Category Archives: fan service

Fandom in-jokes: The shields

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I saw this on OneHallyu, and I believe this marks the first time I actually have been tempted to start an account over there (I won’t, don’t worry).

Why? Because someone had a question about a very old (as in, I can’t remember or find where I read the explanation for it, and that happened a few years ago, so we’re going to have to rely on my creaky memory here) K-BBC in-joke:

What’s with the parentheses? They represent shields.

You’ve heard of fans “shielding” idols, right? Well, K-BBCs tended to tease the members of Block B pretty ruthlessly on the fan cafe, and it turned out that this actually bothered some of the members. So the joke began that you had to “shield” a member from humor that was possibly a bit mean. And you did this by writing their name with little shields around it. For example, if memory serves, B-Bomb was a bit sensitive, so you’d write his name (((((B-Bomb)))) to indicate that you were shielding him from pain.

At one point, though, Zico (again, if memory serves) told fans that they should “turn the shields around!” and start ragging on B-Bomb again. So then fans started to write his name ))))B-Bomb((((. If you were only half-shielding him, you’d do it ((((B-Bomb(((( or ))))B-Bomb)))).

So ((((BBC)))) ))))Block B(((( basically means: Be nice to the fans, but feel free to drag the members!

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A look at both sides of the duck

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No, not that duck!

In the United States, we sometimes use the analogy of a duck to describe a situation where someone appears to be moving along effortlessly (like the part of the duck you easily see above the water), but in truth they are “paddling like hell” (like the feet of the duck below the water, which you don’t see).

Obviously, the entertainment industry is always very much like a duck: What you see is the glamorous stars stepping out of their limousines; what you don’t see is all the work that got them there.

Last night P.O appeared on The Show dressed as a vampire, and I wanted to examine one fun, yet duck-like, thing that came from that–namely, the roughly 10,000 fan photos of P.O looking alternately handsome and adorkable.

That’s the top part of the duck–such fun!

Now let’s go beneath the waves.

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Obviously a lot of work went into getting P.O all gussied up, not to mention getting him on the show in the first place. But I want to look at just one small piece of the picture: How did P.O and the fan cammers wind up in the same place at the same time?

As you can see by watching the above video, this was no chance meeting. There are a group of fans, clearly following set rules (stay seated, don’t approach him), who are in a particular place and time where they know P.O is going to show up, and where he knows the fans will be.

How do the fans know where to go? They follow this Twitter account (there is usually information on the fan cafe site as well), which is filled with photographs of near-abandoned cityscapes that can, at times, be oddly haunting and beautiful.

These are the places the fans are supposed to wait. Sometimes the waiting is just something you have to do to, say, be part of the audience for a music show, but often it’s what you do because one or more members of Block B is going to come out to say hello, pose for pictures, and maybe even answer questions (more or less seriously depending on their mood, of course).

This is a very common practice in K-Pop–at least with idol groups. And it’s part of why sometimes you get complaints that seem really odd. For example, Zico might be on the docket for a hip-hop show. The night of the show, he arrives in time for his scheduled appearance on stage, he does a good job performing the setlist he was expected to perform, and then he leaves.

And the fans complain bitterly.

That might seem really unreasonable–and, to a certain extent, it is. But it’s not quite as outrageous as, say, the fan of a Western artist getting mad about the same thing, because in some situations Zico absolutely is expected to come out and greet the fans in addition to performing.

But it also gives you an idea of why the notion that fans in Korea “don’t get anything” from Block B is such a risible one. What is considered minimal fan service in Korean K-Pop circles is well beyond what is expected almost anywhere else. There were a lot of photos this time around because of the costume, but P.O does this kind of mini-meeting with fans (which are, of course, set up by the Seven Seasons staff) pretty much every time he appears on The Show–and he’s a regular!

An introduction to Block B’s fansign culture/Block B fansign greatest hits LOL!

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Netizen Buzz translated a piece about U-Kwon writing rude things at fansigns, and then of course other craptacular English-language media outlets decided to treat this as though it were actual news, which it really, really is not.

Like the vast majority of Block B fans, I believe that the people “upset” about this issue are super-obviously full of shit. But it occurred to me that there might be people who legitimately don’t understand 1. why Block B would act this way, and 2. why Block B fans would react so negatively to criticism of what, on the surface, certainly looks like very rude behavior.

Hm, I thought, Maybe I should do a serious educational post about Block B’s fansign culture for non-fans.

Then I thought, Why am I letting the killjoys set the agenda?! I should write a fun post about Block B’s fansigns for the fans, who would enjoy it!

Then I realized: I could do both!

So, in this post:

If the text is blue, it is aimed at people unfamiliar with Block B.

If the text is maroon, it is aimed at Block B fans.

If it’s black, it’s for everyone.

Here we go!

If you don’t know much about Block B, a very important concept to understand is that the group is, in many ways, a parody of a normal K-Pop idol group. They take music seriously, but they often do the more fan-servicey elements “wrong” in order to be funny.

This extends to fansigns, where the members often do things “wrong” in order to amuse fans. One of the “wrong” things they do is reply quite rudely to fans–something that is actually much beloved by fans.

This has been true since the group’s debut, and fans who ask questions like “What do you think I look like?” or “Will we be together some day?” know full well the kind of answer that they’re going to get.

Remember these, guys? Ah, I’m dying!!!

Have some pervy B-Bomb!

The “abuse” Block B gives fans is such a tradition that fans used to routinely ask the members of Block B to curse at them.

Remember how they used to cuss at the fans?

In this classic video, Zico awesomely says shibal (a VERY VERY bad word in Korean) to a fan who asked him to curse at her–witness Jaehyo’s hilarious reaction.

That video is from the year Block B debuted. This is from three days ago.

Look at Zico drag everyone!

This is why no Block B fan actually believes it when someone says, “I used to be a fan but they were just too rude at that fansign!” That’s a bit like someone saying that they used to be a fan of Block B but then they figured out that the lead vocalist was short–maybe they’re telling the truth, but they obviously weren’t much of a fan, because they didn’t know the first thing about the group.

The other issue is that U-Kwon gets targeted by haters because he has a girlfriend–the idea that he is “mean” to fans stems from the fact that he’s open about being in a serious relationship. In truth, as you can see, he’s no “meaner” than anyone else in the group; 99% of the time this criticism is coming from people who are trying to make an example out of U-Kwon so that their favorite idol doesn’t get any ideas about dating.

There are certain things U-Kwon won’t do as fan service, though, because he feels they’re disrespectful to his girlfriend. One of these things is drawing hearts. This, of course, has become its own joke.

This woman cracks me up (she’s not a crazy person, don’t worry).

Grade A quality fan service

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So there’s this huge brouhaha over Seventeen supposedly treating fans badly–it’s REALLY dumb, because it’s obvious that 1% of it is crazy fans who are all upset to realize that the group members aren’t going to adopt them, and the other 99% is just the regular haters/asshole fans of other groups who are piling on because the only thing that makes them feel powerful is ruining other people’s lives.

I honestly don’t expect this to have much impact, plus I kind of kind of love the comments where the haters get all frustrated that Seventeen fans still like the group–it’s almost as much fun as when they get all angst-ridden because they’ve never been able to take down G Dragon or BigBang. And this kind of thing isn’t really new: For example, it didn’t hurt BTS any when netizens got all upset that V is . . .

. . . completely awesome.

As a result of Seventeen’s recent “controversy,” though, there has been some extra focus on the fan service offered by various K-Pop groups, including that offered by Block B. As a high-profile Block B fan who works hard for the group and has seen them multiple times, I of course have experienced exceptional fan service from them, including getting the stink eye from Zico, getting the stink eye from Park Kyung, and having P.O be super-happy to meet me one day and not recognize me the next.

But my experience is just the tip of the iceberg! I thought I’d share two of my very favorite bits of Block B fan service. For my money, these are even better than the familiar favorites, Get The Fuck Away From Our DormDon’t Touch Me There, and We’ll See You In Court, or even the recent insta-classic, Come And Say It To Me In Person.

#1. Explaining that a V App is boring because the fans are making it boring (bonus points to the manager/cameraman desperately making finger hearts there).

#2. Flipping the bird at a fan event.

The music really makes this work.

In all seriousness, I do think that Block B enjoys their fans most of the time, but I also think that they can do that precisely because they take such a hard line against the crazy people who think that spending some money on CDs or concert tickets entitles you to have complete control over another human being.

Business models and Block B; or, How important is that fan base, anyway?

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So, there’s a little roundup of the reasons this Seven Seasons/KQ Entertainment boycott is going on here: I’m linking because 1. it’s really long, and 2. the impulse to make fun of it is kind of overwhelming (you’re boycotting now because you think Seven Seasons mishandled Block B in 2013?). I’ll just note that a lot of what’s there is rumor, really dumb (it’s KQ’s fault that hackers didn’t target the Block B Japan YouTube account), self-contradictory (Jaehyo was both overworked and not worked hard enough), or really questionable (“Ordinary Love” was not well-marketed, which I guess is why it was such a hit).

KQ has responded to the brouhaha by announcing its new Web site, which is a very nice Web site…and most definitely the kind of Web site you can’t throw together overnight because some fans got whiny.

So, yeah–some meaningless placation there. I don’t expect the complaining Korean fans to get much more than these kinds of sops. They may get another fan meeting or two (you know, if they buy the “Blooming Period” DVD), and concerts that they were going to get anyway, but their main objective (Block B should stop performing in Japan!) is never going to happen.

And in my opinion, if you care about Block B’s financial well-being, that’s all to the good.

Others, of course disagree. Their argument is that Block B’s Korean fan base is super important to the group’s financial well-being, so KQ had better capitulate and give them everything they want!

I’m not going to make fun here (well, not anymore than I already have). Instead, I want to delve into the question, Why do I see things so differently than some other fans?

The answer is: Because I have a business background. I’ve covered business, and I’ve run my own businesses.

So, in the interest of increasing financial literacy and business aptitude, I’m going to focus a bit here on this blog on business concepts and how they apply to K-Pop. These posts will be similar to the ones I did earlier on things like good marketing or assets or distribution–using real-life examples to hopefully illuminate abstract concepts. (Also, just for general background, I’d suggest you go here and read Kpopalypse’s bit on YG Entertainment–another company that is actually much better-run than many fans seem to realize. In business, the bottom line is the bottom line–a company that is making money, especially over time, is by definition well run.)

So, why is KQ unlikely to kowtow to Block B’s Korean fan base?

Because their business model has moved past that.

I’ve done a post on business models before, which I’d suggest you read if you don’t already know what a business model is. A quick refresher: A business model is the basic approach a company takes to making money.

In the Korean popular music market, you get two main approaches to making money. The first is to market to a general audience. The second is to market to the fan base.

In Block B’s very early days, they mostly sold to their fan base–they sold albums, not singles. But pretty quickly they got a popular hit, and then a bunch more, and at this point I’d say they’re not very interested in selling to the fan base.

Why do I say that?

With boy groups (girl groups are a little different, I think because their fans are older), if they’re selling albums, they’re selling to their fan base. (The general public buys digital.)

In fact, fans buy albums because they want to meet the group, which means that if a group is reasonably popular album sales are very much under their control.

You get this:

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because these group have lots of fan events.

In fact, boy groups who cater to the fan base will sacrifice sales to the general public in order to appeal to fans. They will create a song with lots of blank spaces (for fan chants) or songs that sound like five different songs stuck together (so everyone gets to see their bias shine).

And then people will scratch their heads and wonder: Why don’t boy groups sell digitally? Are they cursed?

NO. These boy groups are just hewing to their business model! It doesn’t matter if these kinds of groups sell digitally as long as they have a lock on that fan base.

So, what is Block B doing these days? They’re selling digitally.

Not only are they selling digitally, but they are actually selling fewer CDs now than they used to!

In 2014 The Greater Block B Musical Complex sold: 111,964 CDs
In 2015 The Greater Block B Musical Complex sold: 59,358 CDs
In the first six months of 2016 The Greater Block B Musical Complex sold: 64,056 CDs

Why aren’t they selling more CDs in Korea? Because they don’t have to. They’re doing just dandy selling to the general market in Korea–a phenomenon that really took off, you guessed it, in 2015.

Plus, they are selling more CDs–in Japan.

In 2014 The Greater Block B Musical Complex sold: 0 CDs
In 2015 The Greater Block B Musical Complex sold: 68,129 CDs
In the first six months of 2016 The Greater Block B Musical Complex sold: 73,930 CDs

Yeah–without having to write any new music, either!

Now, maybe you’re looking at those numbers and thinking, Gee, if Block B worked harder in Korea, they probably could sell as many CDs as they now do in Korea and Japan. And that’s true–if they wanted to, they could sell many more CDs in Korea.

Why don’t they want to?

Focusing on the fan base can be a workable business model, but it is necessarily quite limiting–you can extract a good deal of money, but only from a set number of people. If you sell CDs in Korea, you’re not expanding that audience. If you sell CDs in Japan as well, you’re developing an entirely new source of digital sales, concert revenues, endorsements, acting gigs…whatever! Plus you’re diversifying, which is always a good idea.

So, in short (ha!), Block B’s business model is no longer particularly dependent on keeping KBBCs happy. That’s not likely to change, because diversifying to the general public and Japan is working for them.

And this is why comments like, “Why don’t you go stan EXO?” actually contain a grain of valuable advice–if you want a group that is going to spend all its time providing fan service, Block B is not the group for you. You need to find a group with a business model that is more focused on maximizing revenue from the fan base.

Here’s the thing: Block B’s Korean fans know all this. Whether they want to admit it or not, they know on some level that they are not actually that important to Block B, and that they will likely become even less important in the future. That is why they are freaking out.

I think they are freaking out right now because of two recent triggers: Zico is dating, and the seventh episode of Hit the Stage aired. What happened there? Well, the MCs had a conversation with Nicole (formerly of Kara), in which they discussed how Nicole is popular in Japan, so she’s never, ever in Korea, ever, and gee, you know who else is popular in Japan?

Block B!

The phenomenon where K-Pop groups get popular in Japan and then you never see them again is not an unfamiliar one to Korean fans. It happens quite a bit, because the Japanese music market so large and so close. Hence the freaking-out.

But the boycotting Korean Block B fans are not thinking things through: The entire reason Block B hasn’t gallivanted off to Japan for good is that they’re doing very well in Korea. Boycotting a DVD is only going to make the Korean fan base less important to Block B’s finances, and make Korea an even smaller and less appetizing market.

Vote for B-Booty!

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If you don’t know, Kpopalypse does annual Best Boobs and Best Ass in K-Pop posts. Usually the boobs posts are his opinion, but since he’s not much of an ass man, he opened up the Best Ass competition to voting, and then last year he decided that, since he was just reporting other people’s votes anyway, he might as well let them vote on men’s asses as well as women’s.

Unfortunately I did not realize this until I read the results–and sadly, our beloved B-Bomb’s booty did not appear at all.

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Injustice!

This, in all seriousness, is one of the few times in the past three years when I have genuinely felt like a bad fan.

This year, Kpopalypse is letting people vote again–and better yet, you can vote for boobs, men’s abs, asses of either gender, and overall hotness for either gender! Yes, it is (cue trumpet music) The Kpopalypse 2016 Super Objectification Survey! Winning it is without question the highest honor in K-Pop!

VOTE HERE!

And allow me to redeem myself for last year and lobby for B-Bomb’s butt!

This is a man who gives of his booty!

And gives!

The bodaciousness of B-Bomb’s beautiful booty is well-recognized by the other members of Block B…

…and it inspires fans! (Song NSFW!)

It even pops out when you least expect it!

And if you go to the 4:16 mark, you will discover that the quality of the B-Booty is more than skin deep!

The wonder, the glory–the B-Butt!

BFFs in K-Pop–yes, it’s a lie

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Someone has been searching around, trying to figure out where Zico and Block B live. I was thinking that I would have to post a Guide to New Fans about stalking (which is a really bad idea). But then I looked more carefully at the queries and saw this, which made me realize that this is yet another person attempting to suss out whether all the members are BFFs just like everyone ELSE in K-Pop is!

So, I’m going to let this person in on a little secret: Everyone in K-Pop is lying about being BFFs.

A little background as to why: One of the distinguishing characteristics of K-Pop is that idols are marketed as personalities, not as musicians.

The thing is, once you start marketing someone as a personality, you want them to have a marketable personality. If you’re marketing them to teenagers, you want them to be appealing to teenagers.

Ever notice something about teenagers? They’re the only ones who treat being BFFs as something other than a joke! Nobody else–including those very teenagers ten years later–seems to understand the incredible significance of BFFs. Non-teenagers even write long articles explaining to other non-teenagers why teenagers believe in this crap. It’s almost like they think the very concept is profoundly unrealistic!

And that’s because it is. Nobody is BFFs–you might be best friends for your entire life, and that still is going to fall far short of forever.

The truth is that you probably won’t be best friends for your entire life, either. The intensity of a friendship is dependent on many things, not the least of which are proximity and shared interests. These change over time, and so the friendships change as well.

Is this a bad thing? No. 

Adults accept and even embrace this–this is why your parents don’t want you to skip college in order to marry your high-school boyfriend. If you move, or discover a new interest, or change jobs, or have a baby, your circle of friends will in all likelihood change. Some may drift away, perhaps completely, but others (who you may have never even thought of as friends) will fill the gap.

Think about it–how many marriages last a lifetime? And even if you’re married, you want to have a robust social network as well. You really don’t want to have all your eggs in one BFF basket.

One ever-changing group of friends is work friends. The relationship revolves around the work you’re doing–and you may find that you don’t actually have much to say to each other when you’re not working together.

Is that a bad thing? No! Work friends are awesome!

You can also have a roommate who is a wonderful roommate–just the best!–but who is not someone you have a lot in common with or have a close emotional connection to. Even so, this person may be about a million times easier to live with than family members who you actually love.

That’s OK. It’s all good!

But in K-Pop they market this BFF bullshit so hard that a group of people who live together because it’s cheaper (yes, that is why labels stick all those people in one room) can’t move out once they have money without it generating comment. In their rookie days, Block B was nine people (seven group members + two managers) sleeping in two rooms.

Are you saying you wouldn’t move the fuck out of there the first chance you got?

Well, I suppose the BFF thing is at least better than believing that a K-Pop label is a family and people who leave because they’re getting ripped off are traitors.