The Day We Jopped

Do you remember the day we first jopped?

To those unaware, “Jopping” is the combination of “jumping” and “popping”. I’m not a dancer, so I can’t “jump” nor “pop” at the same time, but I’m under the impression that I can every single time I crack yet another joke about the verb coined by “Jopping”, SuperM’s debut title track, released in October last year.

A screenshot I took from the “Jopping” music video page, 12 minutes before it premiered. From left to right: Mark, Ten, Taemin, Taeyong, Lucas, Baekhyun and Kai.

SuperM’s debut season was one of the greatest times of my career as a fan of things. From the initial skepticism with which the project was met, and all the jokes people cracked before some of us realised exactly how huge it was to have all of these amazing artists together in one single group, seeing their separate fandoms coming together to love them or hate them, getting caught in the crossfire, but still having so much fun from getting to know new people and new music I wasn’t very invested in at the time. One mini album, one album, five music videos, a tour, numerous stages and performances of over twenty songs later, we’re still somehow jopping to all of this, as we make our individual ways in the world.

Last week, when their new music video dropped at 1am – for the title track “One”, a mash-up of two other of their songs, “Monster” + “Infinity” – I wasn’t having a particularly good day, nor night. I considered going to bed and watching everything the next morning, but, in honour of the “good old times” – read, last year – I decided to stay. As we began to go through the album, the timeline felt just like October last year all over again, and I was reminded once more of just how much I love being their fan.

SuperM “One”, a mashup of tracks “Monster” and “Infinity”, lead single for their first album

The season around SuperM’s debut was a particularly troubled time of our fan experience on Twitter – by “our” I mean us, their supporters. The aforementioned skepticism with which their debut was met came from different sides – not just their own, suspicious fans, but other fandoms as well – and it reflected badly on us that chose to support them. It might not make a lot of sense to outsiders, but, in the trenches of fandom-making, picking sides might turn into an ugly game if the parties involved are willing enough to take it seriously enough.

At the time, I was working on my essay about Fandoms on Twitter for the BTS Interdisciplinary Conference in London, as well as working double to afford the trip from Brazil to the UK. 2019 was the year I decided to interact with collective fandom again, after a couple of years of enjoying my hobbies solo. This sudden comeback gave me a lot of food for thought, which eventually led me to engaging academically with the topic. It sounded like a great idea at first, but the nights were long and filled with tears, because I felt so alone and so unable to complete what I had decided to do.

Even as I worked on my essay, I still hadn’t realised that this end-of-year journey was my own process of giving birth to the academic fan I had in me. She is the one writing this piece right now.

My own struggles around this time last year surely add to the value of just how good it was to have something that felt so fun and weightless during an especially hard time. I can’t separate how badly my personal life was going from how I perceived everything that happened at the time. But the trope of the lost girl that found herself in a community is an old, overused one, which does not provide enough answers for me – because the question that makes rounds in my head is why everyone else, even those who weren’t particularly struggling at the time, felt the same about this experience we got to share. 

My SuperM mini album – Taemin version, with a Taeyong photocard, the day it arrived. My favourite group chat on Twitter came together because we wanted to discuss which album versions we were going to buy.

Fandoms are inherently religious projects, not just for those who join them, seeking a community to belong to, but for those from whom they are born – the sources of our love, the ones from which we get content and to whom we offer our time, money and full attention in return. The desperate commitment to something so aesthetically appealing, and which can appear bigger than life if you tilt your head the right way, produces religious fanatics in droves, easily driving the most sensible out of their best senses. The digital fandom experience is filled with its own unbelievable kinds of highs and lows, and there isn’t a single reason that explains how our community problems happen. My own theory to digital fandom spaces is an attempt at understanding how artists, admirers, devotees and outsiders interact in/with specific digital social network sites over time and generate their own specific identities. This is why, in order to understand fandoms, I always turn to the sources to understand what birthed them in the first place.

As I’ve mentioned before, there was a lot of collective trouble starting when SuperM was announced, in August 2019. When Taemin, Baekhyun, Kai, Taeyong, Ten, Lucas and Mark were pulled from SHINee, EXO, NCT 127 and WayV to make the group, no one was very sure of what was going to happen – in fact, there were indeed plenty of reasons for the initial skepticism with which the project was met. None of them knew how it would turn out, but neither did any of us, on the other side of the screens. Wishful thinking wasn’t enough of a window into the future, but, as the first teasers dropped, and our collective enthusiasm grew with each new release, I guess this is where the turning point happened – the realisation of just how freaking great the line-up of this group was.

A picture that I downloaded from Twitter, taken during SuperM’s debut showcase at Capitol Records Building. From left to right, we can see the lightsticks of the fandoms that make up SuperM SHINee, EXO and NCT (minus WayV‘s lightstick).

If you know who took this picture, let me know so I can credit them.

In SuperM’s debut, all of my favourite things about being a fan came together to make an unforgettable experience. Nothing felt like a job, or a personality trait I had to hold onto for dear life. In a sense, their debut was a turning point in my fan experience as well, as I realised exactly the type of fan I wanted to be from now on. The images that inhabit my imagination and my memory from those days are filled with, among other things, countless jopping jokes, concept pictures, broken friendships and scenes from always-so-dramatic “I Can’t Stand the Rain” stages, in between dozens of papers I read and dozens of friends I gained and lost along the way. The excitement of anticipating their TV appearances and wondering if our side of the world was about to fall in love with artists we admired so much; appreciating the great interactions between the members, all of them talented beyond measure and committed to help one another as they worked to make this project successful on their end.

Fans’ attachment to the optics of the bond between members can often be their own way of satisfying their craving for stability in the existence of their fannish identities. With a temporary supergroup such as SuperM, there’s no stability besides the assurance that these members are talented and willing to make their time together count. Our network of SuperM Supporters is shaped the same – we’re all happy with the great content, but we’re the happiest that we get to come together from our individual fandoms when it’s time for SuperM to assemble again, like a special party. We’ll be here for whatever the outcome is, because these artists brought us together, and they are worth the views, the listens, and the chance*.

And all of this happened even before the pandemics arrived, and lockdown and quarantines became the norm. SuperM has been just one of the many pieces of fan experience that made the last months easier to bear – watching them on Beyond Live on the first weeks of Quarantine, waiting to see them perform “With You” on Together At Home, discussing with friends, staying up to see everything first hand, waiting for the next teaser, the next single, the next live, the next stage. There was always something to look forward to, even as the world felt out of place. But, even so, even after so much changed, and the world appeared to have become much darker, and we needed even more distraction to cope, the memories that SuperM gave us when we first jopped still feel just as special. Perhaps even more now that we were given a first full album with great songs and great music videos that remind us of just how great this group is, and how much they’re capable of, and how we all want them to succeed altogether.

This is the power of a successful parasocial interaction; both parts are inherently separate and so, so distant, but still enjoying and building something together. I can only hope that these members are having as much fun as we are. All of us deserve that little jumping and popping. 

* Read Also: Kulture Kolumn: The Polarizing Debut of SuperM Riddhi Chakraborty‘s amazing piece about SuperM for Rolling Stone India, which greatly influenced me back then, and still does.

SuperM’s first full album is out now! My personal favourites are Together at Home, Wish You Were Here and Step Up.

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