Fans on feeding frenzy

Fans on feeding frenzy

When South Korean actor-singer Lee Seung Gi was in town in September, he feasted on a meal prepared by celebrity chef Sam Leong's restaurant Forest.

The lavish lunch comprised dishes such as crispy duck confit with yam, boiled pork slices with kimchi, as well as chef Leong's signature dish of milky chicken broth with morel mushrooms and wild bamboo piths.

And who paid for the meal? His fans.

In fact, these avid fans had deliberately ordered enough food from the restaurant to feed not just Lee, but 35 other people, including his entourage and other crew members.

The $1,500 bill was paid for by his international fan base that includes his Singapore fan club, as well as those based in South Korea, the United States and Japan. The meals also included $300 worth of food from Korean restaurant Bibigo.

This practice of catering for idols sounds extravagant, but it is a regular affair among fans of Korean pop culture.

Commonly known as "food support", the practice originated with music and drama fans in South Korea in the 1990s, but it has since caught on with fans here and become a common sight, especially in the last two years.

It is a sign of how K-pop devotees go above and beyond to display their affection for their idols, on top of the typical screaming at concerts and queuing up for long hours to snag tickets.

For the meal from Forest - chosen as it is also the name of Lee's new album - his fans painstakingly cut and pasted stickers of their idol's face on every food box and drink bottle.

Ms Nicole Ko, 28, chairman of Lee's Singapore fan club, says of the fans' motivation: "Seung Gi and his team have worked hard with little rest to deliver his best for his tour, and have come to Singapore not knowing how fans would respond to him. As fans, we want to show him that we care and appreciate his efforts."

Other than this meal, the fan club also sent nonya kueh to Lee's hotel room for him to sample.

She says: "We did not get to meet him, but his manager conveyed his message to us that he has finished the food and would like to thank us for the tasty meal, so we're really happy."

Nanyang Technological University assistant professor Liew Kai Khiun, who has research interests in Korean pop culture, says food support is "not surprising" as it is a "personal" practice. He says: "As a personal undertaking for a loved one rather than a collective activity that can be commercialised, giving food is more intimate."

Concert organiser Running Into The Sun, which has brought in major K-pop acts including Super Junior and Girls' Generation, says that for most of the K-pop concerts they have organised in Singapore, they have gotten requests from fans to contribute food. But not every type of food is allowed for their events.

A spokesman for Running Into The Sun says: "We usually accept items such as snacks, pastries and cakes, but not hot food, to ensure that food doesn't go bad."

Events organiser Faith & D Entertainment, which brought in Lee, allowed hot food, but it is also careful about the food options that fans want to provide.

A spokesman says: "We request fans give us a proposal before they proceed. We vet the menu and allow only food that is from established caterers."

Other food support projects by local K-pop fan clubs here include one by Infispirit SG, a fan club that supports K-pop group Infinite.

When the seven-member boyband were in town for a concert in October, five local fan clubs collaborated and paid around $2,500 to provide drinks and finger food for the band's rehearsal sessions, as well as a buffet dinner that was catered by Korean restaurant Sarang. The buffet spread fed around 65 people, including the band, and their back-up dancers, management and other crew.

Ms Sim Hyun Min, 25, leader of fan club Infispirit SG, says: "Despite providing such support, we did not get the chance to see Infinite backstage or outside their performance schedule. But fans do this out of support for Infinite and it is not an uncommon practice. This is also done in South Korea where fans provide food support for Infinite at their events."

Food support is just one way K-pop fan clubs go all out to prove their dedication.

Many fan clubs also take time to prepare customised banners and signs, but not for their own use. They distribute them to fellow fans at concerts.

Local fan club Sujunimals for example, which supports K-pop group Super Junior, spent $600 to print 6,000 handheld signs to give away at their idols' concert Super Show 5 held at the Singapore Indoor Stadium in July.

The blue-coloured signs, printed with the Korean words for "our promise", were handed out to concertgoers at various entrances to the show venue, with accompanying instructions to hold them up during the band's performance of their last song, So I.

The 18-year-old leader of the fan club, who wants to be known only as Shermaine, explains that the fans wanted "to show the boys we'll promise to love them until the very end, to support them wherever they are, whatever they do, and that Super Junior will forever be in our hearts".

Similar mass distribution of signs and banners by fan clubs have been spotted at past concerts here held by K-pop groups Girls' Generation and Shinee.

Even members of the press are not left out.

When Lee held a press conference at Bugis+ shopping mall ahead of his fan meet in September, his fans prepared 60 goodie bags to give away to the reporters in attendance.

Costing more than $100 each, the bags contained two of Lee's latest albums, plus premiums with his picture printed on them, including a mobile phone case and stickers.

Ms Ko, Lee's fan club chairman, says: "As fans, we want to thank the media who have helped report about him in the past. We also want to give his CDs to them so that they can go home and listen to them and learn more about Lee Seung Gi."

Shermaine of Super Junior fan club Sujunimals points out that all of these activities are done out of "love".

She says: "We want our idols to remember Singapore fans. Other people who see us doing this will think that it is stupid, but for us, we feel that it is a way of showing the group our appreciation."

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