Photo: Courtesy of Wee Li Shyen and Valerie*
It’s no secret that K-pop fans go all out when it comes to supporting their idols. Just look at the trending topics on Twitter every day. But a lot of the time, this undying love also means spending money, and lots of it. From concert tickets to merchandise, being a committed stan can get expensive, and a new study looked into just how much people are willing to spend. E-commerce aggregator iPrice gathered data from hundreds of merchants in Southeast Asia and Hong Kong and compared how much BLACKPINK, TWICE, and BTS fans spend on merchandise, albums and EPs, and concert tickets based on average rates. The study was done under the assumption that a fan buys at least one merchandise per shopping category (for example, a light stick, a lomo card, a shirt, etc.), all of a group’s albums, and attend at least one concert per year.
BTS has been called the biggest boy band in the world, while BLACKPINK and TWICE are two of K-pop’s most famous girl groups at the moment. BTS fans, known as ARMY, came out on top of the study’s results. After collecting merchandise, buying 15 studio albums and EPs, and attending five concerts, they would have spent around $1,422. In comparison, members of the TWICE fandom known as “Once,” can spend around $824 on merchandise, 14 albums, and four concerts. According to the report, BLACKPINK fans, known as “Blinks,” could spend an estimated $665. This is likely because the group is the newest of the three and have only had five albums and EPs. BLACKPINK debuted in 2016, while TWICE and BTS debuted in 2015 and 2013, respectively. Photo cards are one of the most popular K-pop merchandise. In every album, a special collectible photo of a group member is placed inside. Fans usually want a complete set, much like collecting baseball or Pokemon cards. Some buy multiple albums to achieve this or to finally land a photo of their favorite member. Others also buy them from resellers online. Tan Kaisi Kessie, 18, is a massive K-pop fan, stanning groups including NCT, Seventeen, and Exo. She has spent at least $1,494 on her idols since 2018, over $448 on photo cards alone. “I spend all this money because the boys make me happy, and I love collecting photo cards just because it’s satisfying to look at my collection,” Tan told VICE.
She owns about 50 photo cards in total, along with two light sticks, another popular merchandise item usually used during shows. Her favorite purchase? The concerts tickets she bought to see Exo, DPR, and NCT live.Tan also owns three dolls — two of them based on NCT members and the other one based on a Seventeen member — that were “designed and sent for production by fan sites.” Valerie*, 19, loves A.C.E, GOT7, Wanna One, and BTS. “I used to spend SG$200 ($149) to SG$300 ($224) a year just on concert tickets, but I’ve stopped going in the past few years,” she told VICE. Just like Tan, Valerie loves buying her favorite groups’ albums to collect photo cards. “I like collecting them because it makes me happy. I like the idea of getting the photo card of my favorite member so I can put it in my wallet or the back of my phone case to make me smile whenever I look at it.”
Above all, Valerie said she does this to support her idols, especially her favorite group, A.C.E. “A.C.E has a very special place in my heart because their music has helped me through some of the toughest periods of my life,” she said. Wee Li Shyen, 20, can say the same about BTS. A dedicated ARMY, Wee has spent just under $747 on all things BTS. This is after attending their concert in Singapore last year, collecting all their albums, and buying a whole bunch of merchandise like light sticks and plushies. She even dedicated an area in her bedroom to display her extensive collection, which includes Coca-Cola cans with the members’ faces on them.
Out of everything she owns, Wee’s favorite item is the Army Bomb — the BTS light stick that costs over $30. “It’s the most memorable item I’ve purchased because I got it on the day of the BTS concert last year and my friends and I took turns to queue up for more than three hours to get it,” she recalled. “It was sold out everywhere else so when my friends and I finally laid our hands on our bombs, we were so incredibly happy.”
She said that collecting merchandise is a fulfilling and fun hobby.“Ultimately, I think collecting and buying these items make you feel more connected to the fandom, and you also feel like you’ve contributed to the band,” she said. “Everyone’s got their own hobby and mine is collecting BTS merch.”South Korea’s economy has greatly benefited from K-pop in recent years, thanks to the industry’s power to boost the export of goods, tourism, and even demand to learn the Korean language. Last year, BTS alone reportedly accounted for nearly $5 billion of South Korea’s GDP, putting them in the same league as top-grossing companies Samsung, Hyundai, and Kia. *Name has been changed for privacy.