I will go right out and say this: I have been a K-pop fan since 1999, but no other group has had a greater impact on my life than the South Korean band EXO. I raised a child (now an adult) who also became a fan of the group’s EXO-M unit (there are different sub-groups—EXO-K, and EXO-M) one year after they debuted. My husband built what he calls an “EXO shelf” in our bedroom, and he sleeps with a small poster of EXO-M staring him in the face. I dare not go any further than this small poster. He really doesn’t mind that. Anything else might be too excessive. Oh, our room is also home to four EXO dolls, two of them in the likeness of my favorite member, Xiumin (Kim Minseok).
I’ve made so many friends and even enemies because of EXO. I’ve been to so many places because of them, including Shanghai, to watch a concert where there were still 11 members (Kris Wu, the 12th member, had left by then).
My life has been enriched by my being an EXO fan, and while I no longer consider myself a fan of the group, many memories in my life will always be associated with them.
‘보여줄게 EXO – 엑소 오락관 시즌 2’ 오늘 오후 8시 마지막회 공개!
— EXO (@weareoneEXO) June 10, 2021
And memories, not albums and merchandise, are what I treasure the most about being a fan. I remember seeing EXO-K in 2013 during a press conference in one of the cinemas at Ali Mall, and encountering my first fansites in person. It was one of the two times that my head was hit by a fansite’s camera lens.
To the “civilian,” a fansite is a person who devotes his or her life to following an idol around and taking their pictures (in an ideal setting), during official events. A lot of newer K-pop fans assume that a fansite is always a sasaeng or stalker, but this isn’t true. Some fansites and fan artists are just supportive of K-pop idols, and they don’t cross the line. Some EXO fansites are a little intense in their love for some of the group’s members, and that is a kind way of putting it. But you see those obsessive fans in every fandom.
When I look at tweets of EXO-Ls now, I find it so disconcerting that they can afford 10-20 albums per comeback, and that’s not counting merchandise like key rings, necklaces, caps, and many other things that are all expensive.
When I first became an EXO fan, I remember that I had to hide it from people because most of them would snicker. I remember traveling with a group of journalists years ago, and there was this girl who said she wanted to buy K-pop souvenirs because “our maids like K-pop.” She said this while glancing at me sideways. I have, in the years that I’ve been into K-drama and K-pop, learned to ignore things like that.
I had a boss who would scream, ‘So are you looking at handsomekoreanmen.com?’—there is no such website—every time he’d enter the newsroom
I had a boss who would scream, “So are you looking at handsomekoreanmen.com?”—there is no such website—every time he’d enter the newsroom. It was amusing at first, but it soon got to the point where I wanted to scream. But I digress.
— EXO (@weareoneEXO) June 8, 2021
So what are the craziest things I have done for EXO? I’ve purchased a set of hair clips for P900 and a lightstick key ring that had a light that would show Xiumin’s face on a wall or surface. This wouldn’t seem crazy for a teenager, but come on—for someone my age, that does seem crazy.
I have traveled with two official EXO dolls, and I handcarried them. Again, this would seem normal for a teenager, but would fall into the “crazy” category for someone my age.
These days, being a fan of EXO and K-pop is all about streaming. Streaming is the language of love, and so is buying albums. But when I started out as an EXO fan, which was the time when not everyone had access to the internet, streaming was a luxury, and most of the merchandise we owned came from nefarious sources. There weren’t online shops catering solely to K-pop fans. I was lucky that many of my friends would always travel to Korea then, and I could ask them to buy albums for me. It was just an album at a time. My daughter was in school then, and with all the expenses, I could really afford only one at a time, and even that was a stretch.
I’ve gone through many heartbreaks, but perhaps the most painful was when Xiumin enlisted in the military in May 2019
As an EXO fan, I’ve gone through many heartbreaks, but perhaps the most painful was when Xiumin enlisted in the military in May 2019, and I felt he was fearful that fans would forget him. So many of my favorites have enlisted through the years, but Xiumin’s was the biggest heartbreak of all. I had been going through anxiety in 2018-2019 and his presence in my life, represented by pictures and videos, helped me get through many dark episodes.
So what does a fan do to get through 18 months of her favorite’s absence? I was lucky that he appeared in two musicals while enlisted, so for a while, we got previews of him walking from the bus to the theater and vice versa, clad in black. I streamed “You” on YouTube, which was his goodbye present to Elsas, the name he gave his fans. I watched many of his old fancams. There were many days when I cried, and this may sound silly, considering that I am a grown woman with an adult daughter, but yes, these all helped me get over those 18 months.
I was also lucky that months before he enlisted, in October 2018 to be precise, Xiumin and seven other members of EXO came to Manila for the MBC Show Champion, so thanks to my job, I got to see him up close.
In 2019, six members of EXO—Kai, Suho, Chanyeol, Baekhyun, Chen and Sehun—came to Manila for a two-day concert and for the first time, my daughter and I were able to watch an EXO concert together. Xiumin was not with them; another member sang his parts, and I was no longer the group’s fan by this time, but I was still a supporter. I am glad my daughter and I got to do this together. While I could have watched the concert for free (again, thanks to my job), my daughter opted to purchase tickets for us. It was not only a means to support the group; it was also a promise she made to herself years ago, that if and when she already had a job, she would buy tickets so we could watch a concert together.
My daughter and I planned to go to Seoul in December 2020 because Xiumin was to be released from enlistment, but we all know what happened to the world
We planned to go to Seoul in December 2020 because Xiumin was to be released from enlistment, but we all know what happened to the world in March 2020. We are now approaching December 2021 and we’re still here at home.
After his release in December 2020, Xiumin was quite active as an idol again. He greeted EXO-Ls on the V Live app, had an online fanmeet, got a variety show assignment, and is set to appear in the Korean staging of Hadestown in August.
He is also part of EXO’s new special album Don’t Fight The Feeling with four other active members (D.O., Kai, Sehun, and Chinese member Lay, who is based in China). Chanyeol and Baekhyun, who enlisted recently, are also in the album. Two other members—leader Suho and Chen—are also enlisted.
Only two members—Kai and Sehun—have to go through mandatory enlistment. All this talk about enlistment displeases fans, but it’s the law in Korea. Enlistment is such a distasteful word on stan Twitter that if you mention it, you should just say “the ‘e’ word.”
EXO as a group will be complete again in 2024-2025, and that’s okay. They’re already a legendary group with a solid discography. Many of their songs are hits. All the members are big stars in their own right, and most of them are or have been ambassadors of the biggest brands in Korea and the world.
Watch Don’t Fight The Feeling here: