Fansigns have been around since the early days of K-pop.
During the pandemic, companies started offering video calls as an online alternative.
Each call can cost hundreds of dollars, and Insider reached out to devoted fans to find out more.
It's not every day you get to chat with your favorite celebrity, especially if they live in a different country.
But for Ashley De La Torre, a 19-year-old geology major who lives in Los Angeles and loves K-pop, the dream has become a reality not once, not even two times — but eight times over the past few years.
Most recently, she managed to snag a call with Keeho, a singer in the popular K-pop group P1Harmony. They spent their 90-second call discussing the group's recent music release and their upcoming plans.
@p1hmoni “who said that?” IM LOOKING RIGHT AT HIM 🤨🤨🤨 #kpop #p1harmony #fy #keeho #p1ece #kpopfyp #p1h #fancall ♬ Back Down (Challenge Ver.) - P1Harmony
She recorded the call and later uploaded it on TikTok, racking up more than 3.8 million views as of May 18. The friendly banter between De La Torre and Keeho could come across as a call between two close friends.
But he is a celebrity, she is a student with no A-list connections — and the call, of course, was paid for.
To participate in these video call events — typically held by music distributors or e-commerce platforms — fans have to buy physical albums for a chance to win a ticket.
De La Torre told Insider she has applied for nine video call events, and that she's been lucky enough to win eight of them.
And she has paid handsomely for the privilege of speaking to a star — each call has averaged $300 per 90-second call, De La Torre estimates.
De La Torre's not alone. Legions of K-pop fans around the globe are dishing out hundreds of dollars for seconds of interactions with their favorite K-pop artists.
Welcome to the world of video fansigns.
What is a fansign?
Fansigns are events where fans can meet their K-pop idols and get their physical albums signed.
Typically held in South Korea, they generally come on a first-come-first-serve basis or lottery-based, according to K-pop news outlet Koreaboo.
To win a ticket to a fansign, fans would have to buy physical albums. The first-come-first-serve system is pretty self-explanatory — the first few buyers win a spot.
As for lottery-based events, each album you buy gets you a chance to enter a raffle — the more you buy, the higher your chances of winning.
During the pandemic, the fansign's virtual counterpart — the video fansign — took off.
Belicia Ngow told Insider she has spent close to an estimated $2,200 to buy albums in bulk and enter raffles for eight video fansigns. She managed to win tickets to two of them.
In 2021, she won a call with Dino from the K-pop group Seventeen. He's her "ultimate bias" — her favorite K-pop idol in K-pop speak — and she wasn't going to squander the chance to make an impression.
@girlsbis recorded my own version of chanranghae and used it to start our call… HIS LAUGH I’M IN TEARS😭 he said I recorded it well too🥲 #DINO #dinoseventeen #디노 #SEVENTEEN #fansigncall #fyp #kpop #kpopfansigncall @seventeen17_official ♬ Rock with you - SEVENTEEN
Ngow showed up to the 90-second video call in a dinosaur onesie and recited the idol's catchphrase — "chanranghae" — to him, even drawing a laugh. She posted a video of their encounter on TikTok, drawing a chorus of envy from other K-pop fans.
"Imagine hearing Dino's iconic laugh and the one u made him laugh was you," read a comment. "Crying that's so cute," read another in all caps. The video has since racked up 1.2 million likes as of May 19.
Calls can last from one to 15 minutes, and conversation topics vary
@antzhooray well but he did✨ #marklee #fansign #nct127 #2baddies #nct #videocallfansign ♬ original sound - Queer
"Boys at school never look at me," the 21-year-old said, lip-syncing a viral TikTok sound, to which the K-pop idol continues "well, but I did."
The business major who's studying in Japan told Insider that she has had around 11 video calls with Mark. Before each call, she would spend about half an hour preparing a script or potential conversation topics.
"In my second call, I think I sang for him," Varaputtanon said. She also noted how Mark's fluency in English has saved them a lot of time on translation.
Taking on side gigs just to afford a video call
All three fans have had to get strategic about money to make it all work.
De La Torre took on a part-time job to afford her K-pop expenses. Varaputtanon pays for her calls with her own savings from her previous part-time job at a cookie shop.
Ngow, who studies arts business at Ngee Ann Polytechnic in Singapore, has set up a side hustle of sorts to help fund her hobby. She organizes group orders to help other K-pop fans in Singapore buy albums. With the bulk purchases, she enters raffles and ups her chances of winning.
But to stand out among the many other K-pop fans who use a similar strategy, Ngow tries to keep her prices low by absorbing costs.
South Korea's music industry reaped a sales revenue of over $7 billion in 2021, a 55% increase since the year before, per Statista.
South Korea's K-pop scene is known for its myriad of unique innovations to promote consumerism,
As K-pop continues to take the world by storm, the industry will ceaselessly invent new ways for fans around the world to spend money.
Despite being an expensive hobby, the industry model continues to work on fans as they form increasingly strong parasocial relationships with their idols.
"This never-ending shindig builds an intense cycle of adoration and intimacy as the thrill of the exchange comes with each ability to connect," wrote Sun Meicheng for CNA.
Sun has a doctoral degree in communication studies from Nanyang Technological University, and studies the transnational transmission of K-pop in China, per Research Gate.
"So, idols don't come across as unattainable celebrities. They feel closer, relatable almost like a significant other to fans," said Sun.
When asked if she feels that spending so much of her time and money for just a few minutes of facetime with her favorite stars was worth it, Ngow shared that her interactions with Dino have inspired her to practice even harder as a K-pop dance cover artist.
"It's probably the only platform that I get to talk to someone I look up to, and with how happy they make me feel, I think it'll be worth it," Ngow told Insider.
Read the original article on Insider