What is a lightstick?
Lore has it that the lightsticks were created to make it possible to distinguish fans from other fans in settings where multiple artists would perform. This would be convenient as artists would perform at venues with multiple other artists meaning the fans could be singled out of an ocean of fans. If you factor in the fan sentiment that the fans are there to be seen (showing their support) by their idols this starts making some sense – in the self effacing, collectivist yet passive aggressive fan cultures it’s all about supporting your idols and showing that you care.
Lightsticks are official merchandise and most likely a pretty good source of income for the artists and their companies. Compared to some traditional merchandise they’re fairly affordable and tangible and some even have collectors value as they are discontinued or are even concert specific variants. Some lightsticks are part of package concert deals – though this mostly happens in Japan. There is some market for customising and pimping your lightstick and there are even some non official lightsticks made by fans. Lightsticks are also part of the reason for groups having “official colours” – in the first generation of Kpop groups the different groups fans would be identified by the colour of their lightsticks.
… and The Black Ocean
The Ocean and the light sticks can however also be used for evil. It’s not unheard of that fans, to express their displeasure with artists other than their idols, turn off their lightsticks during multi artist events. It is assumed that fans from other “fandoms” keep their lightsticks lit even during other artists performance. This is seen as an expected courtesy. However in the inward looking fan world of Kpop an idol or a group will, any given Sunday, be the target of some fandoms (or severals) displeasure. This can be because of any strange infraction (some of which will be covered in this article series in the future) like looking strangely at your idol of preference, having resting bitch face or… well the reasons are actually impossible to keep track of.
This means that an artist or idol group can be greeted with a venue that suddenly, besides their own fans, goes dark. Instead of a warm sargasso sea of misdirected emotion, hormones and adoration the performers are met with what is called a Black Ocean or Black Sea (nothing to do with Red Sea/Blue Ocean model).
Fans making “Stank Faces”…
In fairly recent time there has been some of scandal around the conflicted and unlucky girl group Momoland – with members being booted by their management and one of their more popular members Nancy being accused of being “problematic”.
The Problematic epithet most often being code for someone reaching some level of popularity and then not conforming to, or being seen to conform to, Korean kpop fans sense of propriety. This can be not smiling enough, having some imagined wildly arbitrary flaw in your appearance or just not bowing enough.
What then happened to Momoland is sort of an example of the Black Ocean. Appearing on the same show as NCT, a Korean boy group, Momoland were not given the complete Black Ocean treatment, as the NCT fans didn’t turn off their lightsticks. The NCT fans did turn away from the performance ignoring Momoland for the duration of their performance.
Just look at those eerily illuminated faces turning away from the stage and apparently standing completely still and, according to other fans, making “stank faces”. Hilarious.
Also I learned a new expression. Next time I need to express my dissatisfaction with someones effort or contribution I will be utilising the “stank face” forcefully. Thank you Kpop.
Monster X - the Cola Zero of Light sticks
This Lightstick represents a certain light stick category – it looks like an advertiser trying to repurpose a deodorant with a floral smell, hints of baby powder and tobacco, to the young male segment.
– “Dude! Just make the packaging black, shiny and slightly “Sporty” and they wont mind their armpits smelling like ass. It’ll fly off the shelves faster than toilet paper during a zombie outbreak!”
Drakkar Noir and Axe deodorant galore!
The Apink Lightstick is, for all its simplicity, effective and has an arguably great design.
The Apink fans are called pink pandas, a fact I find slightly unsettling, but the lightstick much like Apink is no frills, cute and… well bobbly and pink. Apink are so entrenched and popular on the Korean market (and have unusual longevity having passed the 8 year active mark, something not a lot of idol groups manage) they really don’t need something fancy. The fans are on their side and they’re the successful seniors in their category.
Therapeutic Effect and Other potential uses
Waving a lightstick in time with other fans looks like a effective good self soothing process but it could also be argued that the repeated motion practiced alone in and of itself could have a good body-mind effect.
One of these kpop fans has a good lightstick and is content and calm, one is using a stick that isn’t his light stick and another isn’t using his light stick at all. As you can see there is a clear co-relation between light stick usage and perceived well-being!
there you have it
As for meaningless hoarding and collecting lightsticks seem highly viable and right up there with things like plastic model robots, Italian performance jackets or Harry Potter Lego…. all of which I approve though may not have the time to indulge in. While I couldn’t see myself buying all of the typical Kpop merchandise I find the lightstick very appealing – it’s the fact that it’s just one self-contained thing. It’s pretty absurd and funny and it’s also quite tangible and something you could have a handful of, and also the light sticks make a pretty good story. Personally I think they could, if the strength of illumination isn’t too high, be used as portable night lights for my daughters, enabling them to go to the bathroom at bedtime without turning on all the lights, becoming hyper active and maybe kneeing me in the groin as a result. Incidentally my daughters favour the Cosmic Girls, Apink and Oh My Girl sticks – not unlike their dad!
In closing: light sticks are cool and a unique thing to Kpop. They make for great collectors items and could, for further value add, possibly be used as night lights too. The therapeutic effect of waving a light stick is not to be sneezed at, even if you never go to a Kpop concert, your endorphins and dopamine will probably be positively affected. Don’t however surprise anyone with one in a dark alley – results might be random.
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