Organizing an idol meet-and-greet in a pandemic

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From acrylic dividers to less fan benefits, the pandemic has majorly affected how celebrities are given a chance to interact with their fans during events. Photo courtesy of CDM ENTERTAINMENT

In a now viral clip on TikTok captioned “yassified goodbye session,” the K-pop idol BamBam is standing behind a clear acrylic divider, waving as fans pass by him in succession as event staff and security look on. Within a split second, a girl in purple pants passes by him and twirls dramatically, leaving a visibly impressed BamBam to say “oooh.”

The fan in the video is 24-year-old Cy, who goes by the username @doublebeom on Twitter and TikTok, and the idol in question is the 25-year-old BamBam of the K-pop group Got7, who was in town for a few events to promote his latest solo EP “B.”

Cy has been a Got7 fan for years now, and BamBam is her favorite member. Though she was unable to secure a slot for a one-on-one album signing opportunity in which she would’ve been given time to talk to him, she got a pass for the fansign as a spectator. The pass gave her access to the “goodbye session,” which meant she’d be able to wave goodbye to him on her way out of the venue.

“Kasi I was thinking na hmm… how do I make this goodbye session memorable?” she said while recounting her twirling stunt to me a few weeks after the event. “And that’s the answer I ended up with.” After Cy posted the video on TikTok, she didn’t expect it to blow up the way it has. As of this writing, it has over two million views and hundreds of comments lauding her for eliciting a unique reaction from the K-pop star.

Such scenes are not out of the ordinary in K-pop stan land. The limited time for these types of idol interactions encourage a lot of creativity from fans who want to stand out.

Korean fanmeets and fansigns are like regular celebrity meet-and-greets, but with programs specifically designed for fans to get closer to their idols. Pre-pandemic, a standard fanmeet in the Philippines would be a two to three hour event, complete with a question-and-answer session with a host, a few games with lucky fans, and a hi-touch session (where fans are able to high five the celebrity on their way out of the venue). If the idol is feeling generous, a musical performance or two could also be thrown in along with a portion where they walk to the audience.

Fansigns like CDM Entertainment’s “BamBam Fansign in the Philippines” events meanwhile, involve more one-on-one moments between the idol and lucky fans who purchase their album.

BamBam with fans who attended his fansign in Manila last July 28. Photo courtesy of CDM ENTERTAINMENT

But if these moments were harder to capture pre-pandemic due to camera restrictions in the venue, it seems that fan creativity bloomed tenfold after fansigns were shifted online. The Thai TikToker binggy is one fan who always takes fansign preparations to the next level. She went viral for asking several K-pop idols to join her while singing and dancing to various renditions of the Twice song “Alcohol-Free” during her virtual fansign experiences.

BamBam’s Manila fansign was actually Cy’s third experience of seeing him up close. In January, she also went viral for videos she posted of her BamBam online fansign experiences, which involved him following her Spotify playlist and dancing to the viral Yung Lean song “Ginseng Strip 2002.”

BamBam was one in a recent string of Korean celebrities who visited the Philippines for fanmeets and concerts once restrictions for large-scale events and international travel were lowered between May to June. The week prior to BamBam’s Cebu and Manila fansigns, CDM Entertainment also brought in former GFriend member Yerin and BamBam’s Got7 co-member Youngjae for their own solo fanmeets. And in June, actors Kim Soo Hyun and Hwang In Youp dropped by for fanmeets organized by Filipino brands they are endorsing.

Got7 member Youngjae also visited Manila for a fansign and mini concert the week prior. Photo courtesy of CDM ENTERTAINMENT

Astro member and actor Cha Eun Woo also held his own fanmeet at the Smart Araneta Coliseum, and more events of a similar nature are still being announced. But how exactly are these event organizers adjusting to pandemic health protocols?

CDM Entertainment managing director Carmina Manuel said that the biggest difference in planning fanmeets these days comes in the consideration of health and safety protocols.

“Recreating the magic from back when there were no health restrictions is tricky,” she said. Behind the scenes, the team “took extra steps to ensure everyone’s well-being,” with staff members taking antigen tests before the event, and employing the presence of more medical officers.

Since fanmeets and fansigns are known in the K-pop world to be very interactive, Manuel said that a lot of the protocols are dependent on questions like “‘Will the artist be okay doing this?’” and ‘Will the fans be okay with this?’”

BamBam requested that the staff remove the clear plastic barrier that was placed in front of him during the fansign. Photo courtesy of CDM ENTERTAINMENT

With this, most of the close encounters between the idols and fans featured plastic barriers to minimize contact, though some of the idols chose to remove them. Still, management made tweaks to the usual program flow to ensure everyone’s safety. “Game participation had to be limited. Fan benefits had to be tweaked,” added Manuel. “For example, ‘Hi-touch’ was changed to Goodbye Session to minimize contact between the artist and the fan while still allowing the fan to closely interact with the artist.”

It seems that after two years of only seeing their favorite artists on screen, having the chance to finally see them up close was worth it.

“There were moments where I would just stare at him and watch him do what genuinely makes him happy and that alone was enough to bring me unconditional joy as his fan for years already,” said Cy, who also partnered with other fans to prepare gifts and a video surprise for the fanmeet. “It made me feel at ease that at last, I was able to give back to BamBam the happiness he would often give me. I’ve been on a quiet break now from being an active fan but if [he] were to return, 10/10 I would do it again."