BusinessWorld Reporter

When the second Hallyu (“Korean culture wave”) came crashing in during the late 2000s, it tossed TVXQ, BIGBANG, Girls’ Generation, 2PM, and 2NE1 (which includes former local teen star Sandara Park) to young Filipinos’ YouTube screens, and, not too long after, their hearts.

It must have been the killer combo of hypnotizing choreography, outlandish fashion styles and freakishly good looks. From breaking into international markets through social networking services, Korean pop (K‑Pop) bands managed to be noticed in the Philippines, a country whose music scene is dominated by American idols. An example: Ed Sheeran’s YouTube videos have raked in 41,187,885 total views from the Philippines as of writing, according to YouTube Music Insights. Meanwhile, the all‑male Korean quintet BIGBANG has 3,555,186 views—a number that’s millions behind that of Sheeran, but enough to place the Philippines in the top 10 countries that lap up the Korean boy group’s music videos, where it sits comfortably on rank nine.

The Filipino audience of K‑Pop is a niche—as much as K‑Pop’s global audience is still a niche—but it’s a niche that is highly profitable. Sold‑out concerts see fans camping out the night before ticket release, where VIP tickets cost as much as ₱12,500.

For much more extreme Filipino fans of K‑Pop, the devotion ends not in the music industry’s usual commodities of album sales, concert tickets, and official merchandise. It goes far beyond that in the form of grand gestures: elaborate productions that cost them hundreds of thousands of pesos.

Art Samantha Gonzales


Chi Manimbo, a 25‑year‑old events organizer, has been revering BIGBANG since 2008, a time of painstakingly slow internet that made her spend hours watching videos on her BlackBerry phone.

BIGBANG just celebrated its 11th Anniversary last Aug. 19—a feat in an increasingly competitive K‑Pop industry that churns out idol groups on almost monthly basis. In more than a decade in the industry, the quintet has done two world tours, in 2012 (ALIVE) and 2015 (MADE), with the 2015 tour posting a record of 1.5 million fans watching and touring 33 cities across the globe, including Manila. It is currently on hiatus though, as members are to comply with the two‑year mandatory military enlistment of the South Korean government. That hasn’t stopped its members from pursuing tours as individuals, such as the lead G‑Dragon, who is set to perform tonight at the Araneta Coliseum.

For tonight’s solo concert, VIP tickets cost ₱13,650 plus 6% surcharge. Also for tonight, Ms. Manimbo encouraged fans to donate dried mangoes for G‑Dragon and his staff, as well as some cash for a cake.

“Alam natin hindi naman ‘to kakainin ni G‑Dragon pero heto na yun eh. Makikita natin yung cake, at makikita natin face ni G‑Dragon pag nilabas ‘yung cake,” she said. (We all know he won’t actually eat the cake, but this is it. We’ll see the cake, we’ll see the face of G‑Dragon when he sees the cake.)

Before the group was launched into global fame (thanks to the extremely catchy Fantastic Baby! in 2012) Ms. Manimbo already loved BIGBANG when they sang Tell Me Goodbye, which was released in the Japanese. “I know that song by heart,” the Filipina gushed in an interview with SparkUp in mid‑August, during a gathering of BIGBANG Philippines—a fandom she now leads.

Her group’s fandom has a staggering 290,257 following on Facebook as of posting. It is currently the biggest fansite of BIGBANG in the country.

The fandom has made equally major gestures for their beloved band. So far, they’ve launched three books—containing fan signs and messages for the members of the group—which they presented as gifts to BIGBANG.

For BIGBANG’s MADE tour in 2015, they printed a four‑figure volume of banners saying “Gomawo, Bigbang” or Thank you, Bigbang. The effort didn’t end at sending the signs off to the printers. “Kailangan i&‑pack… finold namin, may instructions kung paano i‑wave, saan ire‑raise, at fan chants.” (We had to pack them… fold them up nicely, include instructions on how to wave the banner, where it should be raised, and add the fan chants.)

On a personal level, Ms. Manimbo has done something far more extreme. She traveled from Manila to Hong Kong on a whim, just to follow her favorite star. “Tatlo kami ‘noon. Nag‑aaral pa ako nun, nagka‑yayaan lang. Hindi ko rin alam how I came up with the money,” she said. (There were three of us who did that. I was a student then, and we just decided right then and there. I don’t even recall how I came up with the money.)

Flying in to that vibrant and densely populated autonomous southeastern territory of China, the wide-eyed student then gained much more than what she paid for when she made that trip. She reflected: “Yung experience na yun, priceless.” (That experience was priceless.)

Evangeline Alonzo, 27, and Sherien de Villa, 24, the fansite heads (or fansite‑nims) of BIGBANG Made Us One (BBMUO), a smaller, albeit equally enthusiastic fansite BBMUO, have also gone the extra mile for BIGBANG.

Ms. Alonzo, who helps out in the electronics family business, has no qualms spending a little extra, especially for her “bias” G‑Dragon. “I am the kind of fan who doesn’t like falling in line for concerts so I am willing to shell out extra money just to get the best ticket,” Ms. Alonzo told Spark Up in an e‑mail. That mindset led her all the way to Seoul where she attended a concert—without her parents’ consent. “They are overprotective because I am the youngest in the family so flying to Seoul without them needs a lot of convincing,” she said. “I would have needed my fangirling friends come to the house just to ask permission.”

Meanwhile, Ms. de Villa, who calls herself a “full‑time teacher, part‑time fangirl,” shared that before BBMUO started in 2015, they were already going to extreme lengths just to get their hands on official merchandise. “We even join online auctions just to get limited edition stuff,” she said.

For tonight’s concert, BBMUO is providing cookies and bottled water for concertgoers who will need refreshments as they fall in line. BBMUO was able to collect funds, from fan contributions and their own pockets, to have life‑sized standees of the BIGBANG frontman for a photo opportunity outside coliseum.


But it isn’t only the idols and the fans who benefit from the K‑Pop idolatry. BBMUO also leads charity projects, held under the name of BIGBANG, even though the group is on break. “We also had donation drives for charity here in the Philippines. First one is the rice donation for North Cotabato farmers. The second is for Marawi victims, just this year.” Ms. de Villa shared.

Funds for the projects come from the fans’ own pockets. “We ask for donations first, then if we don’t meet our target, that’s when we use our personal funds,” Ms. de Villa added. They also sell merchandise.

“In Korea, we had a Rice Wreath Project,” Ms. de Villa added, referring to a usual fan project in Korea where sacks of rice are purchased under an idol’s name, and then eventually donated to charities or poor communities. “Our rice wreaths were displayed outside the venue during concerts for MADE Final and Subway Ad Project for BIGBANG’s tenth anniversary.”

“We always try to be unique with our projects,” she said. Just an artist is only as good as his last performance, so are the fans and their grand gestures. “It’s also like, once we do something big, we’re think of something more special for the next time.”

But expressing one’s devotion isn’t limited to what a fandom decides to do. Fan chants during particular songs, or synchronized choreography of a light stick are the concert norm and other fans also do their own thing in their own capacity.

Genesse Capistrano, 28, has likewise spent tens of thousands all in the name of BIGBANG, but she refused to detail the exact figures, writing in an email: &ldqu;I don’t know how much I can spend for them, but I sure have spent A LOT already! If my mom knew how much, she’d be mad!” Ms. Capistrano, a marketing professional, flew to Hong Kong to watch the quintet’s last concert as a group.

“It was so last minute that the plane tickets I bought were worth twice than what they should be if i planned ahead,” she recalled. Still, she remains a fan. “I love BIGBANG because I like their music. You can tell by the quality of their music that each song is well thought‑out (Hi G‑Dragon!). They don’t just copy and use the same formula that sold records from ‘idols’ before them.”


While these K‑Pop fans are enjoying the moment, Ms. Manimbo reflects that some things are changing.

“Yung buying power ng K‑Pop fans, nag‑outgrow na ba, or may iba na silang gusto. Kasi nag‑peak na sya eh. May decline, kumbaga. ‘Yun yung hirap din,” she said. (The buying power of K‑Pop fans has dwindled, or perhaps they are spending on other things. It’s already reached its peak and we’re now facing a decline. That’s what’s difficult.)

“They don’t have any commitment to us,” Ms. Manimbo said. “That’s the real struggle here: continuing. And since it’s a fan club,gusto mo naman ‘yung updated pa rin kayo. Relatable pa rin ‘yung fan club mo.” (You want to your fan club to remain relevant by staying updated and relatable.) However, she assured that the fan group will continue to welcome new fans.

“Siguro kapag fan girl ka, (maybe, as a fan girl) you neglect some things,” she said. For Ms. Capistrano, being a fan girl fills them with “a feeling of pride and gratification” when the people they root for “are also recognized and appreciated by other people.” Ms. de Villa, for her part, said that the heads of BBMUO “really love travelling,” and they are “truly fangirls at heart who also love to help fellow VIPs or K‑Pop fans to avail stuff that we can’t buy here.”

After all, for these girls, she said, the best thing about being part of a fandom is “meeting new friends with the same wavelength of craziness.”