In the weird and wonderful world of Kpop, not surprisingly, things sometimes stray to the extreme and darker parts of the human psyche. A combination of factors combine to create the sasaeng phenomena…The immense pressure that Korean society exerts on individuals is one factor.
The other factor is the always-on presence and availability of idols for their fans, created and promoted by the entertainment companies, inspired by the Jpop market, and improved on by the Korean entertainment companies. Both factors together with easily accessible data of itineraries, sightings and schedules, make for a dangerous brew for the idol and an enticing opportunity for the unhealthily zealous fan, in Korean called Sasaeng.
The sasaeng spectrum
Fanatic fans aren’t limited to just certain pop cultural scenarios, they occur in most areas of popular culture. The sasaeng can also vary in characteristic on a wide spectra, ranging from the extremely annoying fan standing around outside an idols residence, which might be upsetting but clearly south of Charles Mansons lack of impulse control, to sasaengs trying to influence the lives of their victim and in extreme cases trying to abduct the object of their affections… The common characteristics of the sasaeng is that they clearly value their own access to, and ownership of the idol, above any concerns of personal boundaries or indeed the safety of the victim. A flip side to the sasaeng is the fanatic anti-fan – while the adoration is exchanged for hate and loathing it’s hard not to lump extreme anti-fans into the sasaeng category as they have the same lack of empathy and personal boundaries as the “normal” sasaeng.
But Kpop wouldn’t be Kpop without adding an extra layer of intricacy. Because there are even stories of idol and idol trainee sasaengs. Girl group GLAM, while being mostly famous for being a Big Hit (BTS Fame) and Source Music (Gfriend fame) collaboration, spectacularly imploding after a member helped her girlfriend extort a famous Korean actor. Yet before this final scandal, GLAM enjoyed another scandal involving a member who was exposed as a sasaeng fan of a member of boy group Super Junior.
Sasaeng:ing is hard work…
The sasaengs are often showing a surprising resourcefulness and dedication to their cause. Stories of sasaengs figuring out at what hotels their idols are going to stay by combining access to scedules with stolen intineraries and then installing cameras and microphones in hotel rooms they have figured out their idols will stay. Other stories of idols trying to outrun car borne sasaengs resulting in car chases and even car accidents or sasaengs preparing transportation identical to their idols transportation in the hope of getting them to board and then… having access to their idols. And other stories of sasaengs leaving careful traces of their under-the-radar access to their idols, posting close-up pictures of their obsessions sleeping, eating or exercising and leaving gifts behind in places they simply shouldn’t have access too.
A national secret agency could probably benefit from these individuals as the elaborate planning and attention to detail could, under other circumstance, land them jobs in the intelligence or security sectors. If they weren’t completely absorbed by infringing on their idols privacy and lives that is.
While there are quite a few artists who used to be ulzzang were then recruited by talent agencies due to their fame and notoriety as ulzzang, ulzzang culture at its height was such a broad phenomena that you also get the odd idol who didn’t become an idol because of their former Ulzzang status. Rather the participation in Ulzzang culture is something that’s been unearthed at a later point. And there is no stigma associated with this and having been an ulzzang isn’t detrimental to anyones pop career in the highly appearance focused South Koreans society.
There’s more famous ulzzangs than you can shake a toy hammer at and lot’s of artists who have been ulzzang. So just to mention an example I’ll mention the multifaceted Eunha (Jung Eunbi) formerly of disbanded Gfriend. Eunha was a young ulzzang and also a child actor before going on to domestic fame as the lead vocalist and chief space cadet in now defunct Gfriend. Another famous Kpop star is Kwon Mina formerly of AOA. Mina was the victim in the so-called AOA bullying scandal but was also an ulzzang when she was younger and before AOA.
Mina, former AOA, looking cool in Ellesse
mukbang – the art of the eat
Mukbang is a combination of the word for Eating and Broadcast in Korean (“meokneun” and “bangsong” respectively). Having originated in the walled garden of Korean entertainment tech platforms, more specifically the peer-to-peer streaming platform AfreecaTV during the late 2000 – early 2010, mukbangs has become a lasting phenomena and even extending outside of South Korea. It started with so-called Broadcast Jockeys on the AfreecaTV streaming platform starting to broadcast themselves bingeing on Korean food while doing a running commentary as well as treating the viewers as fellow diners creating a social and inclusive atmosphere. AfreecaTV has a history of hosting different Korean phenomena – another well known one being Esports with numerous Starcraft and Starcaft 2 tournaments.
The platform has also been notoriously controversial with everything from broadcast jockeys selling sex to being a means for protesters to organise leading to various governmental restrictions on the network. However despite this, AfreecaTV is a fixture in the Korean media landscape with Mukbang being a viable source of income for Broadcast Jockeys, “BJ”s for short, with BJs most often being young people who most likely, due to the heavily competitive nature of the Korean job market are looking for alternative means of earning an income.
Japanese female mukbanger Yuka Kinoshita is a young woman proving the cultural transferability of mukbang from South Korea to Japan. Yuka has a massive following of 5,5 million subscribers on Youtube where she can be seen wolfing down everything from fast food to traditional Japanese food and also being in the category of mukbangers who sometimes cook and their own food during broadcast.
Yuka can eat too
Mukbangs & Kpop idols
With AKB48, and the evolution of the Jpop and the Kpop recipes for creating engagement, is it any wonder that new novel ways of getting under the skin of a celebrity or idol are constantly evolving? Comes as no surprise then that several Kpop stars have their own mukbang shows or mukbang episodes on their Youtube-channels or other social media platforms. Penultimate girl group survivalists, Apink active for 10 years have at least 3 members who have engaged in mukbangs at any scale. Bomi does mukbangs on her channel on a regular basis, Hayong is also known to having broadcasted some eating for the fans but it should be noted that the real anomaly in eating terms is probably Namjoo, the probably least known member of Apink who is notorious for her eating capacity displayed both in mukbangs as well as various TV shows when food has been served. All of this showing how integrated mukbang now is in Korean pop culture.
So which of these Korean phenomena do you find the most fascinating? And is there any reason to believe they could in fact be combined?