You’ve seen the hashtags, the retweets, the likes – finally, the day has arrived. Your heart is framed in high-quality pictures adoring the walls. Albums are arranged in a chronological order neatly on a shelf. Magazines with their faces on the cover are placed alongside. Lightsticks, photocards, and plush toys fill up the remaining spaces.
It’s still early, yet the place is already buzzing – those who have just arrived are heading towards the organizers, dubbed “admins”, stationed at tables to collect exclusive event cup sleeves and freebies. Those who have already purchased a food item are walking around with their receipts, collecting fan-made freebies distributed by some fans, dubbed “fansupport”, in exchange for a follow or a retweet on Twitter.
And when everything on the checklist has been ticked – people enjoy coffee, cakes or bingsu over conversations – hilarious anecdotes, deep conversations, the latest TikToks, casual catching up and gushing over celebrities. The café thrums with vitality and vigor as everyone’s favorite discography complements the ambience.
This is a place where strangers become friends, and where friends become closer; this is a place where people are brought together; this is a place where people come together, through a common love and admiration for an idol or an idol group.
Originating from South Korea, fan café events were introduced to Singapore around 2018 and have been surging in popularity in recent years – birthdays, anniversaries, or even fan-created special occasions, there’s almost always a reason to celebrate.
Here are some cool things to know about what fan café events are like.
BTS – Behind The Scenes
Fan café events are made possible via the close collaboration of hosting cafés and fan organizers, with popular cafés choices including +82 PlusEightTwo, a Korean dessert café co-founded by Korean boy band BTOB’s leader Seo Eunkwang, Coffeesmith, a Korean coffee chain which has since opened five outlets in Singapore, and much more. But beneath the balloons and the streamers, how does it all work out behind the scenes?
“We receive requests to organise such events about 3 to 4 times a month on average,” shares Jared Tan, 32, an admin at Gather The Misfits, a popular café choice, located at Rangoon Road. “These requests have definitely been much more in recent years as compared to before, say around 2016 or 2017.”
Local fan organizer team Moonday Studio, who has organized past fan café events such as “SOPEpreme” at Gather The Misfits for BTS rappers Suga and j-hope, provides an in-depth insight from the perspective of an organizer, also known as the “administrator” of the event, or “admin” in K-pop lingo.
“We organise fancafé events as a team, but there are instances where some events are hosted and organized by individuals,” the team shares. “However, for us, we come together to conceptualize and brainstorm on the general theme and vision of the planned event, before we split individual duties amongst ourselves, usually basing on our manpower and availability,” the team adds. “These roles include, but are not limited to, sourcing for the event venue, the creation of the design work for the collateral, coordinating social media platforms to promote our event, tracking our budget, and much more.”
D-Day – The Setup
So how do things kick off on the actual day of the event?
“Upon having their requests accepted, fan organizers arrive early on the day of the event and proceed to implement their proposed layout.” Mr Tan said. “Cost-wise, it’s really dependent on different organizers’ budget – however, usually, it isn’t too much, because most of the organizers already have a wide personal collection of albums and merchandise, which they can combine and use for display, hence saving much on the decorative costs,” he quipped. “Thus, the most common decorations utilized are photographs, slogans and merchandise.”
“Sometimes, we may choose to explore further into the creative and lyrical value of the idols we admire,” Moonday Studio chimes. “For example, for our recent event which celebrated BTS rappers Suga and j-hope, we did a miniature art exhibition highlighting iconic moments and quotes of the duo via visual illustrations and representations – we created a close replica to their music production studios to celebrate their musicality.”
“Aside from all of that, the bulk of the cost for organizing these events would come from the rental of the space, how much it costs to produce the specific cup sleeve for the event.” With this, we proceed to the next question – just what are these cup sleeves?
K-Pop Cup Sleeves – How Do They Fit In?
Aside from balloons, pictures and posters, there is one key collectible, while common to every fan café event, is unique and exclusive in terms of design – cup sleeves. Why do cup sleeves play a prominent role in fan café events?
“The concept of cup sleeves originated mostly from Korea, where the café culture scene is really strong,” Mr. Tan explains. “It’s part of their culture to give their guest cup sleeves whenever they purchase a drink – I believe that this practice has since transcended beyond borders, such that creative fans have innovated and transformed this unique practice into a unique collectible that commemorates and celebrates their favorite idols and idol groups’ work.”
Indeed, cup sleeves are so pivotal in fan café events that they are even considered the fundamental part of the entire organising process. “The basics of arranging a fan café event would definitely be the distribution of the event’s unique cup sleeve,” Moonday Studio offers. “These are the main collectibles that are given to attendees at the counter when they purchase any food or drink item from the host café.”
Fan Supporting Idols – Fansupport
Some fans take their love for their idols one step further – by creating and distributing freebies, known as “fansupport”.
“Fansupport are free items given for fans, by fans.” Miss M. Tan, 21, a production intern and a fansupport maker, explains. “They can be in the form of photocards, postcards, slogans or stickers.” The appeal of fansupport, aside from its colorful aesthetics, is that they are usually free.
“For us, fansupport is a cheap way of getting some merchandise that we would otherwise have to spend an exorbitant amount of money on,” Miss J. Lim, 18 and Ms Ho S.C., 18, both students, explained. The girls are avid fans of Korean acts such as Korean rock band DAY6 and The Rose, as well as K-Pop groups such as BTS and Stray Kids.
Miss Tan agrees, “I think that one of the crucial reasons why fansupport is so appealing is that it’s free. Official merchandise are not only often pretty expensive, but also not sold and available overseas – so us fans have taken it upon ourselves to create and enjoy our own merchandise.” Alas, whilst fansupport may be an attractive freebie for most, fansupport makers have to be prepared to fork out a certain sum of money in order to make their endeavors a reality.
“It’s quite expensive to make fansupport in Singapore – to make 100 photocards in 3 days can cost as much as $30,” Miss Tan shares. As such, she often opts to resort to an alternative method when it comes to making her fansupport. “It’s much cheaper to order them from overseas, in countries such as Malaysia and China – you only have to pay about $15 for the same number of photocards,” she adds. “However, a con is that you need to plan ahead if you want your items to arrive on time – it can take up to 2 or 3 weeks for the items to be completed if you make them from overseas.”
Other fansupport makers, like Miss Qing, 25, an office worker, prefer to proceed with their orders locally – nevertheless, they often order in bulk in order to cut costs and set a strict budget for themselves. “I usually limit myself to not go over $50, or $80 when it comes to the major events.” Alas, when it comes to having to sacrifice a sum of money in favor of making fansupport, both Miss Tan and Miss Qing do not mind.
“Personally, I make fansupport because I really enjoy editing and graphic design – but I don’t think I’m actually good enough to pursue these as a career,” Miss Tan shares. “Therefore, I thought – why not express my creativity, while at the same time show my support for my favorite idols and idol groups through making fansupport?” she elaborates. “Aside from allowing me to unleash my creative side, I’ve also really grown in terms of the production of my works – I started out designing photocards and stickers, but now I’m looking to start making lanyards and griptoks as well.” she adds. “It’s honestly such a fulfilling thing for me.”
Miss Qing agrees. “Personally, it’s simply a way for me to share and showcase my support for my favorite idol group or idol, as well as to share my creativity through the fansupport I make. At the same time, I hope to share a little happiness along with it,” she said.
What People Do At Fan Cafes
“People typically go to fan café events to not only collect these cup sleeves, but also to collect fansupport made by other talented designers,” Moonday Studio shares. “They also love to take photographs of the decorations, and most importantly, celebrate the artist whom they admire with like-minded people.” they add.
“These events are a good place for strangers to become friends, and for friends to become closer – it’s somewhat like a social networking session where people can come together to enjoy their favorite idol’s music,” the team shares. “We’ve seen people who initially came alone for these events, but end up staying longer because they have made new friends – additionally, in this era where many people have forged virtual friendships, these events as well provide a place for people to turn their “online” friendships “offline”, thus managing to interact with their online friends in real life.” the team adds. “It’s really like people coming together for a birthday celebration.”
Like It Were My Birthday
Birthday celebration or not, many outsiders and fans alike comment that these fan café events are extremely birthday-like, in terms of atmosphere and environment – except that the birthday boy or girl is not present.
“Popular decorative choices include helium balloons, streamers and banners – indeed, a very birthday party-like set up,” Mr Tan comments. Avid fans as well agree with the sentiment that these events are very much birthday party-like.
“It feels like I’m attending a birthday party,” says Miss Lim. “At a birthday party, you invite all of your friends – the mutual thing that everyone there has in common is having you as a friend, so they’re celebrating for you!” she chimes. “The same goes for fancafés – the mutual thing that everyone has in common is the love for that particular idol group or idol, so they’re celebrating them.”
Fellow fan café attendee, Miss Ho, agrees. “I feel like fancafé events have gained popularity through the growth of online fandom and communities that have taken to embracing a very dedicated attitude towards their idols.” she chirps.
Miss L. Qing, 25, a full-time office worker (and self-proclaimed part-time fangirl), agrees. “We all come from different places and are of different ages – during these events, we transcend from online to offline, beyond hiding behind screens on Twitter accounts to meet face to face, interacting and bonding with other like-minded fans.” she says. “It really gives me great comfort and warmth, knowing that these people around me like the same things as me and can understand me. It’s honestly such a wholesome way to make friends, unwind and destress, and enjoy our favourite idol group or idol’s background music playing in the background together.”
Still A Growing Trend
While fan cafe events are becoming more popular here, these are nowhere as popular as events in other countries. Miss Lim, a long time fan café attendee says, “While the popularity of fan café events here is growing, the turnout is still rather low in comparison to other countries,” she observes. “For example, in countries with thriving K-pop communities such as the Philippines and Indonesia, the turnout is often so high that event exclusive freebies and fansupport run out very quickly. However, here, there are sometimes still some leftovers after the events.”
Nevertheless, fan café events here continue to receive a generally decent amount of turnout. “There is actually quite a wide range of people who turn up for these events,” Moonday Studio shares. “The majority of the crowd is students and young working adults, usually aged between 16 to 30 years old – we have also seen parents either accompanying their children to the event, or even better, attending the event together with their children because they all admire the same particular idol or idol group. This makes it an ideal opportunity for some family bonding time as well.”
Paving The Way: K-Pop Is Here To Stay
In spite of the still-growing popularity of fan café events on our shores, the advent of K-Pop and its influence has undoubtedly swept over our shores like a storm – from boy groups like BTS or EXO, to girl groups like TWICE or BLACKPINK, to rock bands like DAY6 or N.Flying, and to soloists like IU and ChungHa, the K-Wave has undeniably swept over our shores over the past few years – and now, a further step is taken as South Korea’s unique fan café events permeates into Singapore’s sphere, as well as into that of other Southeast Asian countries such as the Philippines and Indonesia.
Given the incredible opportunities these events provide for getting to know like-minded people and social interaction, sharing your creativity with and spreading happiness within the community, all over a nice beverage or dessert as your favorite idol group or idol’s songs play in the background – what is there not to love about fan café events?
Perhaps, this weekend, or on any day when you are free and just need a break, why don’t you check out and visit café events for your favorite idol groups or idols!