Why I Hate Music Shows, Part 4: The Ugly Hierarchy of Fandoms
If you’ve followed my rants and ravings over the past weeks, then I hope that you’ve at least begun to question the efficacy of the Kpop music show. Of what use is a non-live broadcast of musical performance where nothing is gained by the competition and the judgment is suspect? The answer, I would argue, is, very little.
But the number one reason why I don’t support music shows has, in some ways, nothing to do with the shows themselves, or with their supposed usefulness or importance. The biggest issue with music shows is that the ugly hierarchy of exclusivity it creates between and among fandoms harms the wider Kpop community.
Kpop fans interested in attending one of the popular music shows will learn very quickly that there’s no central repository or marketplace for tickets. If you want to see your favorite idol, you need to be prepared for an early morning, a long wait, and for a complete stranger to measure your worth as a fan and assign your place in the Kpop caste system.
Music show producers do not intentionally create hierarchies within fandoms. If anything, the only intentionality that the producers display is a desire to avoid responsibility over fans as far as possible. Producers delegate the whole process of determining which fans set foot inside their facility to the various fandom managers. The producers set the number of fans that will be allowed to attend, and then leave the fans to organize themselves.
Over time, this has developed into a very specific system whereby each fan is assigned worth, mostly based on fandom membership and the fan’s spending power. A typical queue for entering a music show will first prioritize official fandom members who have bought the new album, have proof of a digital download, and sometimes even an official poster. Within the subset of individuals who meet that criteria, a more traditional method of first-come, first-in-line is used. The next few sections of the line will also favor official fandom members who may not have purchased all of the new gear. Basically, the less money you’ve spent, the further down the line you’ll be. Finally, after all official fandom members have taken their place in the queue, then, and only then, will non-members be allowed to join. And again, preference will be given to spending power. Have the new album, proof of download, and a poster? Great, you’re in line ahead of the person with only the album. Make sense? Priority one is for official fandom members, priority two is for spending power, and priority three is for how early you get there.
Let’s talk first about priority one: official fandom membership. Favoring official members sounds fairly normal. If a fandom is only given a certain number of tickets, that fandom will naturally want to assure that those few tickets go to devoted fans. But in some cases, this only serves to cover a more subtle form of discrimination. For example, some fandoms have not accepted new memberships in several years (e.g. SHINee, for one), meaning that there is an implicit value assigned to the length of one’s fanship. Moreover, in the case of a closed fandom, there is no way for a new, devoted fan to accelerate his or her worth. Tough luck, in other words. The person who registered as a fan years ago, who may or may not have maintained their earlier level of enthusiasm, who may or may not have bothered to buy the new album, this person will always be valued as more worthy than you.
But no matter, you can still prove your worth in dollars. Buy more swag than the fan next to you and you’ll be assigned a spot in line ahead of them. Again, while this practice seemingly makes sense, it rewards the view that the “true fan” is the one who spends the most money on their bias. This is an ugly way to treat human beings. It equates them with “consumers,” with credit cards and spending potential. Yes, purchasing an album is a way of supporting your bias. A piece of that revenue (a very small piece) goes directly to the idol, and allows him or her to continue performing. But not every fan has the spending power to buy three new albums per year, digitally download in duplicate, and purchase various fandom swag. Not everyone is so fortunate. And for those fans who do struggle with money, who wonder if they should buy groceries or the newest album, I say this to you: Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re not a fan, or that their existence as a fan is more important than yours. If that means not attending music shows, then don’t attend music shows. There is no reason to support such an institution.
The truth is that the current method of queuing fans for music shows creates a nasty hierarchy of perceived fan worth. For some, the allure of being “important” is so strong that they would rather be a big fish in a small pond. Those fans are likely to hop from debut group to debut group, constantly seeking a position of power as a “first,” “original,” or “true” fan.
This admission system also serves to entirely bar entry for many. If your fandom is assigned 250 seats and 300 official fandom members show up, there’s a good chance you’re not getting in. And for the casual fan, don’t even think about it.
Given all the (perceived) pressure for Kpop groups to “win” music shows, some level of animosity between various fandoms is to be expected. There is constant speculation and accusation regarding cheating, most of it leveled at the other, overly-aggressive fandoms (never one’s own!). And this bad blood will often spill over into message boards and comment threads, where so-called representatives of various fandoms will condemn or support various other groups in a confusing, Disney-version of a faux-political battle-royale.
But this isn’t the type of inter-fandom strife I worry about. There’s so much vinegar and hate on the internet that we often forget about or ignore some of the more worrying in-person variations. For example, when attending a Kpop music show, fans are warned against cheering too loudly for another group. Think that Red Velvet performed well and deserves your applause? Think again. You’re in the SNSD section. Shut it down.
And this is not to pick on SONEs or any other group. All fandoms do this, and it is a direct result of the admission practices described above. It would be considered bad form and a strict “no-no” to pretend to be a fan of another group only to attain a seat. Because there are no general admission tickets, because there are so few seats assigned to each fandom, because it is so difficult to get into a music show, fans will naturally turn against any member of their group who may be seen as having snuck in under false pretenses. I’m sympathetic to that point of view. What bothers me is that Kpop music shows, through their own laziness and irresponsibility, have created a system which discourages the audience from regarding the performers with even a basic level of respect, and which lumps individual audience members into broad categories irrespective of their own self-determination.
The best example of the synecdochic treatment of audience members as representatives of their entire fandom can be found in the ban on taking photos. Presumably, this ban exists because the show isn’t broadcast live, so photos being posted during the recording would be seen as a “leak” and further evidence of the show’s shambolic formatting. The punishment for violating this ban, though, is the barring of all members of the fandom from attendance. This might sound like a fair measure, and one that would keep everyone in line (the members of each group become the enforcers of the rules). But it also equates individual human beings with the broad category of their fandom. Surely we would stand up and revolt in the instance that the prosecution of an Italian shoplifter led to the imprisonment of all Italians. What does a broad categorization have to do with individual action? Would we really expect Italian citizens to be the enforcers of honesty in all Italians? Would that even be possible? What is to stop one rotten apple from ruining the bunch? Nothing, of course. Aside from Kpop music shows’ poor understanding of how morality works, they make it so much worse when they equate one VIP with all VIPs.
The simple fix, of course, would be for music shows to open their tickets to the general audience. Sell tickets (or give them away) like any other event or venue. Set a date and time when the tickets will go on sale, and let fans click a button on their computers or phones. Yes, tickets will sell out in a matter of seconds. But think of the time-savings as compared with waiting in line for hours. More importantly, opening up tickets creates a system where any fan could feasibly attend.
Fans of every variety could show up to witness and celebrate the music they love. Foreign fans, casual fans, fans that have more than one bias. Music shows would benefit from all of these groups, as an audience which wants to watch and hear Kpop no matter which artist is performing will be a much better audience than one which wants the other groups to get the hell off the stage so they can watch their own bias already.
This system wouldn’t necessarily be perfect. Music shows would almost have to get rid of any sort of fan voting, as it would be weighted in favor of the larger groups (more fans = more people clicking on the link to buy tickets = more chance of attendance). But, hey, live fan voting was broken to begin with, so nothing lost there. The biggest drawback from opening up tickets to general sale would be that fans would no longer be able to sit in the same section as their fellow supporters.
Some will argue that these fan sections aid in the organization of fan-chants, and creates a general camaraderie. Creating fan sections is a common element to nearly all sporting events, after all. And I would be willing to buy into that argument if music shows operated anything like sporting events (see parts 1 and 2). But they don’t. These are semi-live performances put on by the top-charting idols. The competition aspects are completed before the performance begins, and any “live” judgment is entirely subject to bias. During the show, there is really no need for an outpouring of specific support. Your bias would probably rather have an entire arena cheering for them than one small section in the corner of the venue. There’s no need for enmity between fandoms, as there is no active competition between artists.
It would help tremendously, in fact, if music shows were treated as entertainment rather than competition. Yes, go, attend! Cheer because your bias walks on stage! Be entertained! But do not confuse spectacle for competition. The person next to you who cheers for a different artist is actually on your side. Both of you love Kpop. Both of you should heartily enjoy the whole show, not spend three minutes in orgasmic, asphyxiating ecstasy only to spend the next three hours giving all other groups the stink-eye.
And that’s my biggest beef with Kpop music shows. They simply haven’t taught us how to love the music we claim as our own. Instead, music shows have given us division, derision, and inhumane exclusion. I think it’s about time that stopped.
Zander Stachniak is a southern-born, Chicago-based writer who first discovered Kpop through ShoutCast Radio. His biases are f(x) and Block B.