Concert halls were once filled with the flicker of tiny lighter flames during heartbreaking numbers. Then came the bright flash of phone flashlights. Now, K-pop fandoms use something far more high-tech to show their devotion to their idols: lightsticks.
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K-Pop concerts would not be complete without these bright, beautiful lights. Fans would pay top dollar for a glorified glow stick they’d use once in a blue moon, so why would they do so?
Being relatively new to the K-Pop phenomenon, I had difficulty understanding it. In February, I watched BTS’ “Love Yourself: Speak Yourself” tour. The fans called it “the ocean” – a sea of concertgoers turning their lights on in the dark, bathing the arena in colour and light. For the first time, I witnessed it up close and personal. Wonderful. Amazing. Amazing.
My soul was filled with shit. It was time to buy one.
But then I wondered how we got here? It turns out that their history goes much deeper than just being a cool concert souvenir.
The humble lightstick is the subject of this story.
Lightsticks: what are they?
With a similar look to a magical girl anime wand and a powerful flashlight, these LED sticks are powered by AAA batteries and feature Bluetooth connectivity. The idols define not just the group’s identity, but the community surrounding them as well.
Lightsticks are as ubiquitous as they come, especially in groups from the “big three” of SM, YG, and JYP Entertainment. There are some that are elegant, some that are extremely intricate, all are like miniature works of art.
The shape is often customised by groups. Their designs are often based on their logo or another easily recognizable fandom reference. Plants (Highlight) and even vegetables (MAMAMOO) are among the weapons (BLACKPINK). Due to their uniqueness, lightsticks easily become collector’s items. VIXX fans could purchase six lightsticks of Version 1 to form a full star before 2016.
As the group’s fan groups have nicknames, each lightstick has its own name – EXO’s Pharynx, TWICE’s Candy Bong, and BTS’s Army Bomb (which we don’t recommend saying near any kind of security or police).
The more popular the band becomes, and the higher the concert production value, the more involved the lightsticks can be. Perhaps you’ll see a sea of one particular colour, or perhaps a rainbow of colours will change. Flashy or simple, they’re ultimately all ways for fans to collaborate – a way to show their heroes just how much they care.
With each new generation of groups, the design and capabilities of lightsticks have improved.
Lightstick history of K-Pop’s brightest oceans
The communal hype has always existed in K-Pop, regardless of which generation it comes from.Mashable spoke with Jayu, a K-Pop fan for over ten years who has participated in many fan projects and has a deep understanding of the tradition of lightsticks.
In earlier generations of fandom, groups such as SHINHWA, SEO TAIJI & BOYS, H.O.T, g.o.d, and S.E.S. used colored raincoats, balloons, and paper to show solidarity and strength.