This week, 12-member Korean girl group Loona released its first EP, + +, and immediately assumed the position of K-pop idols. That’s because Loona isn’t new to the K-pop music scene; for nearly 22 months, the group has been releasing music and maintaining a social media presence and in turn, have amassed a dedicated social media following, with one self-spawned meme overlapping between two distinct Twitter communities.
Even in the age of social hype, Loona’s catapult to fame is a phenomenon. The phrase “stan Loona” has become commonplace both in K-pop and queer Twitter communities. Chances are, Loona has made it onto your Twitter feed at least once, whether it was from a K-pop fan or a celebrity like Grimes, Kim Petras, Elon Musk, Kim Chi or Nikki Blonsky from the movie Hairspray.
But how did it happen?
Who the fuck is Loona and why is every gay on my TL a stan?? If she's not Kat De Loona, I don't know her. pic.twitter.com/pWPu0ngm2c— shutup your mouse obama (@MICKJ24) March 9, 2018
Who is Loona?
K-pop idols typically debut either as solo artists or within groups ranging anywhere from two to upwards of 13 members at a time. The debut is a typically standard process in K-pop — groups formally release an album (typically an EP), host a debut showcase and promote its new music on music and variety shows.
Deviation from this process is rare, but Blockberry Creative (Loona’s entertainment company) reverse engineered it. Loona’s members’ names were announced on a monthly basis, hence its Korean name, 이달의 소녀, which translates to “girl of the month.” Along the way, the 12 girls were grouped into three sub-units: Heejin, Hyunjin, Haseul and ViVi form Loona 1/3; Kim Lip, Jinsoul and Choerry are Loona/Odd Eye Circle; Yves, Chuu, Go Won and Olivia Hye form Loona/yyxy; and Yeojin, the fourth member, is not part of a current sub-unit. Prior to its official debut, Loona released 12 single albums, three EPs, two repackage EPs and one single featuring all 12 members. On Aug. 20, Loona released its debut EP, + +, with the title track “Hi High.”
Technically being a pre-debut group, Loona achieved feats that other groups still struggle with: the first music video featuring all 12 members reached over one million views in 24 hours. While collaboration with Western artists isn’t a primary metric of a K-pop group’s success, they collaborated with Grimes on Loona/yyxy’s title track, “Love4eva.” Much of its success is due to Blockberry Creative’s investment in the group — the company provided both the financial and creative support necessary to produce over 20 high-quality music videos before Loona’s official debut.
The phrase “stan Loona” in and of itself isn’t noteworthy. In English-speaking K-pop communities, fans are more likely to be referred to as stans of a group or artist than as a fan. But “Stan Loona” has transcended simple fan vernacular and become a meme and promotional strategy all in one. The phrase, often left in comments under unrelated content, was first intended to promote Loona, given the fact that they came from a lesser-known entertainment company.
At first, “stan Loona” was used in relation to content that actually had something to do with Loona. It was first used early on in Loona’s pre-debut activities as early as Sep. 2016 (following the release of Heejin’s teaser photos). However, as more group members were released, Loona’s fanbase grew as well. Although “stan Loona” became more and more commonplace on K-pop Twitter and other social media, it was still primarily in the context of discussions about Loona itself.
But starting last August, “Orbits,” the name given to Loona fans, began tagging the phrase — typically accompanied by links to Loona music videos — onto unrelated tweets and threads that were already going viral. The strategy aimed to essentially plaster Loona’s name across Twitter into communities that may not have been aware of the group.
Even President Donald Trump got tagged.
Former BuzzFeed cartoonist Adam Ellis included the phrase in a comic about registering to vote.
The strategy isn’t new — in fact, it was employed by fans of now massively popular K-pop group BTS before they rose to greater popularity in 2015 with the release of its title track “I Need U” and The Most Beautiful Moment in Life Pt. 1 EP. Like Loona, BTS came from a relatively small company, BigHit Entertainment. However, BTS’ fans, called ARMY, were equally as passionate — before BTS broke into popularity in 2015, fans took to commenting “any ARMYs here?” under any and every YouTube video, no matter the content. For BTS, the strategy (in addition to chart-topping hits and genuine dedication to youth) panned out.
Now, thanks to Loona fans, the phrase is commonplace both on K-pop stan Twitter and gay Twitter.
Crossing over to Queer Twitter
What sets “stan Loona” apart from similar fan campaigns is the proliferation both of Loona, the group, and “stan Loona,” the meme, into queer Twitter communities. The crossover defines the meme itself: “stan Loona” is defined on Urban Dictionary as “A popular phrase used by twitter gays under every popular tweet encouraging readers to stan Korean girl group Loona.”
It not clear exactly when Loona became a staple on “gay Twitter.” While it’s true that several of Loona’s music videos have queer undertones — Chuu’s “Heart Attack” was heralded by LGBTQ news sites as positive queer representation in K-pop — the music videos tend to play into Loona’s overarching storyline rather than provide clear LGBTQ representation.
Loona’s association with the queer community began long before “Heart Attack” was released in late Dec. 2017. Rather, Kim Lip’s single “Eclipse” seemed to be a tipping point in the association between K-pop Twitter and gay Twitter:
While Kim Lip wore an LGBTQ pride shirt during promotions for her single, “Eclipse” was the focus of the meme association despite the fact that it doesn’t have the same queer undertones as other Loona songs. The music video, which was released in May 2017, lacks an obvious story but has a strong aesthetic. “Eclipse” was a single that was accessible for casual, and in particular, Western fans of the group. Rather than utilizing the cuter concept that had dominated previous Loona releases, Kim Lip’s darker pop sound made her stand out. However, the reason why her single was the one to break over to gay Twitter is still a bit of a mystery despite general agreement that “Eclipse is for the gays.”
Eventually, other queer icons started buying into the trend, most notably RuPaul’s Drag Race alum Kim Chi, a Korean-American drag queen who inquired after both Loona and “Eclipse” in January 2018. Since then, she’s been a fixture among queer Loona fans and consistently reminds her Twitter followers to stan Loona.
In addition, Loona is regularly referred to as a “gays only event” (in reference to this Vine) by fans of all genders due both to Loona’s association with the queer community and the queer undertones in its content. While the phrase is typically applied in an inclusionary and humorous sense, some fans apply it with the intent to exclude.
In its final form, Loona is a staple of gay Twitter to the extent that even those unfamiliar with K-pop are more than willing to drop “stan Loona” in casual conversation.
i went out with some coworkers the other day, this guy asked me what kinda fanart i drew, i said kpop and he said “oh stan loona” i just stared at him before he was like ‘“i dont know what that means but im gay so i see it all the time”— alix ★彡 (@alixdraws) July 31, 2018
“Maybe if you stanned Loona ...”
While “stan Loona” is still predominately used to promote the group, the meme gained a life of its own when fans began to apply it maliciously to tweets. A mutation of the original meme, some Twitter users began to reply to tweets detailing unfortunate events with variations on “maybe if you stanned Loona, this wouldn’t have happened.”
One Twitter user who has since abandoned their account made uneducated comments regarding the LGBTQ community and faced massive backlash. Another user promoted Loona in a reply, stating that if the original poster had been a Loona stan they wouldn’t have made their original comments (which have been deleted).
However, the phrase isn’t completely energized by hate. Playing into recent feuding between Nicki Minaj, Kylie Jenner and Travis Scott regarding the Billboard Hot 200 chart (Minaj’s Queen debuted at #2 to Scott’s Astroworld), one user quipped, “well maybe if you stanned Loona you would’ve gotten that #1.” Other fans use it as a means to cope with concerns ranging from mental illness to pursuing a diploma.
Loona, the world
Overall, “stan Loona” stands out as a particularly effective fan campaign that took on a life of its own. While it garnered fans of the group a significant amount of hate based primarily on pure annoyance, the fact remains that it was successful in its original mission — promoting Loona and developing an international fanbase.
Despite Loona’s recent debut and pre-debut success, it’s unlikely that “stan Loona” will be going anywhere soon. Fans are gunning for a prestigious Rookie of the Year award in addition to pursuing high streaming goals for Loona’s debut album and single. Furthermore, “stan Loona” is a staple of the fandom’s internet presence, and given their passion, likely won’t be given up any time soon.