More K-pop fans go online for intimate fan-star interactions

Fans can get a peek into the lives of their favorite stars.

SEOUL -- Park Ji-yoon quickly swipes the phone screen and unlocks her phone to open a message from Wendy, a member of the popular Korean girl group Red Velvet, who just texted back with her selfies in real-time.

“My heart pounded fast when my favorite celebrity texted me a message calling my own name for the first time,” Park, 28, who has been using DearU Bubble for a year, told ABC News.

Often referred to as simply “Bubble,” the feature offered inside LYSN, a K-pop fandom community application platform created by SM Entertainment, lets fans into private chat rooms with their favorite idols. This subscription-based chat service is hugely popular among K-pop fans.

K-pop stars, much like their fans, welcome the two-way direct messaging service. They message fans in group chat rooms from their own respective profiles, texting fans as if they were close friends.

“I use Bubble whenever I can communicate with my ‘ReVelUp,’ which is our fan name,” Wendy, from Red Velvet, told ABC News. “When I’m on Bubble, I really feel like I’m exchanging messages with ReVelUp in real-time which makes me feel closer to them. Not only can they know about my life, but I can also know about their lives, too.”

At Bubble, known for its personalized service, fans can access unreleased selfies and other photos uploaded directly by the artists themselves to give fans a peek into their daily routines. Idols actively utilize a coded messaging system that allows them to message numerous fans at once, while also having the ability to read and respond to individual messages.

While the pandemic diminished revenues of most businesses, SM Entertainment’s 2021 Q2 earnings showed that its net profit jumped by 109% compared to the same time last year. The operating profit of DearU Bubble was $5.64 million for the first half of 2021. SM Entertainment teamed up with other K-pop companies including JYP Entertainment and expanded the service.

Other large South Korea-based companies, such as YG, HYBE and NCsoft, have rolled out fan-star interaction platforms that provide seemingly exclusive communication experiences.

K-pop’s fan-artist communication online is not a novel concept, as Korean celebrities have been communicating with fans through various means including the famous and traditional online fan club community and trending live video streaming services like "V Live," provided by Naver.

In 2019, HYBE, the agency that BTS calls home, developed Weverse to meet strong demands for an integrated fan activity platform. With 33 Korean and non-Korean artists listed, Weverse is currently the most popular one-stop fandom community where artists meet fans, fans shop for goodies and management companies offer free digital archives.

The COVID-19 pandemic caused the suspension of all in-person events including live performances, world tours and fan meetings, all of which are essential for building stronger fandoms for artists and generating income for entertainment agencies.

This new medium of K-Pop fandom platforms has become one of the most necessary and leading strategies in the K-Pop industry today.

“As COVID-19 spread, it was impossible for the artists to interact with us. So I think Weverse actually helped in that way,” one user told ABC News.

The platform Universe, created by NCsoft, has steadily managed to carve out its own lane despite being one of the more recent applications to enter the market. Universe merged game features with the fan community to differentiate itself from others.

“In the near future, fandom platforms will be the key to grasp large fandoms, which will allow fans to share their emotions with artists regardless of time and space,” Sang-Hee Kweon, a professor at Sungkyunkwan University in Korea, told ABC News.

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