Unseen international music idol femslash

Elaine Han Lin

[0.1] Abstract—One sector of femslash appears to have developed in relative isolation from the rest. This sector is international music idol femslash.

[0.2] Keywords—Fan community; Music; Real person fiction; RPF

Lin, Elaine Han. 2017. "Unseen International Music Idol Femslash." In "Queer Female Fandom," edited by Julie Levin Russo and Eve Ng, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 24.

[1] A post on Tumblr says simply, "The lesbians of tumblr just travel like a flock from fandom to fandom." As of mid-2016, it had over 7,000 notes. Another continues the bird metaphor, saying, "lesbians just migrate from fandom to fandom depending on the time of the year. like gay birds." It had over 60,000 notes. A popular addendum is a GIF depicting a flock of flamingos moving from a space marked The 100 to one marked Fear the Walking Dead, referring to how fans followed actor Alycia Debnam-Carey to the latter show (where she does not play a queer character) after her character on the former show was killed off. AfterEllen has an article titled "Lesbian Loyalty: Why We'll Follow Some Actors and Writers Anywhere" (Hogan 2011), speaking of how queer women go beyond just hunting down every whiff of media representation to keep tabs on the careers of actors and creators long after their first queer role or production.

[2] Both online conventions like FemSlashCon and more traditional ones like Thank Goodness It's Femslash (TGIF/F) offer panels devoted to singing the praises of diversity and representation in fiction. Congoers testify about how fictional ships and characters were instrumental in their own identity formation, how they learned of their own queerness.

[3] But some areas remain relatively segregated. Real-person shipping remains as controversial as ever, with both TGIF/F and FemSlashCon declining to discuss the topic. International non-English-language media is dependent on the production of subtitles or the release of an English translation to get some attention in English-speaking fandom. Only a few animated ships seem to penetrate the greater femslash consciousness. Only one of those, Haruka/Michiru, is from a source that is not in English, and its show, Sailor Moon (1992–97) was broadcast as a Saturday-morning cartoon all over the world, dubbed into local languages. Put all of that together, and the most niche femslash category would have to be real-person fandom in languages other than English.

[4] Such a fandom exists, and it is quite robust. It's just not connected to the anglophone sphere that the term "femslash" usually refers to.

[5] Music idols aren't a foreign concept to America (note 1). My generation grew up in the mid-1990s, with the Spice Girls, Britney Spears, NSYNC, the Backstreet Boys. Our adolescence also saw the next wave, with the likes of Miley Cyrus, Ariana Grande, and Taylor Swift. Shipping music idols isn't a new thing either. Fanlore ( maintains 19 subcategories and 38 pages under the "Music RPF" category.

[6] But as a geeky Asian American, instead of paying attention to the American pop mainstream, I wandered my way through anime into watching girls around my age singing and dancing on stages in Japan and Korea: J-pop and K-pop idols.

[7] Shipping idols together is a common pastime in Asian idol fandom. The first episode of SNL Korea featured a skit recreating the events of a famous boy band fan fiction story. There's international academic scholarship on idol femslash (Yang and Bao 2012). Idol shipping is fairly popular even outside of Asia. On the highest ranked international K-pop fan site, Allkpop (, articles have titles such as "10 of the Most Popular K-Pop Fan-Fictions Out There," "11 Ships You Wish Were Real," and "7 Times Hani Proved to Be Totally Shippable." On the J-pop fan forum site JPHIP (, there are two forums dedicated to idol pairings and about half a dozen forums and archives dedicated to idol fan fiction. The lesbiansubtextinkpop Tumblr posted over 2,300 posts from 2011 to 2013. On the Archive of Our Own (AO3;, there are over 6,000 fan stories tagged J-pop, over 60,000 tagged K-pop, and several dozen tagged C-pop.

[8] The idols themselves are aware of and deliberately play up to fans' shipping interests, sometimes directed to do so by their management and marketing departments and sometimes not. The most popular male and female members of the mixed-gender J-pop group AAA sang a series of love song duets across multiple albums. Music videos and concert skits had them playing a couple (note 2). Notably, however, the kiss that actually occurred in a concert was between two male members. The K-pop boy band TVXQ released two DVD box sets that each included a disc devoted to a segment titled "Couple Talk," in which each combination of members discussed why fans had paired them together and promoted their supposed closeness to each other. Popular J-pop girl group AKB48 has had at least 14 different pairs of members perform the song "Oshibe to Meshibe to Yoru no Chouchou," which describes a lesbian affair. Performances include a kiss at the end, with some girls going for a visible lip-lock instead of hiding the act behind suggestive head tilts.

[9] One Tumblr poster mused on the motivations behind such shipping, especially considering that most femslash shippers appeared to be straight fans: "For me, it's obvious why people might spend their time looking for homoerotic subtext to K-pop: there is an implied intimacy within K-pop (between idols and fans but also between the idols themselves) that is not so much present in Western pop. Intimacy being one of the main qualities I look for in art, this is probably one big reason I gravitate towards it" (occupiedterritories, Tumblr, June 21, 2012). The poster also touched on the usual interest in the love lives of celebrities that drives tabloid sales.

[10] For me, shipping Asian pop idols was mostly just the application of standard geek passion to my particular fandom. The vast wells of available source material enabled me to relate intensely to, and project my imagination onto, the subjects of my interest. There weren't just music videos and concert performances, but also TV variety show appearances, specialty events like sports tournaments, and behind-the-scenes footage, which really meant that a camera had been set up backstage at concerts and at photo shoots for the idols to perform shenanigans in front of while waiting to be called up. These were real people pursuing their dreams and playing out real relationships right in front of my eyes. These were group members spending the majority of their days in each other's company, and their synergy was far more critical to their success than it was in typical coworker settings. I got to see more of these peoples' lives and relationships than most normal people ever get to see of their actual friends'.

[11] Furthermore, everyone involved in idol fandom—idols and fans alike—were very much aware of how important physical attractiveness was to an idol's popularity. There was no taboo against fans of any gender publicly crushing on or just lusting after an idol online. In Asia, men are the primary fans of female idols, but in the transnational English-language fandom, idol fans were seen as feminized, and those insecure in their masculinity thus avoided the fandom. As a result, the English-language idol fandom contained a sizable female presence. This meant that there were many female fans saying, of various female idols, "I'd go gay for her." So within certain idol fan communities, femslash was a means through which female fans could explore queer expressions of identity without being scrutinized for it (snsd_ffa, LiveJournal, July 19, 2011).

[12] Asian idol femslash was not so different from traditional fictional media femslash except that the canon was real, and perhaps more relevantly, there was a steady supply of in-depth source material, more than a fictional production could have ever provided. In an informal anonymous survey, idol fan fiction authors tended to see little difference between idol fan fiction and regular fan fiction, except that adherence to characterization was stricter in the former (snsd_ffa, LiveJournal, November 10, 2010). They also considered the benefits of representation in idol fan fiction to be similar to those of representation in traditional fan fiction. Some fans have been inspired by the apparent queerness displayed by idols to be more open about their own sexuality (pink-wota, LiveJournal, March 14, 2008).

[13] But idol shipping remained firmly in the fantasy realm. Fans did not have to fear that a writer would screw up the characters' characterization, but industry executives might meddle behind the scenes. Fans might have oodles of canon, but it would never be confirmed. Most female idols go on to marry a man after they retire from idoling. Even as Korea's and Japan's paparazzi leap at the chance to break celebrity scandals, just like in the West, outing someone as homosexual remains a taboo (Pann 2016). Gal pals forever.

[14] Despite its popularity, idol shipping is as controversial as any RPF. When I searched the K-pop fan site Seoulbeats for the term "shipping," five of the first 10 results were editorials critical of the practice, specifically same-sex shipping. Another relegated fan fiction to the realm of guilty pleasures.

[15] So, as stated before, Asian idol shipping is a niche within a niche fandom, all but ignored within traditional anglophone femslash. AfterEllen contains two posts under its K-pop tag, only one of which might be tangentially relevant to shipping. The site has no J-pop tag. Autostraddle's sole K-pop post does not mention shipping, and J-pop has a single mention, in an interview with an American band. Searches on geek-media Web sites return even sparser results since those sites are focused on narrative storytelling. One fan noted that of the top 100 femslash pairings on AO3, the only characters from nonnarrative media came from women's soccer RPF (centrumlumina, Tumblr, July 8, 2015). In the archive for 2015's Femslash Exchange, there's one entry for the anime Love Live! School Idol Project (2013–) and one entry for American actor RPF.

[16] Meanwhile, the AsianFanfics archive contains over 800,000 entries. The primary fan site for the K-pop girl group Girls Generation contains over 200 topics and 290,000 comments in its Soshi Pairings forum, and includes over 7,000 topics and 870,000 comments in its fan fiction forum. Unsearchable and uncountable accounts across all sorts of social media platforms (forums, individual fan sites, Wattpad, Tumblr, LiveJournal) tweet and blog and post and reblog their favorite ships, out of sight of the rest of fandom. And the weekend after attending TGIF/F in 2016, I was flying right back to Houston to see J-pop girl group Morning Musume, with a completely different social circle.


1. One might think of Beatlemania, and before that, Frank Sinatra's "Bobby Soxer" fangirls. Before their more famous idol debuts, Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake were members of the Mickey Mouse Club. An earlier iteration of the club had produced teen idol Annette Funicello, who would become known for her beach party films with Frankie Avalon. The connection to Asian idol fandom would be made years later by Crisp (2009).

2. Kimitsu (2009) considers why some fans are so attached to the pairing of the male and female AAA members.

Works cited

Crisp, Quentin S. 2009. "Annette Funicello: Modest Mouseketeer and Ideal Idol." Ray Mescallado Archives, February 13.

Hogan, Heather. 2011. "Lesbian Loyalty: Why We'll Follow Some Actors and Writers Anywhere." After Ellen, August 19.

Kimitsu. 2009. "Black, White, and Gray." Ray Mescallado Archives, April 10.

Pann. 2016. "Rumors of an Exclusive Media Report on a Same Sex Idol Couple." Netizen Buzz, March 12.

Yang, Ling, and Hongwei Bao. 2012. "Queerly Intimate: Friends, Fans and Affective Communication in a Super Girl Fan Fiction Community." Cultural Studies 26 (6): 842–71.