'Eeeeeeeeeyyyyyyaaaaaahhhhiiiiiiiiiii!'The worst nightmare for most Korean moms is to learn that their daughters have turned into crazed, zombie-like, screeching, moaning, obsessed boy-band fanatics.
But Jung Seong-ah insists there is nothing that her parents should be worried about since she is a true fan, which is distinctively different from a mindless groupie.
In fact, Ms. Jung says her mom joins her when watching her favorite band perform on whatever entertainment program, and can remember all the names of the members. The two even discuss about the boy band's appearance, attitude and clothing.
At the age of 21 and in her third year in college, Ms. Jung is very unlike her peers. Instead of hanging out with friends and getting involved in dating games, Ms. Jung operates an unofficial fan club of the boy band Shinhwa.
Kim In-kuk, 22, a close friend to Ms. Jung, is a part-time security guard for Shinhwa. He says Ms. Jung knows how to control herself, unlike other obsessed fans. "She's older, and that makes a big difference. When she tells younger girls to step back, they listen to her."
Ms. Jung's club has its own Web site and more than 70 members. She takes special care of her club's members, who are mostly teenagers and could pass as her younger sisters.
"When these girls sit outside the band members' apartments or at Shinhwa's recording studio, they'll call me and I'll drive over and let them warm their cold bodies in my car," Ms. Jung says.
The number of members in her club may be dwarfed by the official fan club operated by the band's music label, SM Town, but size isn't important to Ms. Jung.
According to Ms. Jung, the official Shinwha fan club registered more than 47,000 fans last year.
Ms. Jung says SM Town has official fan clubs for every artist who has signed with the label, and SM Town administrates and controls the clubs. And that control is tight ?all fans have to sign up for the official club if they want to have access to their favorite group's T-shirts, pictures, or anything else.
SM Town prohibits fans from taking pictures of the bands during performances and events, but fans are not permitted to take any pictures, video, or audio recordings of the acts even when they are off-stage. If a fan tries to take a snapshot of the entertainers, the managers or bodyguards would take away the film.
"I have often seen a girl crying because a bodyguard confiscated her film," says Ms. Jung, adding that the official fan club "didn't like it when we tried to put up banners of our own unofficial fan club at a fan meeting."
Ms. Jung insists that fans should be given an opportunity to love their band without those sorts of constraints.
Considered a bit old for such a rabid fan, at least compared to the masses of teenagers who dominate the throngs of fanatics, Ms. Jung got involved with fan clubs in her second year of high school. Most of the groups she was interested in recorded under the SM Town label, including the group that put the sizzle in boy bands, H.O.T.
Ms. Jung says she has been a fan of Shinhwa even before the band gained wide recognition among wailing teenage girls.
Ms. Jung has a large collection of recording of the band's performances, from television spots to radio specials.
She keeps a collection of pictures of the band and has organized it according to the ages of the members -- not by their looks, as she says other fans often do.
Her room has always been plastered with Korean pop singers and she even carries credit cards and discount cards with several boy bands printed on them.
She has saved every magazine in which Shinhwa has been featured. "I don't like tearing up magazines, so I just stack them up," she says.
She even sends the band members birthday cakes. "Some of the members of Shinhwa are given a big birthday party by fans, but the fans never really care about the birthday of the less popular members," she says. "But I think a true fan should love the group as a whole and not just certain members. That's why on everyone's birthday, regardless of popularity, I send birthday cakes."
Though she laughs when asked if she is a stalker, Ms. Jung does know where the band members live and hang out (for most, it's Apgujeong-dong, southern Seoul).
She is also close with the managers of Shinhwa and some of her friends work part-time as bodyguards for the band on weekends.
Shinhwa isn't her complete focus. She has a close relationship with the singer Lee Jee-hoon. Ms. Jung says she will often visit the radio station where he deejays at night and slip him midnight snacks. He now he recognizes her face, and they send each other messages over their cellular phones. "Jee-hoon oppa" -- a girl's older brother -- "is a very devoted Christian so I would often send him excerpts from the Bible."
Her devotion apparently has earned her the trust of Mr. Lee. "Once, when he was sick, he was really nice when we asked how he was feeling, but when the other, younger fans asked him he was slightly rude," she says. "A person I know says that he probably is friendly because he knows that I will stay loyal while the rest will probably drift away to other singers when his popularity fades."
"I fully support my daughter's activities and it doesn't bother our family what she does," says Ms. Jung's mother, Kim Jung-hye. "In fact, I think it is better to support girls then to ban them from being a fan so they would not go in the wrong direction."
Even so, her parents were shocked when she spent 800,000 won ($663) on a custom-made banner for club.
"Nowadays, fans operate like an organization," Ms. Jung says. "They should like an artist for his work, but they should also realize that these people have private lives and people should stop bothering them."
Understanding parents kept Ms. Jung from turning into a groupie. She says that she doesn't understand the girls she's heard about who run away from home to follow a singer.
For the artists she loves, she has only one thing to say: "It's not like I want recognition. They just need to show gratitude for the fans that love them."
The dark side of teen fandom: hate mail, brawls, poison and a savage beating
The goofy world of excessive teenage fandom took a decidedly grim turn recently. Earlier this month, five teenagers shocked the nation after they reportedly killed a 16-year-old girl. All five teens －－ 3 girls and 2 boys, ages 15 to 16 －－ and the girl who was killed were members of the same music fan club, Akdong.
According to a local news report, the deceased and the others first met at a concert in Busan in late September. On Nov. 12 in a Seoul apartment, two of the 5 teens, a pair of15-year-old boys, beat the girl to death with their fists, accusing her of being a hypocrite. The other three girls supposedly did not interfere in the beating.
The beating took place at one of the girls' homes after the group had consumed eight bottle of soju.
The apartment apparently belonged to one of the girls whose parents recently divorced and lived in another part of Seoul. Too drunk to recognize what they had done, the group spent the night in the same apartment as the battered girl, even after she had stopped breathing.
The next morning, upon realizing what they had done, the five teens reportedly stuffed the girl's body into a refrigerator's cardboard box, where it stayed until Nov. 15. When the smell became too much, one of the girls, who is the elder sister of one of the boys in the group, called a friend and asked him to bring over a plastic bag. The friend, who was identified only as Park, found the request odd and contacted the local police.
The two boys in the group remain in jail, while the girls have been released but are still under investigation.
There have been other incidents.
In 1999 Kan Mi-youn, a member of the popular girls' band Baby V.O.X, received stacks of hate mail after she was rumored to be in a serious relationship with a member of H.O.T. One letter featured photographs of Ms. Kan with both eyes cut out and X-acto blades in the mail.
Last year, a poisoned soft drink was delivered to a member of the boy band G.O.D. Why it was sent is unknown, and the sender was never found.
Fights between different fan clubs are a frequent occurrence at television stations, especially when a music program is being recorded.
According to a recent survey by the Youth Total & Trust Information Network, one out of every 10 Korean teenagers is registered in a fan club.
－－ Lee Ho-jeong
by Lee Ho-jeong