Fanning the Fandom Flames

From BTS’ Armys to Potterheads, superfans stoke their fiery passions


Isabel Bartolo ('25)

Fandoms often unite online, but occasionally they also gather in public. Isabel Bartolo (‘25) and many other Swifties recently gathered in Las Vegas on March 25, 2023 for Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour.

Fandoms clash in internet battles using words and emojis as weapons in comment sections and subreddits. Since the dawn of the social media age, fandoms have quickly risen; Harry Potter’s fans “Potterheads,” Bangtan Boys’ (BTS) fans “Army,” and Taylor Swift’s “Swifties” are fandoms that have made a name (literally and figuratively) for themselves.

Fandoms are groups of, well, fans of certain movies, singers, and pieces of pop-culture. This shared enthusiasm inspires colorful cosplay and tchotchkes – yet also gatekeeping, fetishization, and fandom wars. 

It all starts from a place of love. An avid K-Pop fandom member, Emma Madany (‘24) is a multi-stan — someone who likes multiple K-Pop groups. Her favorite groups include BTS, Stray Kids, and T.X.T. Emma explained why she loved K-Pop enough to join the fandom. 

It’s like an emotion, like a feeling you get from the artist that you can’t really explain

— Emma Madany ('24)

“It’s like an emotion, like a feeling you get from the artist that you can’t really explain,” she said, “There’s just something about it where you can be in the worst mood and you watch a couple BTS videos, listen to some of their songs, and you are happy again. ” She continued and said that it “feel[s] like I have something to put good mental energy towards.” 

A self-proclaimed Swiftie, science teacher Ms. Kaitlin Douglass, who started to follow Taylor Swift when she was around 15, described the community’s atmosphere as having  “mutual love and respect for her.” Ms. Douglass said, “I’m happy for her when she does well. I am sad for her breakup. She just seems like she’s so passionate about what she does, so I think that we all are kind of just rooting for her and like we benefit too because we get music that we love to listen to.”

According to theater teacher Ms. Lara Korneychuk, this year’s middle school play, PUFFs, a spoof of the Harry Potter series, had a record number of 60 auditionees. Logan Yockey (‘28), who played the main character Wayne Hopkins, described the audition environment as “really energetic,” and said, “I think there were a lot of people who were invested in the movies and books.” Running from May 12 to 13, PUFFs contains “obscure references,” as Logan put it, to the original series that fans will pick up on. 

But school plays are not the only places where fans can unite. Platforms like Fandom and Reddit make it easier for fans to share information, theories, memes, and inside jokes.

Fandom, a website created in 2004 by Jimmy Wales and Angela Beesley Starling, allows fans to interact with their favorite fictional universes. “If Wikipedia is the ‘encyclopedia,’ then Fandom is the rest of the library — a deep repository of information about every fictional universe,” Fandom’s About Us page stated. 

Fans can learn more about certain storylines or characters of primarily games, movies, or T.V. shows; fans can even contribute information into Fandom’s archives. As Fandom’s community Creation Policy says, “communities are about working together.

Although not specifically catered to fandoms, Reddit’s “subreddits” feature provides the perfect space for fandoms to thrive. Ms. Douglass recently started checking the Taylor Swift Reddit page for updates on her Eras Tour The Eras Tour is named after the different phases of Taylor Swift’s career and life. For each phase, Ms. Douglass noted, Swift has had a different look. “I’m hoping to go to her August show in Los Angeles and I’ve definitely thought about what outfit I want to wear,” Ms. Douglass said, “From what I’ve seen on Reddit, for the tour, people are just trying to represent the album, the era they like the most in their outfit which is fun.”

Emma Madany poses with a picture of Han Jisung, who is her bias (a term used in the K-Pop community for one’s favorite member of a group) in Stray Kids, a popular K-Pop group
(Emma Madany (’24))

As someone who has watched around 400 different anime, Evan Ben (‘23) cited conventions as another hot-spot for fans to gather in. He attended three conventions with friends, who often cosplayed (dressed up as their favorite characters) and interacted with other cosplayers. “It’s super fun seeing so many people like the same things as you do,” he said.

However, where there are large groups of devoted fans, there’s bound to be conflict. Arguing amongst fans may be a source of heated discussion and entertainment. “It’s kind of like bickering amongst my friends. It’s no different from saying, ‘the Celtics are trash,”’ Evan said. 

The problem is when fans take their harmless manias to extremes. At a larger scale, they culminate in what are known as “fandom wars.” 

An article published as part of a Deviance and Youth Subcultures course at Grinnell College confirmed toxic behavior between different types of fandoms. It claimed that “social hierarchies exist between and within fan cultures, which can lead to judgment.” This can lead to gatekeeping and geek hierarchies, a term used to describe certain fandoms feeling superior to others, which are prevalent across many communities — such as the K-Pop and Anime fandoms.

Evan noted that in the anime community, “it can get out of hand.” He used the Fullmetal Alchemist fandom’s presence on MyAnimelist, a popular website for ranking anime, as an example. Fans upvote or downvote their favorite animes, resulting in the ultimate ranking list. Fullmetal Alchemist is usually number one on that list, but whenever it falls below that rank, Evan said that the community will “spam-vote” that anime as 1/10 to get it below Fullmetal Alchemist.

Emma admitted that the K-Pop stan culture can go beyond simple enthusiasm. “Sometimes fandoms of different groups will clash. Like I hate Blinks [BLACKPINK fans],” Emma said speaking as a BTS fan, “They’re kind of psychos.” Some notable beefs between fandoms include Armys vs. Blinks and T.X.T’s M.O.A vs. Stray Kids’ fandom, Stay. “They’ll defend their idols no matter what,” she continued

Additionally, the colloquial term “gatekeeping” has risen in use in recent years. According to the Urban Dictionary, it refers to “When someone takes it upon themselves to decide who does or does not have access or rights to a community or identity.” Emma found this in the online K-Pop community when some posts say, “Only real blank fandoms would know what blank means.” 

Other forms of toxicity in fandoms are an obsession with “shipping” or taking interest in a romantic relationship between two people — even if the romance may or may not exist. The K-Pop fandom is especially notorious for shipping. Emma reflected on a time when she did not want to be part of the Stray Kids’ fandom, also known as Stays, because of how “grossed-out” she felt by their behavior. “It feels like borderline sexual harassment. Like if it was done to me I would be so uncomfortable,” she said. “The people you’re stanning are people too,” she continued. 

Yet, not all fandom members take part in this behavior. “And then of course there are the chill Stays who are like my homies,” Emma said. 

Of course, fandoms don’t come without their pitfalls, but as something that unites millions across the globe, their influence proves the age-old saying “power in numbers.”