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Strange Kpop PT2: Illuminate!

Apr 11, 2021 | K-pop, Pop, Strange K-pop | 0 comments

While opinions may vary and this is a strictly personal take on it, being assaulted by a dildo-wielding overexcited south korean kpop fan will remain on the more non-threatening part of my “random likely assailant”-list, the whole scenario is still confusing. What the heck is going on? What is that thing and why is that fan waving it around?

If I were a rookie artist experiencing this in a concert venue I would be somewhat taken aback by the mix of the orderly good natured ambiance of the crowd and yet still be very concerned about why every single fan is waving a glowing dildo at me. Sinister? Encouraging? Loving but in a warped way? Well that’s kpop and its fandoms for you.

Hey dude. It’s just lightsticks. A staple product in the entertainment companies quest to monetize the long tail of the hardcore fan base. Let me unpack this for you.

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.

Anatomy of the Lighstick

Most groups with some success sell lighsticks to their fans and they’re in the price range of 40-80 USD/EURO. The design of the sticks can be elaborate, with some able to light up in different colours and a few even able to be manipulated by Bluetooth for some great sect-like co-ordinated mass hypnosis effect.

The lightstick is basically a plastic stick with ornaments and some lighting solution at the top. Powered by regular AAA batteries, some LED components and bluetooth, these products are pretty straightforward and probably come with a pretty good margin of profit for the seller – production costs most likely at far less than a tenth of retail prices with the rest of cost made up of distribution, logistics and some marketing.

The Ocean…

Understanding the Ocean is key to understanding the lightstick phenomena. The ocean is the sea of fans at a concert or event.
If you watch some footage of Kpop concerts the use of lightsticks is really impactful – from the glow up of fans switching on the lightsticks for the first time, to the co-ordinated effects achieved by the idol groups lighting operators syncing the lighsticks to change colour to basically use the fans as a canvas for illumination. Being a part of this must be a pretty cool and satisfying thing.

… 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.


Interesting sticks and personal favourites

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 Blackpink official light stick, the “Bl-ping-bong”, shows good production value and the support of a savvy marketing and brand department.

The stick is also made all the more useful as you can indulge in admonishing some light punishment with it in true Korean Variety Show style where plastic hammers are used as a safe way to beat someone who fails at something or makes a stupid comment. The  Blackpink light stick perfectly channels the Blackpink brand: young, cocky and cute.

The Gfriend: V.1, V2 & Japanese version

Regretably I believe the Glass Marble version has been discontinued (the name probably refers to Gfriends first single “Glass bead”).

(Version 1, Version 2 and Japanese Version)

And I can see the problems with having a lighstick filled with fluid – imagine it sitting around in a frozen container on the coast off of mainland China. Buuuuut it looks so pristine and neat and perfectly captures the vibe of early Gfriend.
And by the looks of it I would also prefer the Japanese version light stick before the current version 2 that’s available to buy right now.

Oh My Girl

The Oh My Girl lightstick is just well designed. Almost completely white with the tasteful script of the OMG logo and discrete pastel light up. Much like Oh my girl who are a well designed group the light stick, for something plastic with LEDs meant to be shaken at Kpop artists, this lightstick is, risking abusing the word, tasteful.
And the antlers a nod to their fairy like debut image.

WJSN or not?

Like Apink, Gfriend and Oh My Girl I really like WJSN/Cosmic Girls. At first the number of members gave me a headache but with the current lineup, their 70’s space opera disco-pop and displaying a clear trajectory of success, WJSN are a group to watch. When I first checked out pictures of this lightstick I was a bit disappointed. 

Then I saw it lit up and it looked decidedly cosmic…


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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