Heard of the term “sasaeng” before? If you’re not a fan of K-Pop, you might not be too familiar with this word. Before we get into the nitty-gritty details, we first need to understand this terminology. Deriving from the Korean words “사” (sa) meaning ‘private’ and “생” (saeng) meaning ‘life’, the term “사생팬” (sasaeng fan) refers to fans who display obsessive behaviours by harassing and invading the privacy of their idols. Unsurprisingly, the most common demographic of sasaeng fans are made up of females aged between 13 to 22 years old. Korean entertainment agencies have revealed that their stars have 500 to 1000 sasaeng fans, with 100 of them actively stalking them on their heels.
Now, the idea of a crazy, obsessed fan isn’t new, but when hundreds of such fans intrude a celebrity’s private life by calling their private mobile number, hacking into their social media accounts, making attempted kidnappings, car-chasing resulting in accidents, poisoning rival K-pop groups, breaking and entering idols’ dorms or toilets, and not to forget the iconic letter written in menstrual blood, sasaengs take “obsessive” to a whole new level. Their stalking behaviour has not only terrorised their idols, but to the extent of the idols’ families as well.
요즘따라 어린친구들이 집까지 찾아온다.. 현관문앞까지도.. 다 이해하는데 이건 정말아닌듯싶다.. 엄마랑누나가 밤에 집에들어오다 너무 놀란다들.. 숨어있지마라 집은오지말아줘
— G-DRAGON (@IBGDRGN) February 28, 2013
“Nowadays kids follow me to my house..right to the gates..I understand but this has to stop…my mother and sister get scared..don’t hide in the front.” – BIGBANG’s G-Dragon.
Just like in the tweet above, sasaeng behaviour has forced the idols’ hand to come out and beg them to stop their harassment. In an instagram post by SHINee’s Key, he uploaded a screenshot of being added into a chat group by sasaengs. He also revealed he has received over 600+ messages and lamented his anger in the post below.
“you can’t call yourself a fan you poor people it was 6am. Lately I’ve been harassed to the point of insanity by messages and phone calls, but this is really offensive and I can’t stand it any longer. I hope the other people who flooded my inbox to its capacity with 600 messages will stop doing such things as well.”
Here comes the question – where does the problem begin? While it is difficult to pinpoint the exact cause to effect, one of the many criticisms has been directed at the Internet as a driving force behind sasaeng behaviours. Social media has given fans the platform to communicate their desires efficiently and effectively. Companies accommodate to their wants, as they are able to reel in higher profits if they do so. This allows fans to be in a position of power where they can influence the decision-making process of entertainment companies, affecting their idols’ behaviour, actions, and content.
For example, fans demand ‘fan service’, where idols perform actions to please their fans. In Korea, the making of idol groups involve the investment of time, money and people for scouting, training and debuting. Thus, a certain level of ‘fan service’ is required as more ‘fan service’ means more income the company gets. Of course, idols are extremely good at giving the perfect amount of fan service to create an intimate relationship between their fans, but not enough to tell them anything. Through fan service, they also experience a “private” moment with their idol, whether it’s chatting about funny stories, what they had for lunch, it makes fans feel as if they were more than just an idol and a fan.
Sadly, it is an undeniable fact that sasaengs are also one of the biggest contributors to the industry and to an idol’s success. Korean idols are not allowed to date, at least publicly, as their companies know that an idol’s “accessibility” means that fans can still feel entitled to their idol. Normal fans have already contributed to buying albums in bulk or sending expensive gifts to their idols. Sasaeng usually takes it a step further to provide even more extravagant financial contributions, making companies reluctant to crack down on these sasaengs. It does not help that legal action has little effect on sasaengs, as stalking is considered a minor offence in Korea, with a small fine of 100,000 won ($122AUD).