berating ultimately convinced her to sell off her entire collection. She said that while she doesn’t really agree with their opinions, they did demoralise her. Now, she shows support for her idols by streaming their music.

Like Chloe’s parents, many believe K-pop related purchases to be frivolous. But to fans, these purchases could mean something more. Whether it’s love, gratitude or pure impulse, supporting their favourite idols may bring them as much joy as a new pair of jeans might bring another.

As with all hobbies, spending on K-pop and its assortment of merchandise can be a great outlet. But if the financial and emotional commitment extend beyond one’s capacities, this seemingly harmless hobby can evolve into an unhealthy obsession. 

Ultimately, it’s important that fans remain discerning even as others go overboard and spend excessively. If they blindly follow the crowd, they may just drown in the Korean wave.

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