There are many different types of variations when we think of “Idol Culture”. There are healthy attachments and not-so-healthy attachments. Being a fan is such a wholesome feeling. Not only are you inspired by your artists, they truly light up your life, and can make you a more happy person. To support them, you purchase albums, stream MV’s, attend concerts, and meet and greets. This is all great and really shows the love and respect you may have for your artists. But for others though, these “so called” fans take their ‘love’ to another extreme level. These types of “fans” are known as sasaengs.
Especially during the past year and a half with the pandemic, the K-Pop industry has experienced significant global growth with saesangs. For those new or unfamiliar with what a saesang is, it is often referred to as obsessive fans. With the meaning translating to "private life," it's quite ironic that its counterpart meaning is what is essentially known as a stalker.
Saesangs are fueled by a love and obsession so intense that it leads them to act upon those emotions. They have photos of their idol's passport, their mobile number, private photos, and even private accounts and private photos of their idol's family members. Saesangs also sell idol information to other saesangs, such as flight information, making a profit off these idols like they are products and not people.
These networks of sasaengs have become really good at invading the privacy of their idols. They'll even go as far as sneaking into the idol's hotel and stealing their private items, and posting the idol's location on their social media account. Some sasaeng fans chase their idols all day, while others wait for them in front of their homes, or their filming sites when they are on schedule.
So what do they saesangs actually do?
Sasaengs create fanbases and a following of others with saesang tendencies as well by utilizing social media. By this, they often times create multiple accounts for each member of a group and use the idols for financial gain and profit, even if they don't like that idol. To them it's all about power and money. It is a business to them. What can they do to make the most money off of an idol? What information or what phone number can they sell to the highest bidder? There have been several instances with different K-pop idol groups where they are on V-live and a saesang watching their live would interrupt it by calling that idol with the phone number they just bought.
They also release merchandise under the pretense that they support this idol. Sasaengs disguise themselves as "fansites," because they know they can exploit the obsessions of the fans, to earn money or gain a larger following, by capturing the fan's favorite idol outside of the official schedule, as it is more intimate and exclusive. This content pushes the fans further into obsession, and the vicious cycle which harms both the idols and the fans never ends.
Sasaeng fans/fansite masters sometimes take this opportunity, since the members are almost always together, so they can take photos and information easily. Once they find another fresh group where they don't have any competition, or an idol member reprimanded them, they will try to ruin the reputation of that idol they initially used, so no one else can benefit and profit from that idol.
How are sasaengs able to do what they do?
Most sasaengs are said to be well-off and they also sell merchandise from photos they take, which means that they have the resources to go where their idols are. These sasaengs have a large network and they are always with their fellow sasaengs circles when they do the stalking. That's how they are able to spread idols' information fast by sending the information on their private networks. Some even rent what is known as a saesang taxi for the day or weekend. They then use the taxi service as a disguise to stalk their idol or group all day while they are on schedules.
How can a sasaeng gather private information about the idols?
Social media plays a big role, these sasaeng fans would track down their location and pass down the info to others. There are also sasaengs who would reportedly get a job where an idol works (makeup artist, staff, photographer, president of an official fan bar) just so they can get closer to them and have direct access to their data (like their address and private and official schedule). There have been instances where staff from these idol management labels have been fired because they got caught selling exclusive information about the idol/ group that they "worked" for. They also follow the staff and employees of the idol's agency and try to befriend and bribe them. Some sasaengs also go as far as visiting the hometown of the idols and befriending their friends and family members to steal information and private photos. They have also acquired idols' phone numbers by befriending or manipulating people who work at telecommunications companies,
Why don't companies sue those sasaeng fans?
In the past, agencies used to tolerate the sometimes obsessive behavior of sasaeng fans, but recently, they are taking tougher actions to better protect their artists under a no-tolerance policy. On March 21, 2021, the South Korean National Assembly voted on March 21 to increase the punishment for stalkers as a response to growing outcry that the penalties for the offense were too lax. But for this to be successful, the agency needs to make an attempt first to get the law involved when it comes to illegal saesang activity. This is where the grey line starts, especially during this generation with the "Hallyu Fever" taking over; it has increased global popularity with Asian idols that more and more saesangs are being developed.
Another reason is that artists and their agencies are also afraid to be criticized by their fans. The agency and artist tend to do so to protect their images and most importantly the business idols bring to their agencies. The way idols are marketed by their companies projects a certain image that is most appealing to fans, specifically to saesangs. They’re often marketed as perfect innocent boyfriends/girlfriends to fans; a fantasy. The whole industry is based on fan fantasy. A lot of fans will buy everything related to the idol and treat them as if they’re “the one” for them.
Sasaengs though, being very obsessed with their idols, can’t suppress their compulsions to see them. They start to let their fantasy get in the way of reality. They also have a perception that an idol is theirs and theirs only. They’ll go to extreme lengths just to be noticed by an idol regardless of whether or not the impression is bad. Whether or not they taint their career, or create fake scandals to ruin their career as some sort of revenge for not getting what they want.
CBS radio show “Kim Hyun Jung’s News” talked about why most of the time agencies don't sue, “if you catch a sasaeng selling idol's information, then the buyers also become criminal, however, those buyers are considered to be ‘fans.’ If you make too strong of a legal response, it could have effects beyond what the agency wants.” Agencies often fear sasaengs will reveal sensitive information about K-pop stars. But as the sasaeng fans also have a large following, the idols could lose followers if agencies treat them unfavorably. Also, since sasaengs have a large network, and financial gain that covers their tracks really well, legal actions by agencies tend to take so much time and usually end after a few months.
The effect Saesangs have on idols' mental health?
Anyone who experiences these types of stalker cases is sure to be left scarred. K-pop idols have been battling with the trauma left by saesangs for decades already. An example of this is Exo D.O's take on fan obsession:
“Personally, I even came to develop a victim mentality because of saesangs. It’s so bad that my mood changes even when I see normal fans. Even my personality changed. I was originally shy and cautious but because of sasaengs, I became even more like that.”
As you may recall a saesang entered Exos dorm unauthorized stealing a pair of his boxers which she then tried to sell for 100,000 won.
Most recently rookie group Cravity experienced their first saesang encounter not even a few weeks ago when a saesang broke into their agency harassing the members with physical touch and refused to leave the agency by their management. Luckily the manager was quick to respond and involve police and authorities to handle the situation.
Examples of extreme saesang behavior over the past years.
- Sasaeng crashed the wedding of EXO member Baekhyun’s brother and took photos.
- TVXQ's Yunho went to the hospital because an anti-fan poisoned his orange juice
- Got7's Jackson and Super Junior's Heechul, on separate occasions, were both involved in car accidents because of a taxi containing sasaengs who were following them.
- Twice Nayeon's, a sasaeng fan from Germany who followed her everywhere.
- SNSD's Taeyeon was pulled off the stage by a sasaeng fan and was also harassed at the airport.
- When BTS was filming in Sweden, the sasaeng fans pretended to leave the boys after they went into a cafe, but then started chasing after the boys when they came outside.
- EXO stayed at a hotel which sasaeng fans had managed to break into. They installed cameras in the hotel’s gym. Luckily, Suho noticed these cameras and quickly covered his face while pointing them out to his manager.
- DAY6 temporary hiatus last 2020 due to several members experiencing anxiety disorders because of sasaeng fans.
- Wayv/NCT member Yangyang was also followed by a sasaeng fansite master onto the airplane that caused a delay in the group's flight schedule.
Because of these extremities, K-pop idols are now becoming more vocal in reprimanding sasaeng fans. However, since these sasaeng fans have private information about the idols they tend to create fabricated stories to take revenge when they feel "offended" or "hurt" by the idols.
Some instances are when Red Velvet's Yeri saved NCT's Mark from his sasaeng fan @/markinmyheart. This sasaeng created fake allegations towards Yeri saying that the idol scolded her without any reason and that the idol is very rude.
This same sasaeng fan, also stalked WayV's Yangyang. With their other account, @/flytothemoon0, WayV's leader Kun reprimanded this saesang when the saesang, during an airplane incident bribed the staff to sit next to Yangyang on the airplane, which caused the flight to be delayed. Within hours she created and posted fake allegations of being Kun's alleged ex-girlfriend.
There is a line that needs to be drawn and not crossed at all times when it comes to idols and their privacy, and fans need to know where this line is at all times. Loving idols and supporting them in healthy ways is what K-pop should truly be about, but obsessive fans tend to not understand this paradigm and oftentimes ruin it for others. Saesaeng's should know their limits with idols. Idols are not products and are not personal possessions to anyone. Idols are human beings with feelings and deserve to be treated and respected in such ways.
"Truly loving someone is understanding & caring for them, not invading their privacy, stalking them or spreading baseless rumors about them." -Super Junior's Siwon