My closest K-Pop friends are my teenage daughters. Before we became a trio, they were somewhat like two lonely islands in the same K-Pop bay. They both liked the music, but they stanned different groups, loved different songs, and didn’t really K-Pop together very often. Then one day I shipwrecked in the bay and these two islands converged to support my survival. We’ve K-Popped together ever since! We have fun, but we still lament not having many K-Pop friends in real life. It’s not easy building an IRL K-Pop circle since it’s not like building a friend group around soccer, fishing, or even quilting. You can’t just join your town’s local club for K-Pop enthusiasts (wouldn’t that be awesome if you could!). To make IRL friends in K-Pop, it’s really just good luck and good timing.
Not that you have to have real life K-Pop friends to enjoy a socially-rewarding fan life. Even if you do every in-person event by yourself, you’re sure to have fun because K-Pop fans are the most welcoming in-person community of music fans there are, hands down, by a longshot. My kids have met lots of awesome people at K-Pop events, and you can say, “sure, they’re teenage girls, it’s easy for them to make friends when they get there… “ But no, it’s worked for me too, and I’d argue it works for anyone. If there is one K-Pop myth I can bust, it’s that anyone who isn’t a teen girl at a K-Pop event will get stared at, whispered about, or treated like a weirdo. This. just. doesn’t. happen. I’m not talking about the online K-Pop community; that’s a whole different thing (and a whole other blog post). But as far as in-person experiences are concerned, you’re far more likely to be treated like crap at other music events than a K-Pop one. Let me offer some anecdotal evidence…
Anecdote 1: Even before I got into K-Pop, I liked the same music my kids liked. My daughter’s first concert was Troye Sivan in Oct 2016, and I loooove Troye Sivan, so I was bummed she didn’t want me to see him with her. I would have even camped out for 14 hours like she did, I’m totally down for that stuff! As it was, I was relegated to just checking on her throughout the day, since she was still only 15 years old. As I hung around the Troye queue here and there, I realized his fans were less than friendly, to put it nicely. When my daughter left to eat lunch, I occupied her chair for an hour to hold on to her spot. I tried chatting with people around me, but got cold shouldered in every direction. I felt so out-of-place, and relieved I hadn’t bought a ticket for the show. Sorry Troye, but your fans kinda suck.
Anecdote 2: My husband and I happened to be in the city last year on the same night Zedd was performing. I LOVE ZEDD, and I happily saw tickets were still available. However, as we walked through the crowd to the box office, it became apparent we’d have an easier time fitting in at a Troye Sivan show. At least Troye’s fans just ignored me; Zedd’s fans stared at us like Alzheimer’s patients too far from the nursing home. I half-expected to hear, “Are you lost? I think Whispering Oaks is down the street.” I say half-expected because I don’t think Zedd’s fans actually wanted to be near us, let alone speak to us. It was like we were infected with age and they might catch our “old.” Needless to say, we took a pass. Sorry Zedd, but your fans really suck.
Anecdote 3: Last February, my bestie and I wanted to go dancing, something we both love to do but hadn’t done in many years. Back in the day, we’d go clubbing all the time, just the two of us, and we’d always find friendly circles of people to dance with. Of course we know clubs are as welcoming to middle-aged women as a Zedd concert, so we did our research and chose a spot specified “fun for ALL ages.” This should have been great, right? Nope. The Tiki Room was indeed “fun for all ages”… of demonstrative romantic couples, and close-knit big families, and large insular groups of friends. In other words, people who wanna dance with each other and no one else. There wasn’t one circle of dancers that welcomed us when we attempted to join in, and we tried for a couple hours. We felt like wedding crashers, and it shouldn’t have been like that. Maybe we picked the wrong spot, or maybe making friends while dancing IS only for people in their twenties. Either way, it really bummed me out, and it cemented for me how thankful I am that I discovered a passion for K-Pop.
I have never, ever ever felt ostracised, out-of-place, or unwelcome at a K-Pop event, and I’ve been to a lot. Sure, some K-Pop crowds are more welcoming than others, but every crowd is at least friendly, that’s a baseline. I’ve never gotten stares, weird looks or hushed comments. Exactly the opposite: K-Pop fans enjoy talking K-Pop WITH ANYBODY. They will sing and dance WITH ANYBODY. Please please please do not hesitate to go to a K-Pop event because you think you are too old or too out-of-it, or too whatever. If you make it clear you like K-Pop, you’ll be fine. Even if you don’t stan the group, people will help you! If you see pockets of friends talking amongst themselves, gently tap one on the shoulder and say, “excuse me, I hope I’m not bothering you, but could you help me learn a little about (artist name here)? I really love their songs, but I don’t know a lot about them.” I promise you, even if the person you tap isn’t interested in helping you, someone within earshot will be! “Can you help me stan…” is like the K-Pop mating call! You’ll be inundated with saved phone pics, fanchant lessons, and member name quizzes. I’m not saying you’ll make lifelong friends, but you’ll make line-long friends for sure!
With the good luck and good timing I mentioned earlier, my girls and I have all been blessed with some amazing real-life K-Pop friends. Even though the online K-Pop community is like a minefield sometimes, it’s still a great way to meet IRLs. I made one of my local K-Pop friends through an online “BTS in Oakland” group. We messaged each other about merch lines and learned we lived two blocks from each other! I made another nearby friend when we both commented on the same KCON LA discussion thread and saw that we live in the same town. Beyond making a handful of local K-Pop connections, my favorite social experience so far in K-Pop is meeting Twitter mutuals in person at concerts and conventions. It’s so cool to turn these awesome virtual friendships into “real life” ones! One of my hopes, if the world ever returns to normal, is to vacation in Korea with a big group of K-Pop friends. How fun it would be to have enough people that we could rent a house in Seoul for a week and K-Pop everywhere together!