On Saturday 30th May, I settled down in the comfort of my room in front of my tablet to join several tens of thousands of fans from all over the world for the first of GMM TV’s Global Live Fan Meetings, a livestream concert event for fans of the Thai celebrities Krist Perawat and Singto Prachaya. These two actors, famous for their portrayal of Arthit and Kongpop respectively in the hit Boys Love (series wai) drama SOTUS have emerged as one of the most popular “ships” (or khu jin) within Thai BL fandom. The livestream – hosted on the V LIVE app – represents an important watershed moment for the development of Thai BL fandom and I will share a few preliminary thoughts on the event here.
The online fan meeting – the first event of its kind run by Thailand’s GMM Grammy corporation, the largest producer of popular culture content within the kingdom – represents the logical end game of a series of fan concerts and fan meetings held for Krist and Singto throughout Asia. Ostensibly aired as part of the company’s broader response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the cancellation of physical fan meetings, the global live also fits into the aims stated in GMM’s 2018 annual report of becoming “a leader of fully integrated entertainment business and to engage with consumers through multi channels (sic).” In fact, the concert was produced in GMM’s newly minted “Creative Space,” a training space similar to those owned by Korean entertainment companies designed to train up-and-coming idols.
Fan meetings and concerts have become essential to the idol production industry that has been emerging around Thai BL. Krist and Singto have participated in over 20 such concerts to date, the most notable including SOTUS S Nation, Y I Love You and Peraya Party. These concerts, Natthanai Prasannam notes, seek to mobilise fannish nostalgia and attraction to performed homoeroticism in order to make large profits for GMM. These concerts form an important part of Thailand’s emerging “BL Machine,” a concept I have developed to describe the ways in which GMM and other Thai entertainment companies seek to co-opt grassroots women’s fandom culture for homoerotic performance into Thailand’s broader culture industries. Thai BL fan concerts figure prominently in the strategic use of Boys Love to promote GMM’s artists, representing an important source of profit for the company (especially in bringing in money from overseas fans). Incidentally, the cost of a ticket to the Global Fan Meeting was approximately 900 baht (USD $28).
The structure of the fan meeting was as follows: firstly, the two charismatic stars sang some songs (as they often do in their usual physical fan concerts); secondly, the stars interacted with fans from all over the world via Zoom and the V Live chat to answer the questions of “lucky fans.” This process was then repeated with a game thrown into the middle where fans helped Krist and Singto play a game of charades (with Singto losing and being punished with having to dance). The event climaxed with a celebration of the couple’s global fandom “Peraya” and the artists conducting “ending ments” to reflect on their past, present and future. Throughout, the hosts P’Godji and P’Wave provided (limited) simultaneous interpreting into Chinese and there was also (limitted) live English subtitling. During the event, fans’ screens were projected onto the background of the stage as can be seen in the above photo, facilitating games between Krist and Singto and their Peraya fans and providing an “audience” of sorts to confer a sense of liveness and excitement to the concert.
If this set-up seems familiar, it may be because it mimics some of the tactics that have been deployed by South Korean production companies as a method of promoting their artists. Indeed, the very use of the V Live app – typically utilised to allow fans of K-pop to interact with their favourite idols – reveals something important about the nature of the growing Thai BL pop culture industry. That is, that the mechanisms of production and the practices of fannish support central to Thai BL consciously and explicitly mimic the practices of K-pop idols and their passionate fandom. This is something that I have already posted about here.
Nowhere is this clearer than when Krist and Singto interacted with the “lucky fans” to answer their questions via a series of Zoom conference calls. Responding to questions presented by fans from Thailand, Malaysia, Japan, the Philippines, Mexico, Italy and the United States, this question and answer section mimicked one of the cornerstones of the global K-pop industry: After School Club. After School Club is a live show in which K-pop idols interact with their global fans live through the use of simultaneous interpreting and various online tools (such as Google Hangouts). Suk-Young Kim, in her book K-Pop Live, points to ASC as an important driver for the globalisation of K-pop fandom, arguing that the show facilitates a strong sense of intimacy between stars and fans through the collapsing of borders between idols living in Korea and fans all over the world.
To my mind, GMM is consciously following this model of promotion and production pioneered and perfected by the Korean entertainment industry. Further, last Saturday’s show deliberately and strategically selected a broad range of fans from diverse regions of the globe to highlight the explicitly global nature of the fandom. The show – perhaps with a lack of subtlety – pushed a narrative of globality, suggesting that Thailand was just as important a player in the global marketplace as K-pop (or other passionate global fandoms). Krist and Singto – performing moving songs and staged homoerotic intimacy – were positioned as global stars and idols who were just as prominent on the world stage as K-pop idols. Seeing the response from fans such as in the tweet excerpted below (which was posted just before the concert), it certainly seems that a shift is occurring and Thai popular culture fandom is growing in prominence.
Whilst I was swept away with the emotions of the livestream (I am an open and loud Peraya who has supported Krist and Singto for almost 4 years now), I do believe that there are numerous wrinkles to be ironed out before these shows will be truly impactful.
For one, there was little English language support and too much focus placed on providing Chinese-language interpreting (speaking to the size of the Chinese language fandom, but not a strategic choice when you are seeking to globalise). Second, ironing out technical difficulties will be key. I also think, given the huge explosion in fandom in Japan, it would have been better to provide Japanese language support (but I would like to commend the Japanese fans for providing translations in the chat!). These were similar issues that the Korean entertainment industry faced in the early 2000s and the massive success of the Korean Wave can, in part, be attributed to careful attention (and manipulation) of the power of English and Japanese within the global pop culture industry (for better or worse, these two languages have more cultural capital than Chinese in global terms).
It’s clear that this is a new world for GMM and they are still not fully equipped to respond to the rapid globalisation of the fandom for Thai BL. Investment needs to be made into providing language and technical support and the company needs to rely less on fan labour. But with this fan meeting – and the three more to go for the rest of June – I can see that Thai BL fandom and its attendant celebrity culture are becoming an increasingly important global force.