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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Mass Boston chapter.

If there is one thing everyone loves, it’s music. With all of the different genres and new artists making their way into the scene each day, it’s hard to not find one you love. Music can provide an array of support to a person and many find comfort in that. With social media playing a huge role in our every day lives, most people have and still do experience their “fangirl era” at some point. For me, the era started when I was 13 years old and realized how in love with 5 Seconds of Summer I was. Let’s just say it has only spiraled from there.

Musicians and celebrities alike produce entertainment for the public to listen, watch, and share with others. It is perfectly normal to gush about your favorite and express yourself in that way. However, with so much content and the ability to access celebrities 24/7 with social media, the small excitement can turn into an obsession. One area I have seen this happen frequently in is within the K-pop community. As someone who has been a fan of K-pop for about four years, I’ve noticed there are a lot of people who have developed a one-sided relationship with their favorite idols and believe they have a more intimate connection to them based on the interactions they have and content they are given.

This one-sided relationship is called a “parasocial relationship,” in which someone (typically a fan) devotes their energy, time, interest, and emotions into a person that is not aware of the other’s existence. Yes, a parasocial relationship can be healthy but it turns scarily obsessive more often than you think. K-pop idols tend to share more in-depth content such as behind-the-scenes clips, reality shows when taking trips, and documentaries, on top of the usual platforms like Instagram, Twitter, and Youtube. By doing this, it allows for fans to feel more emotionally connected to the artist as if they know them on a personal level, resulting in an unhealthy attachment.

But how bad can this attachment get? How does it happen?

Interactions on Social media

As most artists do, K-pop idols love to interact with fans through different platforms to have fun and give thanks for their support. There are a few other platforms and events that K-pop idols will use in order to do so, such as VLive, fan meetings, Weverse, mention parties, Dear U Bubble, etc. All of these allow for direct communication between idols and fans for bonds to be made, and it is the first stage of parasocial relationships.

Dear U Bubble essentially makes it seem as though you are texting the idol, and when they send messages they’re able to say your name to add to the effect. But the messages are sent to each fan at the same time — not just one person — which some do not realize and thus contributing to the fantasy.

“Mention parties” happen on Twitter and give fans the chance to reply with questions, videos, memes, and more to try and receive a response from the idol, such as this fan who received a reply from Lee Felix of the group Stray Kids, about their baking skills. This quick and unexpected chance of recognition can be one of the most memorable moments of some fans lives.

Fan meetings can be through video call or in person and gives fans around two minutes to engage with an idol however they wish. These are usually won through buying albums, and many, at that. Though brief, many fans spend a great sum of money to obtain one of the few spots so they can meet their idols.

These are only some of the major ways you can interact, but exchanges like this give room for fans to believe that they are close with the idols especially if these instances happen on multiple occasions. Although the overall idea of such communication creates a strong bond, the K-pop industry thrives on the loneliness of individuals. It utilizes this loneliness by having fans consume content after content and using idols as an escape from the reality of their own life, which sinks them further into the unhealthy attachment.

Can it reach an even deeper level? Yes, it can.

entitleMENT and expectations

The next stage of this attachment begins when fans start to have high and demanding expectations for idols where they feel entitled to receive certain things. As mentioned before, the K-pop industry runs on the loneliness of fans and by delivering such intimate content. The idol’s main selling points are to construct the idea of them being your friend, significant other, family, and more. Fans spend so much of their money and time on these K-pop idols that at some point, they think they need something in return whether it be more videos, photos, messages, and information about their personal life.

Dating is usually kept hidden among idols due to this entitlement because it will ruin the fantasies people have built upon them. As a result, idols tend to write apology letters to fans when announcing life events like dating, marrying, and even having a child. Some fans will go as far as protesting that the idol should get removed from the group when these things happen. While it is in part due to companies often giving groups dating bans at the start of their career, idols should not have to apologize for living normal lives simply because it made fans realize that they are real people with their own lives, who do not live for the approval of strangers. It should be remembered that companies encourage idols to act certain ways in order to promote themselves, as that’s their job. Pushing the “friendship” or “significant other” concept is simply a strategy used to bring in a larger audience and money.


If you did not think this parasocial relationship could get even scarier… it does.

A sasaeng is an extreme fan who stalks and invades the privacy of a Korean celebrity. The word comes from the two Korean words “sa” and “saeng” meaning private life, used to describe the intrusion and unacceptable behavior these people are exhibiting. This is the deepest and most intense level of a parasocial relationship, where a fan will do anything it takes in order to achieve a glimpse of recognition from the idol. Sneaking into private areas, following them to different locations, hacking accounts to leak information, and even getting hired at the company are all ways sasaengs have attempted to reach their goals. With fan meetings going remote due to COVID-19, they also managed to get into the fan calls more frequently. As you can expect, they do not often go well- as seen in a call with Yang Jungwon from the group Enhypen, where he held a yellow card up and “jokingly” sang about how he was uncomfortable. These fans are not afraid to become aggressive and will often grab, pull, push, and yell..all for recognition and photos.

Unfortunately, most K-pop idols have more than one sasaeng and some companies do not deal with them as well as they should, resulting in constant recurrences. Others however, do take legal action against them and make their information public to prevent future instances. Moving forward I really hope that these situations are taken more seriously for the mental health and safety of all idols. Being a dedicated, massive fan does not grant you access to commit such actions.

what to take away

I know I have just written multiple reasons on how these relationships can be unhealthy and dangerous, but it is possible for there to healthy parasocial relationships. I actually think it can be helpful to have an artist you can find comfort in when going through difficult times, as long as it is in moderation. K-pop, like other interests or hobbies, creates a sense of community among those who enjoy it, and provides room for friendships to grow. I have made a lot of friends from liking K-pop and I appreciate it every day. A lot of idols produce songs based upon self-love, perseverance, identity, and other motivating and/or relatable topics that can be influential to listen to. But a boundary must remain between the idol and the fan in order to stop the prioritization of the parasocial relationship over one’s own well-being.

Of course idols are grateful and honest when sending heartfelt messages, as fans provide them the platform they have and generate success. A lot of them dedicate awards to fans in their acceptance speech, and it is lovely to hear from a fan perspective. I love looking forward to new music my favorite groups are putting out and seeing the amazing creations they bring to life. Take inspiration, gain confidence, enjoy the entertainment, celebrate their accomplishments, do it all!

Go live out your fangirl era darling, let it bring you all the feelings of happiness and excitement your heart desires.

Emma Richardson

U Mass Boston '24

Hello! My name is Emma and I am a senior at the University of Massachusetts Boston. I am majoring in psychology with a minor in criminal justice. I also love reading, drawing, and going to art museums in my free time!