Fansites: A Sit-Down with One of the Most Misunderstood Members of the K-Pop Fandom
Fansite Masters, also known as “master-nims,” are members of the K-Pop community who face high levels of criticism because of the veil of mystery that surrounds what they do. They are the ones who capture the photos many of us use for phone and computer backgrounds, profile photos, and even as room decorations. They are often identifiable at events, lugging around bags full of cheering kits and sporting a very pricey camera. I was able to sit down with a fansite master of a prominent male group and ask any question, no holds barred. This conversation aims to help fans, especially international fans, get a better understanding of what exactly fansites do. To maintain the privacy of the fansite master, the name of the group and the name of the fansite master have been withheld.
Q: When did you become a fansite master?
A: (At the time of the interview) I am coming up on my one year anniversary.
Q: Why did you become a fansite master?
A: Well I’ve been studying photography for a while and when I went to study in Korea I said “Hm, I like K-Pop, why don’t I take photos of idols when I go to their schedules?” I have always enjoyed taking photos and I decided to open an SNS account were I could post them. I didn’t know too much about the whole fansite thing yet but I just wanted to show others my photos.
Q: What do you do when not taking photos of your member during an event?
A: I take photos of all members and I try interacting with them if it is at a fansign. Also, I could give the other members’ photos to my other fansite friends if they need them. If I take photos at an event with many different groups, I always try taking photos of other groups and I sell them on Twitter.
Q: How do you make time to follow the group for official schedules? International schedules?
I started my fansite while I was on a gap year so I had a lot of time, but now that I’m starting university I won’t have much time. All of us fansites for this group are friends so we usually help each other with photos if one of us doesn’t attend a schedule. When you are a fansite for a specific group, all fansites are friends because we see each other a lot and so we pretty much work together.
Q: What were the first steps you took when establishing yourself?
A: I opened an SNS account, because I had a camera already.
Q: What equipment do you use?
A: I use a Canon 5dmark with a 70-250mm lens, but sometimes I use a 100-400mm lens
Q: How do you prepare for upcoming events?
A: For concerts and fansigns I just organize all my equipment, but for airport or music show arrivals and departures I try to arrive early to the venue.
Q: Do you work together with other fansites often?
A: Yes, many times fansites work together because it’s hard going to all schedules by yourself.
Q: How often do you get caught taking photos at events?
A: In Korea, you’re allowed to take photos at most events. The only place where it is harder to take photos is at individual artist concerts. Also when I’ve been overseas it's a bit harder to take photos but we watch out for each other when we go with other fansites.
Q: What happens when you do get caught taking photos? How do you save photos from being deleted?
A: If they catch you usually they tell you to clear your SD card, but there’s a lot of programs you can use to recover those images.
Q: Are there rivalries between fansites for the same group? Same members?
A: Not at all, if there’s a lot of fansites for one member they tend to be friends and they usually help each other. Being a fansite is not about competition, it is about showing the group how much you support them and to do it your own way. Unless there is an issue between fansites, usually there is no competition.
Q: In the drama Her Private Life, how accurately does it portray the life of a fansite manager?
A: Although it is a bit accurate most of it is based on stereotypes. They also call the fansites “sasaengs,” which is not true at all because sasaengs have nothing to do with fansites.
Q: How much time do you spend waiting around?
A: For concerts and music shows we wait for up to three hours. Sometimes we wait five or more hours for arrivals, etc.
Q: How close do you believe is too close when taking photos?
A: Some fansites get really close because they have smaller lenses and they want to take really close photos, but I think you should always respect the idol’s personal space. No one likes to have a camera jammed all up in their face. Also it's much easier and respectful to take photos from further away with a zoom lens.
Q: How do you feel when seeing other fansite managers get too close to the group?
A: For my group specifically we all respect their personal space really well, but sometimes those who take really close photos aren’t even fansites, and they are usually just fans who are taking photos to sell. This really angers many of us because the idols never enjoy having fans really close to them, because they are not respecting their personal space.
Q: How do you obtain your idol group’s schedule? Flight numbers?
Public schedules are announced on the group’s fancafe or SNS account. As for flight information, we usually ask each other and one of us can get it from Twitter or other SNS.
Q: Have you ever taken photos of your idol member/group during private schedules?
A: I have never taken any photos of private schedules because it's really disrespectful, and I also don’t want to spend money on something that would make the idol think badly of me.
Q: How do you feel about the idea that fansite managers are sasaengs or exhibit sasaeng behavior?
A: A lot of international fans have a misconception about sasaeng fans, these fans are known to be very obsessive and really disrespectful, many of them aren’t usually fansites but they are fans who just want to get as close as possible to the idols. They find out private information about the idol as well as private schedules etc, and most fansite managers don’t approve of this kind of behavior so we don’t associate with any sasaeng fans. There's also some sasaeng fans that become fansites, but they have to be secretive about their work and eventually they get caught by managers or other fansites who aren’t sasaengs.
Q: What is your opinion of fansite managers who invade members’ space while in public spaces? (shoving cameras way too close, pushing people away to get a better shot, etc.)
A: I really don’t approve fansites who do this but it depends a lot on the fandom. There's fandoms that have a lot of sasaeng fansites and so they are really disrespectful, but usually if it’s a smaller fandom then most fansites know each other and they are more respectful of those around them.
Q: There are countless stories of fansite managers who have hit and shoved fans at concerts. One comment that is said a lot is managers will lean their lenses on people’s shoulders without permission. How do you feel about this behavior?
A: I’ve seen this happen a lot and it’s really disrespectful, but there are also people who aren’t fansites but they sell photos to fansites and they tend to be the most disrespectful because they don’t care about the artist or the fans, they only care about the money.
Q: Do your family/friends know about your work as a fansite manager?
A: Yes, most of my friends know and many of my close friends are fansites too.
Q: How do you go about making cheering kits? Are their specific companies that put them together or do you order each piece separately?
A: There's a lot of companies in Korea that have online printing services, but we have to look at individual companies for specific products.
Q: How do you make money as a fansite manager?
A: I just started out a year ago and I've realized that if you live in Korea, being a fansite manager is not that expensive because most events such as music show pre-recordings and some concerts are free and you only have to line up for a long time before. The only expensive thing are fansign events and overseas schedules. But we are able to make money through selling our products as well as some of the photos; many of us also have part-time jobs and there's some fansites that are much older that have stable full-time jobs already, so they do their fansite work as a hobby.
Q: Do you work directly with your group’s company? If not, do you know managers that do?
A: It depends on what company your artist is from; for me I don’t work directly with the company but there are smaller companies that pay the fansite managers.
Q: Do you “whitewash” or alter the natural skin tone of members captured in your photos? How do you feel about people who do?
A: I usually don’t edit my photos too much because I like to keep them as natural as possible, but if the lighting as well as other aspects of the photo isn't good then I do edit them. There's a lot of fansites who do whitewash because within Asian cultures lighter skin is more accepted. I don’t usually do this because I don’t feel the need to. Also I usually don’t mind fansites who do this but if they overly edit a photo and it doesn’t look natural then I wouldn’t like it, but it’s their photos and they can edit however they want to.
Q: What is the biggest pet peeve you have about your group’s fans?
A: When they mob the members or disrespect them, also if they scream at them crazily because a lot of them don’t like this.
Q: What is one thing you love about your group’s fans?
A: We are all a really nice family and we love and support each other.
Q: How often do you see male fansite managers?
A: For female groups you see them a lot but for boy groups you usually don’t see them that much, anyways there are a couple of male fansites for my group.
Q: What is one thing you wish people would stop assuming about fansites?
A: I wish they would stop thinking we are sasaengs because most of us aren’t; also I wish they all stopped thinking that we stalk the members because we don’t. We usually just post photos at public schedules. There are some sasaeng fansites but they shouldn’t assume that we are all bad when only a couple of us are.
Q: What is one thing you wish people knew about fansites?
A: We don’t spend all our money on the groups we like and we aren’t crazily obsessed with them; many of us just take photos because we genuinely enjoy it and it's like a hobby. Also they should know that fansites aren’t scary fans, but we are just like everyone else but we only take photos.
Q: Any advice for people considering starting a fansite?
A: A lot of people start fansites and they just buy photos and think that being a fansite gives you benefits but it doesn’t; I want people to know that being a serious fansite requires a lot of time and dedication and it's not an easy task. I would want people to look more into it before actually starting a fansite.
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Disclaimer: Interview responses reflect the opinions of the interviewee only. Views expressed in interviews do not necessarily reflect the views held by The Kraze or other related parties.