New to K-Pop? Here’s your guide to the words people are always saying in this crazy fandom you’ve suddenly found yourself in.
In 2000, American rapper Eminem released “Stan,” a song about an obsessive fan who sends Eminem long, rambling letters with violent messages. Since then, the title has become a slang term for “An overzealous or obsessive fan of a particular celebrity,” and in 2017 was added to the Oxford English Dictionary.
Stan isn’t solely a word reserved for K-pop fans (you can be a Bieber stan, a football stan, a Benedict Cumberbatch stan, etc) but seeing as K-pop is ripe full of obsessive and overzealous fans…the shoe fits.
This refers to a group of people, usually people born in the same year. The most famous of this example is currently the ’97-Line: BTS’ Jungkook, Astro’s Cha Eun Woo, NCT’s Jaehyun, Seventeen’s Mingyu, GOT7’s Yugyeom. This famous posse made up of members from different groups was all born in (you guessed it) 1997.
A line can also be made up of just friends, regardless of age, like Kyu-line (Super Junior’s Kyuhyun, DBSK’s Changmin and Shinee’s Minho), or people with anything in common like SNSD’s Actress Line: Sooyoung, Yuri, Yoona, and Seohyun.
K-pop has four generations. The 1st Generation started in 1996 with H.O.T (the birth of the industry), the 2nd in 2003 with DBSK (the Hallyu Wave, which spread K-pop all over Asia), and the 3rd in 2012 with EXO (when K-pop started taking over the world thanks to digital marketing and world tours).
We are now said to be on the 4th Generation, which started in 2017 with groups like TXT, ITZY, and Stray Kids. I am not quite sure I agree with this grouping, because this means the 3rd generation was the shortest there was. Right now, the 2nd generation and the 3rd generation (which BTS is part of) seem to have the longest staying power, in terms of relevance.
What does relevance mean in K-pop? In Korea, it’s sales (physical and digital), and which brands are willing to work with you to advertise their products (brand CFs). Physical sales tend to mean a devoted fanbase willing to bulk buy albums, and while digital sales and streaming tend to mean you have a casual listening base beyond the fans of your group.
It is for this reason that physical sales tend to be higher among Boy Groups (diehard stans) and Girl Groups (a mix of diehard stans and the general who just like the songs). A few groups, of course, transcend this definition (right now, BTS and Blackpink). Digital streaming is also harder to manipulate by stans on platforms like Melon (the Korean Spotify), which make up most of the points on music shows and awards consideration.
Short for commercial films, this is the other marker of relevance in Korea: the brands willing to work with a group to advertise their products. The biggest brand deals for a group are those with any form of Korean tourism, with the two biggest duty-free and hospitality conglomerates Lotte and Shilla, and with cars.
A step below that is fried chicken (Korea takes its fried chicken very seriously), beauty products, and alcohol.
Here’s a good article I wrote about K-pop merch. Please read it.
The activity of pulling photo cards from an album. If you have “successful pulls” it means you pulled the idol member you wanted. Sometimes, people will buy multiple albums just to try and get the card they want.
Here is an explanation from BTS fan Ariel: “The photo cards in my collection are mostly from my pull (pull is getting randomly from a sealed album or DVD). Photo cards are packed randomly inside an album or DVD, and you’ll never know which member you’re going to get, so I usually just buy eight to make sure I get one of each member plus the group photo card.”
In a group, each member usually has a position. Main Vocal is the lead singer/s, Lead Vocal is secondary singer/s, a Visual is usually the best looking person (sometimes this is also a Center), a Main Dancer is the best dancer in the group, the Maknae is the youngest member (this is also the word for the youngest person in a family).
Stan speak for “ultimate” as in, your ultimate group.
Your favorite member in a group. Mine are: Taecyeon from 2PM, Chanyeol and D.O. from EXO, Sooyoung from SNSD, and while I refuse to say I stan NCT (I’m bad luck, bad things happen to groups I like), I guess my favorites in that group are Doyoung and Jaehyun.
If your bias is your favorite member in a group, then the bias wrecker is the one who traps you into thinking they’re occasionally your favorite. This usually happens in times when your bias isn’t active but sometimes even when he’s around your bias wrecker will do something and you feel your loyalty shaking.
This is the member in the group that first caught your attention when you looked into the group. Sometimes, this person ends up being your bias, sometimes not (but he remains your first love in the group). Usually the most handsome in the group, like EXO’s Sehun, or NCT Dream’s Jaemin.
You just have one favorite member in a group and you are neutral about the rest. You just want the best for your bias.
You have a bias and you hate everyone else. All you think about is the number of lines and camera time your bias has, and you want him/her to leave the group because you think he’s/she’s being treated badly by his/her members and the company (you also want to believe he/she hates them all). An incredibly toxic kind of stan. Please don’t be this way.
I wrote another article about this. Sasaengs are the reason why the paparazzi industry in Korea is useless because it’s the sasaengs who essentially do their job for them, but keep it secret (which creates an unhealthy power dynamic between idol and fan). Again, don’t be this way. Other fans will hate you, and most importantly, your bias will resent you.
If you multi-stan this means you like several different groups, rather than just having one ult. In my opinion, this is the healthiest way to be a K-Pop fan. Variety is the spice of life!
During the 2nd generation, Korean fans tightly controlled the flow of information about their favorite idols on their fan sites. To get to the top echelon of a fan site, you had to comment a certain amount of times to get the top benefits of being a fan site member.
A fansite master was like a dictator, she usually showed up to publicly announced schedules with a giant DLSR which made her different from a sasaeng, and sometimes even had the ear of their idol. Nowadays the flow of information tends to be more democratic.
This is part of the LYSN messaging app, used by idols in SM Entertainment and recently, JYP Entertainment to communicate with their fans. Idols can send messages and selfies…the caveat being that this is a paid service: you pay for each idol you subscribe to.
If you’re rich, like Chenle from NCT, this is no problem because you can subscribe to everyone you want. Some altruistic stans will translate and post the content on Twitter, and some snitches will get mad at you and try and get your account suspended because capitalism wins.
Fan Signs/Fan Meet
Pre-pandemic, fans could access fan signs and fan meets by lottery or on a first-come-first-served basis. Due to the current situation, these events have moved online.
To win the chance to get into one, fans bulk buy albums to have the chance to see their biases through a computer screen and ask them questions. If you get the chance to do this, please ask them good questions. Don’t make them bark or meow.
If you have an Australian or New Zealand accent when you say “no” it sounds like “naur.” This wouldn’t usually stand out until the rise of a few Oceana idols…and now its gained prominence in Stan Twitter. Instead of saying no, you say NAUR when reacting to something funny/ridiculous.
K-pop Twitter/Stan Twitter
When I first got into K-Pop in 2009, international K-pop fans tended to congregate on Live Journal in places like Omonatheydidnt, a K-Pop-focused offshoot of the popular gossip site.
And then fandom moved on to Tumblr, followed by Twitter (they’re also sometimes on Instagram and Facebook, but no one likes those stans). K-Pop Twitter can be reckless bullies sometimes, but they can also use their powers for good.
One of the times stan Twitter can be annoying is when they post fancams EVERYWHERE. There might be a viral tweet on food and then suddenly a stan will post a short video of their idols eating food. It’s annoying, yes, but yet another example of stans playing a role in marketing their idols.
Many things go viral in K-pop. Sometimes, years after the fact, like a fancam of 2PM’s Junho in a performance of “My House.” The fancam bought the song back to the general public, finally made Junho an It Boy (because of his wondefully well-endowed behind) and helped excite fans and casual watchers for 2PM’s comeback.
The song, however, didn’t re-chart (because people were just watching Junho’s butt on the fancam), unlike another example: Brave Girls Rollin was first released in 2016, went viral this year and the song was re-released, making it currently the biggest digital hit of 2021.
At the height of the 2nd generation of K-Pop, idols were everywhere on TV, particularly on variety shows. A Korean variety show can have many different things on it: from straight interview formats to games, to reality TV. Because these shows tended to be on public TV, one way for idols to get public recognition was to be funny on TV.
A few idols were masters at this: DBSK, Super Junior, SNSD, and 2PM, to name a few. Nowadays, the idol market is saturated so the variety format has shifted online, which is easier for fans to access, but a few shows are still on TV, most famously Running Man (on its 11th year) or Knowing Brothers.
One of the ways K-Pop has migrated online is through Lives. This is usually through VLive, a streaming App that can sometimes feature whole groups, or through Instagram Live, which is a more intimate format for idols and their fans.
One of the ways this is more beneficial for idols and their fans is the easier access it provides, and that this content tends to be controlled more by the idol and the company. On the other hand, if your ults aren’t known to be funny, then the content can be hard to sit through.
From Thursday to Sunday, four music shows air every day: MNet M Countdown, KBS Music Bank, MBC Show! Music Core and SBS Inkigayo. Hosted by younger idols, these shows are where idols perform and promote their latest songs and at the end of each show, an award is given out to the top-performing song that week, based on physical and digital sales, and streaming.
The hardest of these shows to win is Inkigayo, so it is generally seen as the most legitimate (the least is usually M Countdown).
An era is a promotional period based on a song.
The comeback period in a new era is the first week. After that, they are eligible for music show wins until they stop promoting the song. A few years ago, top groups would promote for up to two months, sometimes for however long a song can win (SNSD for example, famously had nine consecutive wins for Gee on Music Bank). Nowadays, groups will do about two to three weeks of promoting their new song.
This is the theme of the era. K-pop groups creatively refuse to stick to one particular concept, trying out a variety of different styles to the delight of their fans (and to the stress of their hair).
A girl group will usually stick to cute, girl-next-door concepts, before moving on to girl crush concepts, while boy groups start with high teen concepts before trying out more mature ones. This can be whiplash for new fans because you never know what to expect, like that time DBSK went from “O” to “Balloons” in one album.
Daesang and Bonsang
A Daesang and a Bonsang are the biggest prizes to win at the major Korean year-end music shows. The Daesang (grand prize) is more prestigious than the Bonsang (Main Prize), and both are based on voting, streaming, and sales. These awards tend to be highly fought over, and fans will argue about the results until the end of time.
A million-seller means a group or a soloist that has managed to sell more than one million physical albums. It doesn’t matter how many albums fans or the general public sold, all it matters is the sale count (which is why devoted fanbases will sometimes bulk buy).
In recent years, the groups with this distinction are EXO, BTS, Seventeen, NCT 127, and most recently, NCT Dream.
As the name implies, this is refers to those who are behind the group. Responsible for the fan chants, food support, bulk buying, and all matter of things. Just like their Western counterparts (Beliebers, Directioners, etc) they tend to have cute to cringy names: ELFs from Ever Lasting Friends (Super Junior) Sones (SNSD), Hottests (2PM) to today’s most famous fans/marketing partners, Army (BTS).
In China, the fandoms are known as Bars. Chinese fans are even more devoted than their Korean counterparts, especially if the group has Chinese members.