Exo fans fight back as splinter group continues campaign against Chen
A months-long division between fans of boy band Exo has broken into the real world over the last few weeks, with one side calling for a member of the group to be kicked out because he wasn't as open as they would have liked about his marriage and the birth of his child, and the other side defending him.
In January this year, 27-year-old Chen, whose real name is Kim Jong-dae, announced that he had been in talks with the members of Exo and his agency on when to marry his girlfriend, and had found out that they were expecting a baby and decided to move up the wedding. The news divided fans, with one group immediately calling for him to be kicked out of the band for not revealing his relationship sooner. The division worsened in April when the agency said Chen's wife had given birth to their daughter.
While most of the response happened online, a group of mostly Korean fans took their criticism of Chen offline, holding protests outside of SM Entertainment's headquarters in southern Seoul calling for him to be kicked out of the band. The group, which calls itself EXO-L ACE, said Chen's actions were “irresponsible and untrustworthy as a member of Exo, which is one of the biggest boy bands in K-pop.”
As well as protesting outside SM's offices, the splinter fan group also parked an LED billboard installed on the back of a truck outside SM's office and, on Monday, purchased an advertisement on the front of entertainment newspaper Ilgan Sports, "strongly demanding" the removal of Chen and an apology from the agency and threatening "protests of all forms, direct and indirect" if they didn't comply.
The group's anger comes from a deep-rooted "tradition" in K-pop, where stars are mandated to make an apology to fans after they are caught dating — a phenomenon that is essentially unseen anywhere around the world. K-pop companies and agencies encourage tight relationships between stars and fans, which becomes the very reason why fans feel a sense of betrayal when their favorite stars are found to be in a relationship. Multiple celebrity couples have had to apologize for dating, and this culture fueled the anger that these fans felt about Chen's unexpected marriage.
Yet, as K-pop expands internationally, stars are not without support for their love lives. International fans not only support, but even encourage relationships between stars, often coming into conflict with the local fandom.
A group of fans supporting Chen also came forward to defend him. The group attacked the decision to publish the ad and called for it to be taken down and for SM Entertainment to better protect its artists.
The group, dubbed EXO Protection Squad, has promoted the slogan “EXO is Nine,” stating that no member of Exo should be kicked out of the band for having a personal life, and that EXO-L ACE should stop its “malicious and even criminal acts.” The group, along with a Korean coalition of fans dubbed Eternal9, is currently raising funds for countermeasures against the newspaper ad, and will begin by renting an LED truck for six days to drive around Coex, southern Seoul, containing videos to support Chen.
“All we want is to do good actions for a person who has done nothing wrong,” said the manager of the EXO Protection Squad Twitter account. “He is just living his life and having a personal life as everyone has the right to have […] We’ve been in this fight for months and all we want is that Chen is protected by the company, which should be responsible for the artist’s well-being, and we want Exo to continue to have nine members."
BY YOON SO-YEON [firstname.lastname@example.org]