Barangay Labangan Poblacion in San Jose, Occidental Mindoro, is a sleepy town typical of rural Philippines. This countryside is as much hit by the pandemic as the rest of the country, perhaps no more, no less. San Jose is a seasonal farming community, where the farmers don’t necessarily own the land they till. Many are unemployed, jobs made more scarce in this pandemic. In this community, hunger has its face, just like everywhere in the country now.
Theirs is a scarcity, even poverty, one can hardly associate with music, much less K-Pop. However, more than a week ago, K-Pop fandom reached this remote place when the fans of the popular South Korean band Astro organized a community pantry for the barangay residents. The Astro fans are known worldwide as Aroha. The ACTeam_Ph and Cha Eun Woo Philippines fandom organized the Astro x Aroha Community Pantry in Labangan Poblacion in San Jose.
Stocked with food bought from the modest donations of a few Arohas, the pantry drew the heads of households of the barangay (the organizers distributed the goods based on households) and some passers-by.
It is heartwarming to see how the concept of community pantry—as a way to help stave off hunger in this pandemic—has been adopted by the K-Pop fandom in the country, which flexed its organization and numbers.
The Arohas support Astro, which debuted in 2016 and whose latest comeback album All Yours, with signature One, ruled the charts and social media after its drop in April. It’s composed of six guys in their early 20s, with the youngest only 20—all highly acclaimed for their singing, rap, dance (watch the balletic spin of Rocky), song-composing, acting (Astro had their drama series early on, such as To Be Continued). They are MJ (Kim Myungjun), the leader JinJin (Park Jinwoo), Cha Eun Woo (real name Lee Dong Min), Moonbin (Moon Bin), Rocky (Park Minhyuk), and the youngest Sanha (Yoon SanHa).
Arguably the most popular is Cha Eun Woo (whom the fans call “nunu”), easily among the hottest Korean stars and idols today, known for his lead roles in True Beauty, My ID is Gangnam Beauty, Rookie Historian Goo Hae Ryung, and variety shows All the Butlers (on Viu), Handsome Tigers.
JinJin is MC of Dive Studio. MJ has a musical, sang the OST for the web drama and is also an MC. Rocky’s King of the Masked Singer gained popularity and he also is an MC. Moonbin has also done drama series (At Eighteen, Boys Over Flowers, Mermaid Prince), Sanha is an MC, has web drama (Love Formula 11M) and sang an OST (Break).
However more than their star wattage, it’s noticeable how the six guys, individually or as a group, connect so strongly, even intimately, to their fandom. The affinity is highly personal—that’s their drawing power. As one of the Arohas below says, “They turn my sad days into happy days.”
Another said, “I had depression that time but Cha Eun Woo—he held my hand and walked me out of the dark room I was locked in…”
It’s not so much an imagination running wild as the boys’ ability to connect in the digital space. And one must note that unlike other K-Pop bands, Astro have been here only once, in 2016 after their debut. Cha Eun Woo held a fan meet in 2019. Indeed it must be the boys’ music, performance, and fan engagement in their virtual meets that create such bond of empathy. (Cha Eun Woo holds his virtual fan meet, Just one 10minute, June 4, for Philippine, Thailand, Indonesia fandoms.)
Idols like the Astro have a way of transmitting positivity when times are hard, hope when one is in despair. Decades from now, when social scientists look back on how K-Pop fandom had been created and mobilized—and in effect, stirred populations into feeling and acting the way they should—they would be perplexed. How could a band do such call to action?
In the meantime, however, it doesn’t take much to understand and appreciate the fact that fandoms have been using their informal social structures to work for the good of the community. Asked by TheDiarist.ph to describe the San Jose community they sought to help, an Aroha leader (“admin,” they call the ones managing the “pages” on social media) sums up the folk’s plight: “Seasonal lang kita ng mga tao, and not all of them ay may sariling lupa, yung iba po ay nakikisaka, nakiki-arawan or bantay lang po sa bukid na kikita lang pag anihan na. Ngayon po ay start pa lang ng taniman kaya wala po talaga silang mapagkunan ng food. (Their income is seasonal; not all own the land they till. Some only share the farm land, or help during harvest time. Since this is only planting season, they have no regular earnings yet to buy food.)
Here’s various Aroha “admins” talking about why they love Astro, such love that has been turned into social action.
I learned how to love myself more and realized that depending on others is not a weakness
Sunshine Espiritu, Cha Eun Woo Philippines head admin:
For starters, sobrang talented nila so they deserve to be loved. Sana nga mas marami pang makakita kung gaano sila kagaling. As for Cha Eunwoo, natural naman he’s a charmer… apart from the fact that he’s talented, he’s jack of all trades and if there’s one aspect he’s not good at, he works hard to be good at it. As a fan.. di ko alam bakit mahal na mahal ko siya, it grew a lot lang the more I got to know him.
Jaziel Salmorin, Astro Comeback Team Philippines admin:
There are many reasons why I love Astro, that I can’t write it all. But, my top reason —they make me feel I am valued. Through them, I learned how to love myself more and realized that depending on others is not a weakness. Their songs serve as my comfort whenever I’m having a bad day.
Astro is my safe haven.
Civlain Anne Iniwan, Aroha PH admin:
Why I love Astro.
In this generation as K-Pop becomes globally known, only Astro caught my attention. All of them are equally talented and it’s just a bonus that they all also have stunning visuals. Each member has his own strength that complements the group. You can see the sincerity in their eyes, how much they love and value each other, and how much they love performing as a group. They’re all funny in their own unique way and every time I watch them, it always brings happiness in my heart. Yung tipong di mo namamalayan na tumatawa, napapangiti at napapaiyak ka na nila. (The kind where you’re not aware whether you’re laughing, smiling or tearing up.) They have that charisma that you cannot resist, when you start to know them you can’t help yourself but to fall in love again and again. You will feel their sincere love and appreciation for Aroha (fandom) in every opportunity they get. That’s why we are all doing our best in Aroha PH to promote and support them. Gusto namin ishare kung ano man yung nararamdaman namin simula nung nakilala namin ang Astro. (We want to share whatever we’ve felt since we knew Astro.) They may not be that popular but if we give them a chance, you might love them also.
They turn my sad days into happy days. It’s like they are my happy pill
Mark Villaran, Aroha Ph and Moonbin Ph admin:
Moonbin is a great person, he is kind, caring and most of all, talented. We all know him for his cute looks, given his “cat-and-dog face” but if we look a little deeper into who he is, you would love him more. He is the kind of person who has a fun personality and sits back to reflect on things and study the situation. He somehow overthinks but those moments would help him grow as a person. He is also a genius, a well-oriented dancer, and a great singer. I love everything about him!
Honestly, I myself did not foresee being a K-Pop fan, but when an Astro member appeared in a drama I was watching I was captivated. Beyond their looks and visuals, as a new fan back then, I looked at their personalities and it was undeniably fun; they have respect for each other and for others, they are also humble about whatever they have become. Very thankful to them because sometimes they are the source of my happiness. I love Astro for being who they are and for not restricting themselves to do what they dreamed of. I also love how they are legitimately sincere interacting with their fans (Aroha); they are well mannered and treat their fans like angels and babies. They helped a lot of Aroha who are down to become happy again and feel motivated. Astro is not just a K-Pop group, they’re family, a friend and HOME.
Jor Zablan, Park Jinwoo Philippines admin:
I love JinJin because as the leader of Astro, he really cares for his co-members; I can see that. You would see it in some videos and content, he really shows how he love the rest of the OT5. I love him because by just looking at his smile, it will brighten up your day. Even though he’s been criticized, you would still see him smiling so he can show us or tell us that he is okay and happy. The way he expresses his love for Arohas is really genuine. That is why I love him.
I’ve been asked a lot of times why I love Astro, why do I stan them? Well for me, Astro has been one of the few good things in my life. I know they are an idol, but every time I see them, watch their content, it makes me feel positive. They turn my sad days into happy days. It’s like they are my happy pill.
In times of hardships, I always remember to look up in the sky
Princess Mae, Kim Myung Jun Philippines admin:
Why do I love MJ? Sa totoo lang hindi ko talaga alam kung bakit, paano, at kailan. (In truth, I don’t know how, when and why.) The moment I saw him, something inside was lifted. Yung tipong lumiwanag ang mundo at punong-puno ng kulay ang nakikita mo. (The world brightened up and what I see explodes in color.) I am not saying that my life is gloomy. But there is something I can’t explain in words. Basta naramdaman ko na lang. Yung pakiramdam na nakumpleto ka. Yung pag narinig mo ang tawa nya (I just feel it, I feel complete, hearing his laugh), it brightens up your day. Makita mo lang siya na mag-update (Just seeing his updates), everything seems better. Everything about him affects my whole being. We may be miles apart but I can feel his warmth and love. I am so thankful that he became part of my life. I hope he is happy every day. In times of hardships, I always remember to look up in the sky. The stars are there to fight the darkness, until the heaven smiles again upon you. (Aroha stands for stars.—Ed) I love you MJ-oppa! Astro and Arohas love you so much. Thank you for being there for us. We are blessed to have you. Keep smiling and keep shing!
Jenely Demalata, Kim Myungjun Philippines admin
I love Astro because of what they are. Talents, visuals and attitudes towards their fans. They’re the first K-Pop group I stan. I’m so happy that I’m part of this fandom called Aroha. They make me feel special and blessed every single day. They are my stress reliever indeed. Mahal ko sila, kasi mahal din nila kami. (I love them coz they love us.) I stan talents, not just popularity. No doubt they are one of a kind.
MJ, JinJin, Eun Woo, Moonbin, Rocky and Sanha, thank you that I’ve come to know you. Thank you for giving me an open mind about K-Pop. Thank you for inspiring us every single day. Arohas are always here for you no matter what. I love you guys! Stan ASTRO ️
Angel-leth Degalea, Rocky Pebbles PH admin:
There are a lot of celebrities, a lot of artists you can look up to, just like the stars in the night sky. But there will be that one star who will shine more than the others in your eyes. The one that can give you comfort just by looking at it from afar. That’s Astro for us. There’s an inexplicable feeling they can draw out from people. Is it because of their talent? Charisma? Attitude? Chemistry? Maybe all of these and more. They shine on and off stage and we can feel the sincerity in everything they do. From the way they take care of each other during the hard times to how they treat each other as family by becoming each other’s support system, all of these genuine emotions resonate with us and make us want to help them reach their dreams. On top of these, they continuously work hard while showing their fans unparalleled love and gratitude.
All of the members have unique charm and personality. They complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. But among them, there’s one who stood out for us. Rocky (Park Minhyuk) has embodied his stage name and became the solid rock that holds the team together. We love his burning passion to polish his craft to perfection, his overflowing love for his family and for the members, his perseverance, his humor, his mindset, and of course his never ending talent. Mediocrity is not in his vocabulary. If he sets his mind on something, he will see it to the very end and makes sure that the audience will be left in awe. He’s not afraid to explore new things and share them with us. He is considerate and thoughtful, like when he used sign language when he was given the chance to do the ending fairy for the first time, after five years of being an idol.
He makes us strive to be a better version of ourselves, just like he is of himself
When he made that analogy of life’s journey and a train ride, it showed his mature way of thinking positively in every situation. It helped lift our spirits and made us try to see things in a different perspective. Being the one in charge of choreography, he also selflessly offers his talents and teaches the members during their dance practices. Just recently, he produced a music video for his self-composed song, Our Spring, that features the members during the All Yours promotion. It radiates—how he lovingly sees them and we were able to experience their moments through his eyes.
We can list down a hundred more reasons why Rocky is so special but words will never be enough to convey the happiness he gives us. He makes us strive to be a better version of ourselves, just like he is of himself. We will always be proud of the person he is and will continue supporting him until he becomes the person in his dreams.
When I come out of that dark room I saw five more shining stars
Annalyn Loren, ACTeam_PH head admin and Cha Eun Woo Philippines admin
I was attracted to Eunwoo’s charm in My ID is Gangnam Beauty, but after knowing him more or of him, I fell in love.
Cha Eun Woo is one of the most charismatic and well-rounded idols-turned-actors. He can make you fall in love with him, as they say, in just 10 minutes. He has this power to hold you captive and mesmerized with his visual, smiling eyes and soothing voice; as you get to know him you cannot stop loving him. He is not just a pretty face, he is a goal-setter once he sets his mind on something, he will surely give his 101% to achieve it. He is a versatile actor who can pull off whatever role he takes, he is a talented idol—he can sing, dance, play music instruments—and he is good in sports. He is kind-hearted and grateful; even though he is a well known idol he remains humble and never forgets to thank the people behind his success.
I had depression that time but Cha Eun Woo—he held my hand and walked me out of the dark room I was locked in, he gave me light and happiness. When I came out of that dark room I saw five more shining stars my life changed, my mindset changed, and I become a better version of myself.
Astro make me happy when I am sad, they make me laugh when I watch their videos, and they make me feel loved every time they show how much they love and care about Arohas. Stress-reliever ko sila talaga, nakakawala ng stress at pagod pag nakikita ko sila.
They may not be as famous as other groups but Astro is a talented group, their songs are all good; every time they release a new album they always have a dedicated song for Aroha, and they care about their fans a lot. If someone bullies Arohas or bashes us they will always say, na wag na papatulan (let it slide) because Aroha has a pretty heart.
That’s why Aroha is a peaceful fandom.
Diana Joy Manzo, Yoon San PH admin:
Yoon Sanha is the sweetest of all. He sacrificed his normal childhood and took the risk to achieve his goal. He always depends on his hyungs but later on, he learned how to be independent, and I’m proud of him. He is spoiled by his parents, real brothers and also by his members. He is too young to suffer the pains and challenges but he conquered it all. With his overload cuteness that could send good vibes to others, and the unintentional aegyos will make your day complete.
I’m proud that whatever he has right now, and he’ll have in the future, it’s because of his hard work.