Why I learnt not to put K-pop idols on a pedestal
From a former rampant ‘idol defender’, here is how I learnt why we should never think our idols are perfect.
I have a confession: I used to be an obsessive K-pop fan.
Being a fan of Girls’ Generation between 2011 and 2015 gave me a sense of “power”. In my eyes, the top girl group at the time was better than the others and anyone who dared to hint otherwise deserved my wrath.
Over the years, the members of Girls’ Generation have gracefully aged into their thirties, and are no longer active idols. I’ve matured alongside them, and gradually lost the self-righteousness I used to feel whenever someone criticised my idols’ singing and dancing skills or accused them of getting plastic surgery.
Now, I consider myself a casual fan of newer K-pop groups and keep up with them via social media. When I see younger fans starting fan wars on my Twitter timeline, I realise their behaviour is reminiscent of my past actions.
I wish that I could tell my younger self: These idols are just doing their jobs, and we don’t know them as well as we think we do.
Here’s why I learnt not to put idols on a pedestal.
I didn’t really know my idols
A perk of being a K-pop fan is getting loads and loads of content.
On top of two to three comebacks a year, groups have concerts, reality shows and members’ individual schedules. As I was spoilt with content from my favourite groups daily, I thought I knew all there was to know about them.
I used to present evidence of the Girls’ Generation members’ friendship – usually photos of them hugging and interacting at concerts – to assure myself and others that the “Soshi bond” was real. I didn’t realise they did this just to make fans happy until main vocalist Jessica shared that she was leaving the group.
In the same vein, AOA’s ex-member Mina recently revealed that the group’s leader, Jimin, bullied her for 10 years. In an Instagram post, Mina shared that Jimin would slap her when they were trainees, and told her that she was “ruining the mood” when she cried over her father’s death.
I didn’t believe Mina as I thought Jimin was a great leader who cared for all her members. Similarly, fans were quick to jump to Jimin’s defence with videos of her being nice to Mina and other members.
When Mina’s accusations turned out to be true and Jimin left the group, it was like a slap to my face.
While it looks like our idols are just going about their day on shows, they are aware that they have to present themselves well on camera. What I saw were not my idols’ “authentic” selves, as I have no idea what happened once the cameras were off.
The barriers between fan and idol have been more blurred recently, with social media applications like Weverse, Lysn and UNIVERSE allowing idols to directly comment on our posts and even text us.
Keep in mind that these platforms are monitored or even controlled by staff, who have to approve before our idols post anything. Even spontaneous live streams are supervised by staff members.
I thought my idols’ personal social media posts and their “impromptu” live streams were a reflection of their true selves, and felt privileged to see their real sides.
But I eventually realised that everything they do is managed or tracked by staff, and curated for us fans.
Idols deserve their own private lives
Fans have a tendency to “baby” their idols by being overprotective of them, with some fans scolding their idols for smoking or clubbing. This happens even if those idols are much older than they are.
I was no different – although the Girls’ Generation members were already in their twenties and a decade older than me, I didn’t think that they were capable of taking care of themselves, making their own choices, or even dating without fans’ permission.
When Girls’ Generation members Yoona and Sooyoung were revealed to be dating in 2014, my immature 13-year-old self felt betrayed. I thought idols should not date to maintain their “pure” image, and they were only supposed to care about their fans.
I only realised later on that I should have treated these idols as the adult humans that they are. If ordinary 20-year-olds are actively dating, chances are that our favourite idols are doing the same.
However, many fans still feel that they “own” their idols and they should not date.
When a host asked EXO what song they would sing to their girlfriends, fans in the live audience shouted that they shouldn’t date. When EXO’s Chen announced he was getting married and going to be a father this year, some fans staged a silent protest outside his company’s building and demanded his departure from the group.
This saddened me as idols are humans, who deserve to date and receive love from people who actually know them. They usually have to be careful when seeing someone, often having dates only in their apartments or cars, to prevent any “scandals”.
But there’s nothing scandalous about dating or getting married to someone you love, which is something I hope more fans can realise.
Idols make mistakes too
I also learnt that, as perfect as they seem, idols aren’t robots and there is no “safe” or “unproblematic” idol. If I’ve done things that I regret before, surely my idols have messed up as well.
On Jul 1, Girls’ Generation member Yoona and soloist Lee Hyori went to a karaoke venue and started an Instagram live broadcast. They were criticised for not abiding by Korea’s social distancing measures, and for singing without masks when there were a few COVID-19 cases in Korea.
The broadcast ended after just three minutes, and Yoona posted a handwritten letter apologising for not being careful with her behaviour when medical staff and other citizens were working hard to stop the spread of the virus.
Some fans rampantly defended Yoona, claiming that she was just “having fun” and others were too harsh on her. However, I was disappointed in her for not being more thoughtful.
Even so, I accepted her apology and realised that our idols making minor mistakes or arguing doesn’t make them any less worthy of our love or support. We just need to know the difference between showing support for our idols and putting them on a pedestal.
How to support idols healthily
Of course, that’s not to say we shouldn’t have any idols at all. They are wonderful role models to look up to, they inspire us to be better and can even help us realise our career goals.
As someone who turned to K-pop during tough times, I can say with confidence that idols have made me incredibly happy when it was hard for me to even smile. I just had to make sure I didn’t obsess over them or believe they could do no wrong.
Instead of trying to control our idols’ actions or defending them every time they slip up, we should support them by appreciating and sharing their content.
If you wish to channel their love for their idol into physical support, you can consider starting a fan support project or managing group orders for albums and merchandise.
But most importantly, to show support in a healthy way, we have to be aware of the fact that we are just fans and will never be our idols’ friends – and we have to be alright with that.