Idol Hands: How China’s Super Fan Groups Make and Break Stars Via the Multi-Million Dollar “Fan Economy”

–This article first appeared on RADII China.

It can spark searing social media wars, send idol imagery into space, and even upset Arianna Grande by disrupting the US iTunes charts — not to mention generate millions of dollars in revenue. But what really is the so-called “Fan Economy” and why is understanding how it works so crucial to the world of contemporary Chinese celebrity?

Even though I covered the “Fan Economy” back in July, when I reported on Chinese authorities vowing to protect teens from internet reality shows, I must confess that I underestimated both the youth and power of this influential bloc of online fandom. While at first glance appearing to be a phenomenon limited to teenage fans and their limited pocket money, China’s Fan Economy has in fact grown into a standalone business — even an industry — that is built on fans’ fickle love of their favorite idols, as well as a complex network connecting talent, agents, social media channels, and major online video platforms.

Take, for example, the sudden emergence of pop boy group Nine Percent, a product of iQIYI reality program Idol Producer, and Rocket Girls from Tencent Video’s similar hit show Produce 101. Fans generated over 20 and 40 million RMB, respectively, for each show, proving their economic power and surprising the market.

These numbers can be attributed to highly efficient online fan clubs, which have company-like structures usually consisting of formal departments such as Core Management, Art Design, Copywriting, Data, Comment Control, Public Relations, Finance, and Frontline — the last of which deals with direct, offline engagement. Hundreds of fans in these clubs concertedly coordinate online and offline efforts to support their idol of choice, and to make him or her appear more attractive and influential to viewers and brands.

Group members in the Frontline department frequently go to the airport to welcome or see off their idols, usually in large crowds. Some fans in these groups become photographers, taking close-up photos wherever their idol shows up. These scenes at Pudong Airport as Korean singer Junsu walks out give you an idea:

Writing in the Chinese version of GQ, one fan who was an idol photographer and ran a website and social media account with updates on her favorite idols’ latest news and photos, states there are thousands of people like her out there, referred to collectively as “Site Sisters”. According to the author in GQ‘s article, quite a few Site Sisters are girls like her: raised in a rich family, and a graduate from one of China’s top universities. Continue to read the full story here.