Celebrity

Is the K-Pop industry encouraging parasocial relationships between artists and fans

Experts say that the paid service to text with celebrities in K-Pop can increase the toxic parasocial relationship between fans and idols.

Ever since the outbreak of the pandemic, the Korean music industry has been forced to deal with many obstacles as fans now hardly have the opportunity to see their idols in person. All activities used to be held offline such as concerts, fansign events, fan meetings… now take place online.

Faced with difficult situations, K-pop entertainment companies are constantly looking for and offering alternative solutions so that fans and idols can continue to connect and interact with each other. The applications that charge fans for messaging with idols is one of the services released to meet this purpose.

Is the KPop industry encouraging parasocial relationships between artists and fans
Is the KPop industry encouraging parasocial relationships between artists and fans
Is the KPop industry encouraging parasocial relationships between artists and fans
Is the KPop industry encouraging parasocial relationships between artists and fans
Paid messaging apps help fans and idols communicate amid the pandemic.
Paid messaging apps help fans and idols communicate amid the pandemic. 

The emergence of paid messaging apps

In February 2020, through the community app LYSN, SM Entertainment launched Dear U Bubble (commonly referred to as Bubble) – a paid messaging service created for the artists to keep in touch with fans.

Through Bubble, fans can receive exclusive messages and photos from their favorite idols and have private chats with them. Bubble has a similar interface to popular private messaging apps on different social media platforms. Fans need to pay at least 4,500 won (approximately 3.80 USD) a month to use the service.

Kpop stars often share stories about their daily lives, answer questions, open up and express their feelings and concern for fans through this application. Some netizens commented that the content of communication between celebrities and fans on Bubble “is like a conversation between close friends”.

Not surprisingly, Bubble immediately became one of the most popular apps among Kpop fans all over the world. According to a report by Global Economic, this messaging feature helped SM earn more than 4.2 billion won (about 3.5 million USD) in just the second quarter of 2020.

Bubble was originally SM Entertainment‘s exclusive service for their label artists, but Bubble‘s outstanding success provides an opportunity to expand and develop applications for manufacturers. Currently, artists from many different companies such as FNC Entertainment, Jellyfish Entertainment, JYP Entertainment… have also joined and used Bubble.

Dear U Bubble service brings great profit to entertainment companies.  
Dear U Bubble service brings great profit to entertainment companies.  

Idols’ texting frequency

On October 13, a netizen had an article on a Korean online discussion forum that Joy (Red Velvet) had not sent any messages to fans since September 14, which means that she had not been working on Bubble for nearly a month. “For the past two years, she only sends messages two or three times a month,” this fan expressed disappointment with her favorite female idol.  She said that although the other members of Red Velvet also have busy schedules, they still regularly send messages to fans. 

Many netizens also expressed sympathy with the writer in the comment section of the post. “This is why I canceled my Bubble membership. After all, this is a paid service, so once a month is unacceptable. Many users feel offended,” Korea JoongAng Daily quoted the comment sharing about other fans’ experience using Bubble. There are many opinions that singers – who benefit from Bubble’s paid messaging service – need to fully fulfill their work obligations.  At the same time, fans – who pay monthly to use the service – have the right as customers to ask their idols to text more.

On October 15, just a few days after the article was posted, Joy sent a new message to fans on the app.  However, the singer’s actions encountered another controversy.

Some fans expressed sympathy for Joy.  They said that because of the singer’s busy schedule, especially when she was in the process of filming for the movie Only One Person, Joy did not have enough time to interact with fans. Many viewers, however, were skeptical, claiming that the singer only decided to text with fans after being “criticized.” In particular, the time when Joy sent a message to fans also aroused many controversies.

Per Bubble‘s policy, if an artist doesn’t send a message for a month or more, users can complain to Bubble and apply for a refund.  This policy has been in place since May after consumers pointed out that some idols did not text at all for a month.

“If she hasn’t texted, today will mark a month since she last texted, and fans can ask for a refund.” – a netizen said

Although many fans voiced their support for Joy, the female singer still could not avoid a wave of criticism from the public. Following the media attention given to the incident involving the female singer, the Korean public began to compile a list of celebrities who do not frequently text with fans on Bubble.

Is the KPop industry encouraging parasocial relationships between artists and fans
Is the KPop industry encouraging parasocial relationships between artists and fans
Is the KPop industry encouraging parasocial relationships between artists and fans
Is the KPop industry encouraging parasocial relationships between artists and fans
Is the KPop industry encouraging parasocial relationships between artists and fans

“It only takes a few seconds to send a message,” one user left a comment expressing her displeasure.

“Whether or not the artists are fully on board with it?”

Referring to Bubble, pop culture critic Kim Heon Sik raised many questions about the service that Bubble provides. “Before criticizing the individual artist, we need to look back on what things can be monetized and what shouldn’t be,” Kim told Korea JoongAng Daily.

According to Kim, “Entertainment agencies have been monetizing content that their artists have to offer. But we can’t know for sure if the artists are fully on board with it.”

“In the case of one-on-one messaging, this is actually a great deal of emotional labor on the artist’s part.”Kim said. 

Critics said Joy‘s actions were wrong, because the singer did not fully fulfill her obligations as a business partner. Still, Kim questioned the sincerity of the celebrity-fan interactions in the Bubble service.  When chatting with fans is turned into a way to make money, the act of communicating automatically becomes the “duty” of each star.

“lf she does send messages but only because fans are outraged when she doesn’t, is that genuine fan service? How sincere is that interaction?.”– critic Kim raised a series of questions surrounding the paid messaging service.

Sharing with Korea JoongAng Daily, Kim said that the public needs to wonder if the entertainment industry should continue to release services with the nature of a parasocial relationship like Bubble. Kim Heon Seok affirmed: “It’s best to let willing stars do it voluntarily without payments involved”. 

Is the KPop industry encouraging parasocial relationships between artists and fans
Is the KPop industry encouraging parasocial relationships between artists and fans
Is the KPop industry encouraging parasocial relationships between artists and fans
Is the KPop industry encouraging parasocial relationships between artists and fans
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