Weverse is the biggest space for music fandoms, ever—and you’ve probably not even signed up yet.
Stan Twitter is where you’ll find the BTS ARMY, Directioners, Swifties and Barbz organising listening parties for album drops. YouTube is the place to watch music videos, also known as MVs, with over 2.5 billion users accessing the site once a month. Discord is home to a growing community of music fans hungry to connect with their favourite artists. And, of course, stans live on TikTok too:
But HYBE Co. Ltd (formerly known as Big Hit Entertainment, the company behind Kpop kings BTS) is now on a mission to gather the biggest stans around the world, all in one place. There are big plans for South Korea-based Weverse, its “global fandom life platform” which listed 6.8 million monthly users in 2022.
But first things first, what is it? It’s not quite a social network like Facebook, nor an exclusive club for megafans. Even Scooter Braun, manager to artists such as Justin Bieber, Demi Lovato, and Martin Garrix, has joined the mission to make Weverse huge in the West after recently selling his company Ithaca Holdings LLC to HYBE for $1.05 billion.
In that agreement, Braun sold his management deals, music publishing assets, and some of Big Machine Label Group, a company that the business magnate’s Ithaca Holdings acquired back in 2019—remember when Braun sold the master rights to Taylor Swift’s first six albums for $300 million? Ouch. This took HYBE’s roster of global artists (now including Bieber, Ariana Grande and HYBE’s rival agency YG Entertainment’s biggest girl group, BLACKPINK) to over 80.
HYBE wants to deliver feelings of intimacy fans can’t experience with their idols on any other platform—going beyond the traditional ‘Fancafe’ experience so popular with stans in South Korea.
Starting in 2013, BTS members could interact with fans by liking their comments and posts, ‘taking over’ the chat individually when they felt like it. Once available through a platform called Daum, the BTS fan community was then moved to Weverse in 2019. And clearly, the band’s been doing something right—BTS have won the Top Social Artist award for five years consecutively at the Billboard Music Awards, only one less than the Biebs himself.
Right now, Weverse is free to use, but access to certain areas of the platform is restricted by a paywall, and the Global Weverse Shop famously adds extortionate shipping fees to seemingly reasonable prices for merch, music, and so on.
If current trends continue as they are, will die-hard fans be locked into a ‘pay-to-play’ nightmare, where access to the best content from artists will cost even more, on top of already extortionate concert ticket prices? I spoke to some of them in order to get their thoughts on Weverse’s inevitable rise in popularity and what it will mean for the groupies of the world’s wallet.
“It’s nice bonding time,” says BTS stan Jess, whose name has been changed to protect her anonymity. “It was amazing when you’d write a post that trended and tons of fans saw it, because the band might actually spot it and ‘cheer’ you. That’s the best feeling in the world! I don’t care what it costs,” she continued.
“You really get to know the band. I remember once, Jin told off a user because they were messaging so late at night and he wanted to go to sleep. That was so cute. I felt like I was in love with him. Part of me still does, if I’m totally honest.”
If you’ve been watching Amazon Prime’s recent series Swarm, which was created by Donald Glover and Janine Nabers and explores the dynamics of celebrity fandom, you’re likely thinking about parasocial relationships, and how unhealthy they could become.
Swarm highlights the toxic traits of stan culture, where fans treat artists as entities they have ownership of. Protagonist Dre is deep into a parasocial relationship (when people think they know a celebrity intimately, while the other party is completely unaware of their existence). She will stop at nothing to get close to the object of her affection, Ni’Jah (a fictional character modelled on none other than Beyoncé).
These situations are (unsurprisingly) becoming more common IRL, leading artists to feel the pressure to ‘authenticate’ themselves to fans with exclusive content. Weverse promises photos, messaging and text updates, all to reveal the ‘real’ artist and help them remain popular and relevant.
This culture is rife in the entertainment industry. For example, in March 2023, a clip of movie star Pedro Pascal refusing to read needlessly sexual tweets about himself during a press interview went viral.
Then there’s also the poor moderation of fan-made posts to consider. Like many other social media platforms, Weverse has faced criticism for inadequate moderation, allowing racist and hateful remarks to be posted, which can harm both the artists and their fans.
That being said, it should also be noted that the toxicity can go both ways. In September 2022, Nicki Minaj landed in hot water when she was accused of encouraging her fans to send death threats to her critics, to which they duly obliged.
For good or bad, stans are powerful. There’s a reason rich businessmen want control of where they meet, organise, and ultimately, spend their money. Who could forget when Kpop fans disrupted a Trump rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, by registering for hundreds of seats they were never going to fill? Or the time they spammed a white supremacist hashtag with fancams and hilarious memes?
A company like Weverse pouring resources into making documentaries, chat rooms, exclusive concerts and TV shows for members is undoubtedly awesome for fans of the musicians its works with. But at what price will these experiences come? Why are they so important to gen Z?
SCREENSHOT consulted psychotherapist Eloise Skinner, who explained that the rise in mega fandoms likely reflects a couple of basic human instincts: “Connection, belonging, community and shared values, for example. Group identities and strong connections with a community are obviously not new to us as humans, but the rise of digital-first interactions (intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic isolation periods) can see this instinct play out in a virtual world.”
In many ways, fandoms are positive, the expert went on to add, “A fandom community could help us to craft or discover an identity for ourselves—which might be particularly significant as individuals navigate the transition between teenager and adult.”
But without dedication to time spent in the real world, fans could become disconnected, and lonelier than ever. “Ultimately, even if we find fandom communities to be a welcome break from the challenges of everyday life, we do have to continue to exist within our own lives, engaging with the full spectrum of our realities. And, in some circumstances, a full-scale immersion into digital life could leave us feeling more disconnected from the real-world relationships we have with those around us,” Skinner added.
While there are tons of great features on Weverse, it still feels like early days. Used in moderation, and if all parties remain respectful of each other and the community, a digital artist-to-fan social media like Weverse should elicit positive experiences. A place to “discover passions, preferences, and connections,” as Skinner told me.
Whether it’ll cost fans half their rent money (or their connection to the real world) remains to be seen.