I started being a K-pop fan after I watched Super Junior’s Sorry Sorry (2009). It started as me watching the music video then watching their variety shows then moving on to watching other groups’ music videos. It was the golden era of K-pop and I’m glad that I was part of it, both in the good and bad parts.
The best part about being a fan in that era was watching a lot of second generation groups debut and grow. Second generation groups are those that had debuted around mid-2000’s (~2004) to late 2000’s (or maybe until 2011). There were many groups that had debuted around these time that are already considered legends in their own rights including Super Junior, Big Bang, TVXQ, 2ne1, SS501. Wonder Girls, Kara, T-Ara and SNSD. APink was probably the last of the second gen groups that had debuted.
It was a fun time since it was the start of the globalization of K-Pop. I was an admin of many Super Junior fanpage and was part of the countdown towards their fourth album, Bonamana. There were a lot of experimentation and a lot of excitement going on around that time. We looked forward to the groups that were debuting and this was the start of streaming wars towards music videos. It wasn’t as bad as today but all fans were definitely encouraged to stream the music videos (we had guidelines on the proper way of streaming). Some of the things that I have here were my own experience.
1. Downloading Videos and the 240p Quality
When I first got into K-pop, I wanted to watch a lot of things concerning Super Junior. Two of their most popular shows at that time was Intimate Note and Explorations of the Human Body. One episode of Intimate Note had 11 parts and each episode of Explorations of the Human Body had four parts. Imagine watching those shows and realize that part 3 is missing. Ouch.
Youtube was still starting to get popular at that time and not a lot of people uploaded on the site. There were a couple websites though that handled the streaming of some subbed shows. If you stan a popular group, there was a higher chance that the video you want is gonna get uploaded as soon as possible (like atleast two weeks) or if they’re the ones with the smaller fan base, good luck getting a subbed video. But why download though? Because the internet at that time was shit and it was faster to watch one part of the episode while the other parts are getting downloaded. By the time you’re done watching one part, just hope the next part is done.
Also, 360p was a rare find. Most videos are usually 240p quality or less. I suffered through this. I can’t even identify who is who here.
2. Hard Sub vs Soft Sub (in K-Pop terms)
This is not much of a problem anymore since there are already a lot of translators who are doing an amazing job immediately translating a show the moment they are released. Also, most of the major stations are now uploading the full episodes with English subs.
Ten years ago, if you wanted to watch a video, you have to check first if it was hard or soft subbed. A hard subbed video was what you wanted. It meant that the whole video was 100% subbed and was embed on the video. The translation was also top notch and if there were some references that international fans may not understand, there is always that trusty ‘t/n’ at the top of the video to explain what it was. Soft subbed videos were those that were partially subbed and the translations are not always embed on the video. The translations can be quite sketchy as some even includes ‘<I can’t hear what they’re saying>’. Many of the early variety shows from second generation idols were on soft-subs when I first got into K-pop and it was a pain trying to understand what the subs even meant.
3. International Fans Who?
This was the time when Facebook was only started gaining its fame all around the world and the best quality we can get from Youtube was 360p. There was not a chance for idols and their international fans to interact unlike now where you can tweet them and there’s a chance that they will reply to you. I remember trying to get into Cyworld just so I can follow my faves. It was all in Korean so I had to follow a tutorial from a website that basically just tells me to click this and that. I would try and read the ‘minihompy’ (all in Korean but I can’t even understand Korean) so I wait for translation teams to do their thing.
Presently, many social media have translation capabilities. You can go to Instagram and translate your fave’s tweet from Korean to your language in an instant.
4. FAN WARS
This was a thing and I remember being part of one against the SONES (I AM SO SORRY I LOVE SNSD NOW AND I WAS HELLA IMMATURE BACK THEN). I am an ELF and back then, for some reason, it was ELFs against the Sones. It was a part of my K-pop journey that I did not want to remember because I was cringy and I am disgusted of my past self.
The fanwars became more prominent during music shows and the Dream Concert. SNSD’s black ocean was the worst one since multiple fandoms literally turned off their lights so you can only see the pink lights clustered together against the black ocean. Of course, SNSD managed to shut their haters up as they rose to be the top girl group.
There were a lot of black propaganda against many groups in order to pit fans against fans. It was the time when whatever on the internet was supposed to be the truth and many people had decided to spread lies in order to fan the flames.
5. Collabs between groups
Although the fans were too busy fighting against each other, their faves are hanging out with each other. There were a lot of stage specials wherein a girl group and boy group would team up and do a performance. The most popular were WonderBang (Wonder Girls and Big Bang) and Super Generation (Super Junior and Girls’ Generation).
K-Pop is bigger now more than it ever was. It had reached many parts of the world already. There had been a lot of gatekeeping when it came to who to stan or how to stan or when to stan. I see a lot of ‘Well, you’re not a true K-pop fan because you only listen to BTS” or “You should know who this and this to become a true fan”. If you only listen to BTS, go for it. If you doesn’t know who U-Kiss or SS501 is, that’s okay. There’s always gonna be toxic people around here so why not just ignore them and enjoy yourself. A lot of 1st and 2nd Gen fans are unbothered by the ongoing negativity that new gen fans are experiencing because we’ve all been there. Just enjoy K-Pop. We have kimchi and bibimbap.