Priya, a pseudonymous 16-year-old in the suburbs of New Delhi, doesn’t understand why people are so mad at her online. Or at least why they get so angry whenever she posts videos of her favorite boy band (the K-pop superstars BTS) and her favorite member of that band (Jungkook). Priya’s collection of videos, or “fancams,” are harmless enough; they’re mostly just clips from BTS concerts, dance routines and behind-the-scenes footage. The problem is how incongruent they are to where she posts them — in as many trending topics, conversations and hashtags as possible, including those related to politics, sports and even banning abortion.
While chatting over WhatsApp, Priya tells me that she feels compelled to do so because “I love BTS and I want as many other people to love them too.”
She comes from a moderately middle-class family, but she still can’t afford to travel out of India to see BTS live. Nor can she afford much of BTS’ official merchandise. So for her, fancams — and stanning BTS as much as possible in general — is one of the few ways she can show how devoted of a fan she actually is. “I hope that one day, BTS will see [my tweets],” she says.
Forever in service of making that happen, when Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter passed away last month, Priya began posting her fancams to hashtags like #RIPKobe and #Blackmamba. She hoped to at least get a few retweets from fellow ARMYs (the BTS fandom’s official name). Instead, she received dozens of hate-filled messages that called her “insensitive,” “sick” and an “attention seeker” — including some from other BTS fans, who think overzealous fancammers such as Priya give the fandom a bad name.
On K-pop subreddits, there are dozens of threads that refer to fancammers as “annoying,” “spammers” and the “reason why people hate K-pop.” Others are less annoyed by the presence of fancams on Twitter than they are by the endless amount that they post, which contributes to the ongoing problem of K-pop stans posting so much that they’re mistaken for bots and booted off platforms entirely.
Either way, it’s a problem that’s unlikely to go away any time soon. In her book Fangirls: Scenes from Modern Music Culture, British journalist Hannah Ewens notes that the growth of K-pop as a global force has also created an international fandom that’s highly diverse in terms of nationality, sexuality and class. Moreover, they’re all connected by the internet. As such, super fans often feel under more pressure to “perform fandom” online — a pressure that only grows as social media apps introduce new features and services in order for them to do so. “To be a fan means you have to be online a lot,” Ewens told me last year.
Their international nature also means that miscommunication is inevitable — no matter the amount of shared passion they might have for a celebrity. “I think there’s a cultural difference that can make communication between fans in different countries difficult,” says 20-year-old Ellie, a university student in Oslo and BTS stan. Speaking to me over Reddit, she explains that because fancammers who post their content on unrelated trending topics aren’t a safety or security problem, there isn’t a lot platforms like Twitter can do to curb them. And so, she says, “It’s ARMYs who have to rein it in, and tell people to stop, especially when they’ve got the hashtag of a tragedy or someone’s death.”
But, she adds, self-policing can be tough since it can be perceived as bullying or harassment: “Lots of young women are part of this community, and they should be welcome and feel safe.”
Priya is certainly still shaken by what happened after Bryant’s death. That said, it hasn’t stopped her from posting fancams of either BTS or Jungkook. As we speak, in fact, she’s clipping segments of BTS’ latest appearance on Jimmy Fallon, carefully scanning all the clips she can find to make a new batch of fancams to celebrate the band’s new album. Meanwhile, as we end our interview, I receive a DM from someone I didn’t know — a fancam of another K-pop band named Blackpink, with last night’s trending topics (#DemDebate and #DemocraticDebate) attached.
Which can only mean one of two things: K-pop fancams are here to stay, or they’re really big Bernie Sanders fans.