Korean media pointed out agencies’ mistreatment toward fans as the cause of recent incidents at idols’ fansign events.
The keyword “underwear check” recently appeared on SNS trending search and caused a stir. Looking through the posts related to the keyword, there were complaints such as “They dragged me to a small space and touched my chest. They asked me to lift my shirt for a body check. It was embarrassing and I believe that it was a human rights violation”, “They searched my body by touching my chest. As they didn’t find anything, they left without an apology”, and so on.
All those negative reviews were from female fans who attended the face-to-face fansign event of HYBE’s new Japanese boy group &Team, which was held in Seoul on July 8th to commemorate the release of their second mini album. At the time, it was claimed that staff conducted a severe body search on fans, said to be at the level of sexual harassment, because they were afraid that fans hid electronic devices, such as cameras and Apple Watches, to secretly film idols during the fansign event.
As the situation intensified, HYBE issued an apology through the organizer Weverse Shop, claiming that they had no other choice but to search the bodies of fans because many of them kept hiding filming devices. This argument somehow suggests the meaning that fans are also responsible for the incident. Therefore, fans began to raise questions, such as “If the leak of conversations between idols and fans is such a problem, then why do they even organize video call fansigining events, which can be recorded?”, or “Are they afraid that fans would get out of control at offline fansigning events?”.
From the perspective of entertainment agencies responsible for protecting artists, it is not difficult to understand that they are just making efforts to minimize uncontrollable risks. There is no guarantee that all fans participating in fansign events would behave politely, and it is true that unauthorized filming violates the artists’ human rights. In particular, a male fan got caught wearing glasses with a tiny hidden camera during the fansign event of GFRIEND back in March 2017. Such cases, which can seriously harm the artist’s mental health, cannot be considered a ‘healthy’ fan culture.
However, is it just the fans’ fault when event organizers made unreasonable demands, such as a body search? Due to the changed structure of fansigning events nowadays, which are conducted through a lottery system that chooses only a few fans among many participants who buy hundreds of albums to meet the idols for only 1-2 minutes each, fans’ expectations and desires to film commemorative footage of that short meeting naturally increase. The fact that agencies try to make money from such unhealthy event structures stimulates fans’ desires.
Similar incidents have occurred in the past, involving top idol groups such as EXO and BTS. Female fans were angry every time, but could not loudly protest and demand an apology from the agency since they were afraid that their idol’s image would be stigmatized. In the first place, fans and agencies are not on equal footing in this fight. Fans invest significant amounts of money and time but have limited recourse for voicing their concerns.
Because of the agency’s fandom treatment, everyone in the industry thinks female fans are not important. Female fans are often disregarded and mistreated by security personnel, resulting in various physical injuries. This mistreatment is due to the deep-rooted cultural bias against female fans and lack of awareness within the industry. A fundamental shift in the industry’s perception and treatment of female fans is necessary to prevent such incidents from recurring.