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The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

We all have our favorite celebrities. Maybe yours is a musician, an actor or perhaps a social media influencer or YouTuber. Anyone you ask can probably name at least one famous person they like. Celebrities have provided us with entertainment for years, and their art or content can sometimes serve as a form of escapism from our stressful lives.

There’s nothing wrong with finding comfort in a celebrity’s work. A lot of musicians’ music has provided me solace over the years, and I thank them for it.

What becomes an issue is when consumers become so attached to and dependent on a celebrity, they feel as though they have some form of intimate connection with said celebrity despite not knowing them on a personal level. This is referred to as a “parasocial relationship.”

In the article “Parasocial Relationships: The Nature of Celebrity Fascinations” from Find a Psychologist, parasocial relationships are defined as “one-sided relationships, where one person extends emotional energy, interest and time, and the other party, the persona, is completely unaware of the other’s existence.”

The term “parasocial relationship” was coined by Donald Horton and Richard Wohl in “Mass Communication and Para-Social Interaction.” Horton and Wohl’s research was published in 1956, where the duo observed then popular forms of media such as the radio and television. Horton and Wohl studied how audiences formed a one-sided relationship with the “personae,” an actor’s character.

Parasocial relationships are common in the fanbases of Western celebrities, but they are also prevalent in the fanbases of Korean pop artists. Due to Korean pop acts such as BTS and BLACKPINK gaining traction in the mainstream United States media, local audiences have started to become aware of the unique relationship between fans and their favorite artists.

As a consumer of Korean pop music since 2013, I have seen the various ways in which entertainment labels have tried to strengthen the parasocial bond between artists and their fans. Labels have especially searched for new, innovative ways to up engagement with the rise of the Internet and social media, and also due to the COVID-19 pandemic which has limited in-person interaction between artists and fans.

A prominent example of a way labels have tried to strengthen the bond between artists and fans is Dear U Bubble, a private chatroom service created by SM Entertainment in 2020. Dear U Bubble is an extension of the mobile app Lysn, which was also created by SM Entertainment in 2018.

Unlike typical K-pop based platforms such as Weverse and VLIVE, Dear U Bubble is a one-on-one subscription between artists and fans. The purpose of Dear U Bubble is to give fans a glimpse into their favorite artists “daily life” via text messages, pictures and videos. Fans can also send their own text messages, which artists can read if they so choose. The Dear U Bubble interface itself is meant to mimic text messages between close friends.

SM Entertainment artists aren’t the only ones who use Dear U Bubble. Other companies such as JYP Entertainment, FNC Entertainment and Mystic Story have also invested in the service. According to the Korean website Single List, Dear U Bubble has a total of two-hundred and forty-seven artists from over twenty-five entertainment labels on its platform.

Dear U Bubble has received praise for the innovative and intimate way it provides communication between fans and artists, but it has also received some criticism for the unrealistic expectations it instills in consumers.

Since Dear U Bubble gives the illusion of text messages from a friend, fans sometimes become upset when their favorite celebrity does not send messages in a timely manner. Since celebrities – especially Korean pop idols – often have hectic schedules, it makes sense why some artists wouldn’t “text” as frequently as others.

Even so, a number of fans expect a steady stream of Dear U Bubble messages. Fans argue that since they pay for the service, the artist should use it at least once a day – or more. This demanding behavior has led to some critics of Dear U Bubble to argue the service can cause fans to become possessive of their idols, which can have detrimental effects.

As mentioned previously, there’s nothing wrong with finding comfort in a celebrity’s work. In fact, parasocial relationships CAN have benefits.

In “The Parasocial Phenomenon” from PBS, Anette Choi writes that according to Jaye Derrick, an assistant psychology professor at the University of Houston, parasocial relationships can help people with low self-esteem “be more goal-oriented and more comfortable in their own skin.”

In the same article, Riva Tukachinsky – an assistant professor of communication studies at Chapman University – also says parasocial relationships can eliminate anxiety which comes from real life social situations. Since parasocial relationships are one-sided, fans rarely have to worry about rejection from their favorite idols. 

While parasocial relationships may have some benefits, though, it’s important to recognize their negative side effects. Since these relationships are one-sided, they can negatively impact how people engage in real life social situations. Derrick says parasocial relationships “cannot replace real life interpersonal relationships;” as a result, it’s important to not rely on parasocial relationships for comfort and a sense of belonging.

Parasocial relationships can also lead fans to view their favorite celebrity through rose-tinted glasses. Even if a celebrity says or does something which upsets people – such as making an insensitive or ignorant comment – fans will defend them and claim they “didn’t mean it.” This stems from the mindset of fans believing their favorite celebrity is a good person, even though they don’t know them personally.

This unwillingness to listen to concerns can lead to fans becoming hostile. For example, I have seen fans send racial attacks or even threaten to dox individuals who call out Korean pop idols for racially insensitive remarks. These situations are unfortunately common on the social media platform Twitter.

One of my favorite celebrities of all-time is Park Sun-young, a South Korean singer and musical actress better known by the stage name Luna. I became a fan of her in 2013, when she was active as a member of the Asian Pop quintet f(x). In October of last year, Luna made her long-awaited comeback with the digital single “Madonna.” The music video was released at 5 a.m. EST, and I woke up an hour prior buzzing with excitement.

I love following Luna’s work and seeing what she’ll do next. She’s been a big part of my life and is one of the few celebrities I consider a role model.

Even so, I don’t know Luna on a personal level. I know the image she has crafted and anecdotes of her life she has shared through her YouTube channel, Instagram, and the variety programs she has appeared on, but this doesn’t mean I can consider her a friend.

There’s nothing wrong with gaining comfort from a celebrity’s music, movies, or other content, but solely relying on them can be an unhealthy coping mechanism. That’s why it’s important to be mindful of how you engage with a celebrity’s content, and recognize when fanship starts to turn into obsession.

Engaging with a celebrity’s work should bring joy and contentment, not hostility and selfishness.

Jordyn is a junior at the University of Kentucky majoring in Psychology and minoring in Journalism Studies. She loves writing fiction stories, but enjoys partaking in a bit of non-fiction writing, too. In the future, she hopes to either become a clinical psychologist or an author.
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