In the dynamic world of Korean pop music, fans often embark on extraordinary journeys to connect with their beloved idols.
Instead of seeing their favourite idols from afar on social media or during concerts, Korean signing events allow fans to sit in the same room with them or make video calls to chat with them.
Among these passionate fans is Chinese girl Jenniee Chen, who has been a K-pop enthusiast for five years, and is a fan of NCT Dream’s member Jeno (her ultimate bias), Seventeen’s Kim Mingyu, and WayV’s Kun. Her Weibo (Chinese social media) account is almost exclusively about sharing videos of her fansigns.
Since she started following Korean stars, Jenniee has participated in more than a dozen fan signings. In 2023 alone, she attended seven NCT Dream concerts in Hong Kong, Macau, and Korea over three consecutive days.
To increase her chances of winning signing opportunities, she will buy 100 to 150 albums per event (each NCT album costs around £16). She hasn’t graduated yet, and expenses are provided by her parents.
“The prices are generally kept confidential, but fans who frequently attend signings are well aware. For equally popular idols, male stars often command higher prices than female stars,” Jenniee shared with me.
Unable to preserve hundreds of identical albums for personal collection, Jenniee usually sells or gives away a portion of them to friends after receiving them in bulk.
“Because entertainment companies release albums simultaneously, I have to sell them at a lower price for resale. Even if I sell all of them, I only get about half of the overall price. Sometimes, for convenience, I bundle them for sale to record stores at an even lower price.” Jenniee explained and admitted that she still has dozens of unsold albums at home.
Despite the hefty expenses, Jenniee is not alone. She’s part of several fansign groups on WeChat, where fans organise album purchases together. Global K-pop fans worldwide are willing to spend hundreds of dollars to interact with their favourite idols during signing events, organised by entertainment companies in various countries.
How did fansign become popular?
The initial purpose of signing events was to stimulate physical sales and quickly monetize under the C-to-C (Consumer-to-Consumer) model. Usually held during an artist’s album release, fans are enticed to participate in exclusive offline signing events by purchasing albums through specific platforms.
This strategy aims to achieve a short-term surge in physical album orders. South Korea’s music industry reaped a sales revenue of over $7 billion (£5.5 bn) in 2021, a 55% increase on the year before, according to Statista.
The term “drawing” essentially means that even with a higher purchase quantity, management companies only randomly select a minimal number of slots. The number of slots varies for each team, with most events accommodating 30-50 people.
Depending on the group’s popularity, the difference in purchase quantities can be significant. Nowadays, many signings are one to one rather than team signings.
To address the challenges posed by global popularity, South Korean signings have transformed the traditional fan meeting experience into an innovative and easily accessible form—video signings.
Signed albums are mailed to the addresses provided by fans. Various platforms, including entertainment platforms like “Yizhiyu” and “KMS” facilitate album purchases in China.
One driving force behind the popularity of these signings is that fans get a chance to establish direct connections with their idols. Idols will sing and dance at the fansign event, wear various veil accessories, pose in every way the fans want them to, go along with the lovey-dovey speeches, and even some idols will have small gifts for the fans.
In turn, idols respond to all fan requests during signing events, reinforcing fan loyalty and even breaking down barriers. Although an expensive hobby, this industry model continues to work for fans as their bond with idols becomes stronger.
The joy of fansign
Browsing TikTok, you can find many fans sharing video recordings of their video signing experiences, receiving hundreds of thousands of likes. Comments often read “It looks like you’re dating him!” or “So touching, you’ve really closed the distance.”
Frequent “face-to-face” fans can be remembered by idols, becoming a special presence and even achieving a limited experience of becoming friends with the idol.
LE SSERAFIM’s Sakura has become known for her exceptional ability to recognise fans, frequently breaks the mould by providing in-depth communication and bidirectional star-chasing experiences during signing events. In a sense, fansigns provide fans with a shortcut to receiving responses from idols they eagerly desire.
Due to language differences, signing events in different regions are equipped with translators to facilitate communication between fans and idols.
“I don’t need translators because it takes up a lot of video time and creates a sense of distance.I prepare interactive content and practice Korean beforehand,” Jenniee writes down what she wants to say on paper before fansigning. This practice has also motivated her to learn basic Korean over the past two years.
She shared a memorable signing experience with Jeno, “I suggested performing a confession scene from a Korean drama together, and Jeno cooperated with me, delivering the lines with a lot of emotion.
“After that, I asked him to write in the album, ‘Write something that would make me very happy if I read it,’ and he wrote, ‘I am your boyfriend’ with three exclamation marks.”
Despite knowing it was a joke, at that moment, idols don’t come across as unattainable celebrities. Fansign event create a brief intersection in the lives of two people.
The series of questions like “How was your day today?” “I remember your birthday is coming up soon, right?” feels like catching up with an old friend after a long time apart, a spontaneous expression of care.
After Jenniee completed her fifth signing, she flew to Korea last year to watch NCT Dream’s new song stage recording. Luckily, she captured the first row and it seemed like Jeno recognized her, nodding and smiling at her. In that moment, she was too excited for words.
When asked if she thinks spending so much time and money for a few minutes with her favorite idols is worth it, Jenniee replied, “Chasing stars is to provide emotional value for myself, allowing me to escape the constant rationality and reality that surrounds me.”
Featured image by Jenniee Chen.