Like many young, impressionable people living where I live, K-pop has had a huge impact on me when I was in my late teens/early 20s. I stumbled upon it when I was going through some really difficult things in my family and it provided a happy escape and temporary relief from what was going on in my family at that time.
However, I left Kpop a couple of years after that because of how it was consuming my entire life and negatively impacting my mental and emotional health. I’ve also talked alot about my own journey with limerence, romantic obsession and unhealthy attachments here, and Kpop feed into that. I remember (with loads of embarrassment) that I was limerent for many an idol once.
These days, having healed my own limerence and left the Kpop fandoms, I’ve personally coached many a Kpop fan through their own struggles with limerence and mental health. I initially wrote this post specifically for fans who were experiencing limerence but decided to expand it to include people who were struggling mentally and emotionally as a result of being in the Kpop world.
Kpop fuels many desires, addictive behaviour and can negatively alter your self-esteem and self-worth. Being a hardcore Kpop fan and being limerent for a celeb has alot more overlap that I once thought, so I hope that by sharing my own struggles in this post, it will also help you in some way and at least serve as emotional validation for what you are feeling. You are not alone in this.
#1 Anxiety, stress and fandom toxicity
I’m unsure how kpop fans do it honestly, but having to keep up with the constant K-pop news, updates, lives, music streaming and social media posts can create a sense of anxiety and stress, especially if you feel the need to stay up-to-date at all times. The fear of missing out or not being able to keep up with the latest information can be overwhelming.
I have never been a die-hard fan who attends concerts, checks what my idol was doing/where they are, staying up to watch their lives and streaming their music etc. Yet I still felt an intense need to be up to date with news, so I was constantly scrolling various Kpop “news” websites, anxiously checking to see if anything had happened.
This anxiety and stress was exacerbated by fandom drama, gossip and comments – most of them, sorry to say, are of the unhinged variety, full of over-the-top fawning praise and fans fighting one another in comments or spreading unverified gossip. Shippers are everywhere. And you see this in every single social media platform – YouTube, Reddit., Instagram, Quora, the comment section of various Kpop sites. You can never get away from them.
Although I never actively engaged in them, just by passively consuming and reading these stuff always put me in such a weird funk. It was so low-energy/low-vibe that I’d always feel a surge of anxiety, dread and irritation just reading them. When I stopped engaging with these content and platforms, I stopped feeling this way.
Are you able to create healthy boundaries between your Kpop community and your own life? Find out below!
#2 Increasing addiction to social media (a waste of time)
Almost 90% of content and activity that is centred around K-pop is conducted online. From lives, to online streaming to fandom communities, Kpop’s popularity in these niche spaces (yes, it is niche) is mostly fueled by how quickly these news and communities gather online and spread news/information etc. Thus, if you really wanted to know what was going on, get in on the real “tea” and gossip and get first dibs on certain types of perks – like special tickets to fansigns you had to be a very engaged part of this online community.
I wasn’t part of any community thankfully, but I felt a need to constantly be checking things online and following certain fans for photos and stuff. It’s all a bit silly now that I think about it, but at that time, I felt a real need to constantly be checking things on social media, experiencing huge amounts of FOMO, that I ended up spending inordinate amounts of time just scrolling Twitter and searching up hash-tags on Instagram.
All these was time that I could be spent doing something else, my hobbies or developing new skillsets.
#3 Depression, disappointment, emotional roller-coasters
If your K-pop obsession is fueled by a strong emotional attachment to specific idols or groups, you may experience feelings of depression or disappointment if things don’t go as you hoped. For example, if your favorite idol faces criticism or leaves the group, it can deeply affect your emotions.
I remember being super upset when a very famous group I was following for a while split up in 2009. It was so juicy and so scandalous back then and I remember diehard fans being very upset about it. And whilst this may seem silly to non-fans, it is very real and can have an emotional impact on fans that are very attached to their idols. The emotional roller-coasters can be exhausting and taxing, with no seeming end to it, and with alot of uncertainty and unpredictability too.
#4 Social Isolation, lack of community beyond Kpop
An intense K-pop obsession might lead to social isolation if you prioritize online interactions with fellow fans over real-life relationships. Spending excessive time on fan communities and forums can distance you from friends and family. To be honest, this is something that I’ve realised about many Kpop fans I’ve come into contact with, a significant number of them do not have connections or friends that are not centred around Kpop. It’s like they isolate themselves from everyone else, or they feel isolated from others already, and Kpop is a refuge.
However, back when I was super into Kpop I felt isolated in a sense that I couldn’t really share my interests with my non-Kpop friends yet at the same time, I couldn’t really connect with most fans that I met as well.
Friends that I knew who were neck-deep in K-pop also displayed quite similar social isolation tendencies, with much of their interaction revolving around others who were in Kpop communities or other similar-minded fans. Whilst I’m not knocking against having friends centred around certain communities, I feel this can be unhealthy and create echo chambers and social bubbles where your perspectives are seen through the lens of this community and its views.
Many fans honestly seem to lack a perspective to things and are unable to accept criticism about the industry or their idols.
How romantically obsessed and limerent are you for a Kpop idol? Find out in this quiz
#5 Negative Self-Comparison & the Toxic Beauty Ideals perpetuated by the industry
Comparing yourself to K-pop idols can lead to feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem. It’s essential to remember that the K-pop world often portrays an idealized version of reality, and comparing yourself to those images is simply not realistic. However, it is difficult for fans who are constantly exposed to commentary and content which focuses overwhelmingly on the bodies and looks of the idols.
There is a very unhealthy, toxic amount of focus on the looks of these idols. Every other article is about how good looking they are in a performance/airport photos/photoshoot (when completely styled by a professional team), how skinny they are (many are on incredibly unhealthy diets despite already being very thin), how sexy they are, how they look in specific clothing or makeup etc. There is also an insane amount of plastic surgery – which idols and fans themselves will vehemently deny, as well as loads of fatshaming and shaming of people with darker complexions.
Imagine not only working in such an environment as an idol, but being a consumer of these sort of content? Fans are mostly female and seem very impressionable and easily influenced. Imagine cosntantly looking at faces and bodies that were achieved through unrealistic ways, comparing that to yours and feeling inadequate?
You may think that these sort of exposure is “nothing” and “normal”. It isn’t and creates toxic ripple effects for women in particular, that affects their self-worth, damages their self-esteem and makes them hate and reject their bodies and faces. This is a very deep, drawn-out topic that spans cultural, historical and gender issues and I could never give enough space or justice to a discussion of it. But Elise Hsu did it wonderfully in her book, Flawless as well as Renee Engeln, in her deeply-researched and literally flawless book called Beauty Sick. Read both to get a better understanding of how these beauty messages are affecting fans everyday in a negative way. As if as women we don’t already face enough pressure from our own societies about how we should look.
How confident are you? Do you think you are “worthy” of things? Let’s find out how Kpop has affected your self-esteem below!
#6 Affecting your sleep, mood and your life
Engaging with K-pop content late at night or prioritizing it over sleep can lead to sleep disturbances, which, in turn, can negatively affect your overall mental health and well-being. Many fans pride themselves on giving up on sleep and staying up late to watch performances, stream music all night, watch the charts and all. And some of them shame others for not doing the same.
Whilst I’ve not streamed music, I’ve many a time stayed up late to read articles and watch performances into the wee hours of the morning, which affected my mood and productivity the next day.
#7 Obsessive Thoughts, Compulsive Behaviors, Parasocial relationships & Limerence
Oh boy. Obsession and compulsion are weapons used by the Kpop industry to get fans hooked on these groups so that they will spend money on them.
Many K-pop entertainment companies encourage parasocial relationships through their constant production of content and idols calling fans “their girlfriends” etc. For impressionable individuals, this set-up is a conduit for intense thoughts and romantic obsession, where countless of fans want to date or marry their idols. This sorta behaviour is known as limerence and is unfortunately directly and indirectly encouraged by the industry and by idols themselves.
Put a bunch of people who feel socially isolated and misunderstood, who are lonely, constantly on social media and crave a huge amount of affection and a seemingly perfect good looking idol tells you they love you… gives you a limerent Kpop fan. And the companies (as well as some idols themselves) knowingly encourage and profit off this obsession.
#8 Neglect of responsibilities & relationships, a disengagement from self
It is very common to hear about K-pop fans prioritising Kpop over anything and everything (or everyone) in their lives. Many hardcore fans are known to put alot of mental capacity, energy and effort on anything K-pop but neglect their studies, work, chores, relationships with family and friends.
I used to have a friend who was a pretty hardcore fan who would rather spend her time on YouTube watching hours upon hours of videos of her idols. She was only willing to leave her house to attend concerts, fly overseas for fanmeets etc but could never seem to find the time to meet up with me. Go figure (and which is why she used to be a friend). Imagine prioritising watching a bunch of strangers dance or prizing a para-social relationship and illusions over building and sustaining a real-life friendship?
This is troubling, as people are celebrating the lives and dreams of idols – literal strangers – and prizing them over one’s own goals, desires, needs and dreams. Many fans can proudly list down their idols’ dreams and recite their rags-to-riches stories, but ask them about their own dreams and you’d often draw a blank. So much of their energy is spent towards keeping up with someone else’s dreams than pursuing their own goals.
This was the thing that made me open my eyes and exit the K-pop fandoms. Life is short, I do not want to spend it helping a stranger fulfil their dreams whilst I neglected my own. I may not be a celeb or public figure but my goals and existence are equally important. Humans have a limit to their mental and emotional capacity, and if most of it is spent on someone else, you are not going to have much left for your.
#9 Fan-related identity: Fandom isn’t real life
This is something that I see with alot of hardcore fans, or even just long-time followers of a particular group. They will pride themselves on knowing all these (publicly released, sanitised) tidbits and infor about their idols, from how they grew up to how they came to Seoul to train up to be a star etc, and will then go on to behave very condescendingly towards people who aren’t interested in/don’t care for/don’t know these pieces of information. Many of them also take their roles in fandoms as an admin, OG fan, long-time fan, distributor of airport photos or whatever very seriously.
And is always something I found amusing. Like really, you feel superior to other fans or other people in the general public because you know where this idol lives, where his parents’ restaurant is and you are in contact with the company constantly ’cause you are the fandom’s president? LOL. Get over yourself. No one in the real world cares. Your idol still isn’t ever gonna marry or date you.
As a casual fan, this really ruined my experience of the performance and engaging with the content which I tend to prefer to do so in a very casual, fun way – because this type of attitude led to so much pettiness and fights frequently. I just wanna scroll through some pics in peace, but no, people will be fighting in the comments. So emotionally and mentally exhausting.
Much of our obsession with idols/singers etc stems from a disconnection with ourselves, How much do you love yourself? Find out below!
#10 Toxic positivity, gaslighting and sweeping mental health issues under the rug made me feel terrible
Fans of the music will know how many idols have taken their own lives particularly in recent years. Yes, Korea’s suicide rates are high but there is no denying that the Kpop/entertainment industry just exacerbates an already quite punishing and harsh working culture and social environment for many of these idols. Some do seem to be struggling from mental health issues or exhaustion but nobody comes out and discusses it, they just tell everyone they need some time off, disappear and come back all bright and happy.
Every time something tragic happens, people mourn and then it’s back to business as if nothing happened. Their band-mates continue promoting as if all is good, mental health is never talked about and regularly swept under the rug. The entire industry just moves on.
As someone who used to struggle with anxiety, the way these matters are handled was just very hard to accept and didn’t sit right with me. It seemed like mental health issues were seen as “troublesome” and something to “move on from quickly” instead of something to be addressed. That was the point at which I started to feel alienated from the industry and the culture. Imagine how much more human and relatable would idols and companies be if they were more open about these issues? Issues that so many K-pop fans face too?
But nah, those things get in the way of the happy, cool, perfect image they wanted to sell. Perfect people don’t ever feel unhappy, exhausted and suffer from depression, didn’t you know? Capitalism and consumerism wins over everything, at the end of the day. It was a series of these incidents happening over the years that made me realise how incredibly toxic the K-pop industry really is (I’ve yet to even talk abt the sexualising of minors, fatshaming, racism, colourism, sexism and all the problematic stuff) and how it was never really gonna change. From then on, I was done with Kpop for good.
If you notice that your K-pop obsession is having negative effects on your mental health, it’s crucial to take steps to find a healthier balance. Consider implementing some of the strategies mentioned here, such as setting boundaries, diversifying your interests, and engaging in real-life social interactions.
If the impact on your mental health feels overwhelming, seeking support from a mental health professional can be beneficial in understanding and addressing the underlying issues. If nothing is workig, it is okay to termporarily or permanently quit the industry.
Remember that it’s okay to be a fan of K-pop, but it’s essential to prioritize your well-being and mental health above all else. You can still engage with and listen to the music but sometimes for your insanity and mental/emotional health, it’s best to stay away from everything else in the industry.
It is way darker and more sinister than what is being portrayed.