Welcome! This is a monthly column where I’ll be talking about the many sides of K-pop and its fandom, from the perspective of both a writer and a long-time fan. Thanks for reading, and see you again soon, when the idols have next released an unspeakable number of new official things and we’ve responded with 1,000 niche memes.
At the core of every K-Pop fans’ dedication to their favourite group lies the unspoken understanding of two extremes. One: the stream of official content to keep up with is endless. Whether it’s new photo shoots, music videos, fan meetings, TV cameos or pics of a favourite idol at an airport, it will always be a busy life. And two: despite this constant stream, a boundary is always in place between fan and artist. This is partly to protect the private and emotional lives of artists, which are particularly held back in comparison to Western performers. But it’s also in place for strategic reasons, such as to create an air of anticipation around album releases (BTS being the current leaders of sudden midnight drops).
Despite the wide acceptance of this boundary by the fandom (you can’t know everything about everyone!), the awareness that secrets exist is bound to spark an itch of curiosity. And while some let that curiosity take them to harmful extremes, going so far as to buy idols’ personal information online, others turn to a different, more supernatural method: trying to predict the future.
“K-Pop Prediction Accounts”, as they are known, have been around for almost as long as the genre has had an online following. Based across all platforms, but most popular on Twitter, their structured guesswork has been perfected into an art form, with countless accounts popping up regularly, often amassing thousands of new followers within only a few months.
Users who keep up with these accounts hail from across the globe and support all sorts of groups, but the moderators behind each account are usually completely anonymous. In their profiles, invariably some variation of the disclaimer “You can choose whether to believe or not” is present, and the profile pictures are choice mystical objects – crystal balls or barren trees. Tweet by tweet, they try to predict various changes pertaining to the world of K-Pop – from something as minute as a hairstyle change, all the way to the next successful comeback or the current undisclosed relationship status of an idol.
However, despite the general mystery surrounding the identities of those who actually run these accounts, many have a surprising amount of influence and sway in the fandom. For example, user @KPOP_predict18 posted a cryptic tweet last month asking Aghase (the name given to seven-member boy band GOT7’s fandom) to remain by the band’s side. She claimed some of them will go through “an emotional breakdown” which she read in their aura.
In the tweet’s replies, the group received an outpour of support from the account’s 122k+ followers – fans asking what they could do to help, as well as tagging GOT7’s official social accounts in tweets of support, and members of other fandoms telling Aghase to “stay strong”. The reactions were not all positive – some users also seem confused or downright panicked about the prediction, asking for further details, while others are understandably very dubious about its legitimacy and whether anyone should be making these claims in the first place.
But how exactly are these predictions made? Tea, a 19-year-old from the United States, runs the prediction account @Kpop_Prophet, with nearly 1,900 followers, and is happy to explain her methods. “Fortune telling runs in my family, so I use a combination of ‘feelings’ and analysis,” she tells me. “I sometimes also get visions, but those are rare. I’ll use tarot occasionally and use two different tarot packs to do readings. I’m [also] looking into learning how to read tea leaves.”
These accounts also often celebrate their “successful predictions” – for example, a group winning their first award, or someone releasing their first music video. I ask Tea how it feels when a prediction she’s made is successful. “It just feels really natural to me,” she says. “Because I already had a feeling or a vision that this happened, sometimes it feels like I’ve accidentally skipped ahead in a movie and I’ve seen the big reveal and spoiled the plot for myself.”
Tea’s methods might veer on the more traditional fortune-telling side, but while she’s definitely not alone in using those techniques, other accounts seem to mostly rely on informed guesswork, gut feeling and analysis based around the cyclical nature of the K-Pop industry – something most people will have picked up on after a certain time immersed in the fandom.
Scrolling through feeds, it’s easy to notice that most predictions suggest future comebacks, Instagram posts, music videos releases, successful new groups or actor debuts, all of which happen fairly often, and are to be expected at one point or the other. When it comes to these predictions, it seems, treading a fine line between safe vagueness (“Another rookie group will get their first win this year”) and somewhat specific statements (“Suzy is dating”) is the key to continuous success.
“Predictions normally come to my mind effortlessly,” explains Janey, a 15-year-old from Argentina who created her account, @LilyPredictions, at the beginning of this year. She currently has over 1,660 followers – which isn’t too much, but it’s growing. “For example, I often think ‘This group hasn't had a comeback in a while, they may [have a] comeback next month’. And when I receive a question, I just write what I think. I don't use any specific method.”
Janey is quite open about her favourite groups in her pinned tweet, and as fans, we invariably have our musical preferences, which begs the question of whether or not those who run these accounts are ever consciously affected by their own personal feelings towards certain idols and groups. “Yes,” says Janey, quite honestly. “For example, some days ago someone asked me to rank the most successful boy groups in 2019. I wanted to rank my favourite groups in the first spots, but it sadly wouldn't make any sense.”
“I think it's difficult for predictors not to be biased because none of us would like to write bad predictions about our idols, even though being sincere it's part of our job. And we also tend to write very promising predictions about them, forgetting that they are unlikely to come true.” Tea, when asked the same question, agrees that sometimes it’s hard to separate her personal feelings as a fan from a prediction, given that so much is based on instincts, but that she tries hard to make sure negative or positive perceptions towards a group do not affect her work.
But while predicting a first win or chart success is quite fun and harmless, Twitter divination often goes beyond that. According to Janey, 80% of the predictions requested in her inbox are focused on idols’ love lives, though she is quick to mention that she personally prefers to avoid that subject. Many accounts, however, are not so shy about professing their predictions about idols’ sexual preferences, relationship statuses and orientations – these affirmations being one of the main reasons’ prediction accounts have become controversial within the fandom and tend to stir up heated discussions, either accidentally or not.
While interest in famous people’s love lives is a tale as old as time, it takes an almost mythical quality in the context of K-Pop, especially when idols’ personal relationships tend to be something that remains unspoken and taboo. For context, the focus on upholding singledom is so prominent within the industry, that last year idols HyunA and E’Dawn had their contracts with Cube Entertainment terminated after their decision to disclose their two-year long romantic relationship to fans was declared “a breach of trust”. Korean tabloid Dispatch has even made it a habit to expose one idol couple every turn of year, much to fans' general outrage. In that way, intrigue around idols' love lives is both heavily intriguing and a source of contention.
Kay* and Bea* are two of five Hungarian women in their early 20s who run the parody account “K-Pop predictions 2019”, which has over 10,000 followers. Their predictions are mostly based around in-jokes within fandoms, as well as random statements (such as SEVENTEEN’s Vernon finally “admitting that kidney function is a right, not a privilege”) and harmless digs at the extremely generalised predictions made by “serious” accounts (for example “An Idol will speak Korean this year”).
Despite the clear jokey nature of their tweets, they also receive endless serious questions about idols’ sexualities and relationship statuses. “Some people really think we are a serious prediction account,” Kay explains. Bea adds that one time they were even accused of being time-travellers. “Our DMs are usually full of people asking for predictions about groups they like – when are they going to have a comeback, for example. But the most popular questions are about the ships: Why a certain couple broke up, who's dating who, is a ship ‘real’. Once a fan sent us a page long essay trying to prove Taekook [ship name for Taehyung and Jungkook of BTS] was real.”
The two girls behind the account are not fans of “serious” prediction accounts personally – they cite vague predictions, the tendency to stir up unnecessary drama as well as the lack of boundaries towards the idols’ personal lives, which sometimes have very real consequences, as some of the key reasons for their distaste.
But after weeks of scrolling through prediction tweets and replies, the strange allure of these accounts makes a lot of sense to me. After all, millennials are said to have replaced religion with astrology and are far more receptive to practices such as witchcraft during times of uncertainty. Of course, that proclivity was bound to leak in some way into the world of fandom as well – case in point, the birth charts and blood types of K-Pop idols are widely available online for anyone to analyse.
The reassurance these accounts offer also isn’t confined to the idols – while browsing, it’s easy to spot users anonymously requesting advice from moderators about upcoming job interviews, lucky numbers or potential relationships, receiving a grounding reassurance they might otherwise not be get in real life. Much like every other side of K-Pop fandom, prediction accounts seem to have grown and created their communities in their own rights. It’s about more than what it appears to be on the surface.
“I think that fans find it fun and [it] gives people hope,” muses Tea. “Having someone else tell them what will happen can soothe people.” All that taken into account, it’s undeniable that prediction accounts – controversial or not – do not seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. They will carry on, if not forever, at least for as long as the line drawn between idols and fans still clearly says: there are certain things you can only guess.