On a recent trip to Korea this correspondent inadvertently stumbled upon one of the great untapped demographics for horses racing; K-pop fans.
Obsessive and opinionated, protective and perhaps even slightly deranged, the fandoms of certain K-Pop stars make your average horse racing fiend seem well-adjusted.
It was a trip that turned from fun, switched to surreal and ended up being quite instructive regarding the nature of social media and the average person’s inability to detect humour or differentiate between news and reality. No wonder Donald Trump is leader of the free world, it all makes perfect sense now.
While waiting for the presentation of the Korea Cup in the hope for an interview with Yasunari Iwata, the assembled media were treated to a performance by K-Pop group Laboum.
Never heard of them? Nether had we, and in fact Laboum was a late call-up when the more noteworthy G-Friend was a late scratching due to minor car accident a day earlier.
So it was kind of like one of the favourites being scratched from the Golden Slipper, and a 100-1 shot getting a run as an emergency.
Anyway, Laboum was happy to be there performing, and we were happy enough to sit through three or four minutes of choreographed song and dance.
That three or four minutes was long enough to recall that Iwata doesn’t speak any English beyond the words he uttered in his incredible post-Melbourne Cup speech after he won on Delta Blues in 2006; “Very happy. Super horse.”
The clear stand-out of Laboum, from a talent perspective, was Solbin, and as the group wandered offstage, she happened to be standing nearby answering fans’ requests for photos.
The only time I have ever felt compelled to get a photo with a celebrity previously was with Japanese super stallion Deep Impact while visiting Shadai Stallion Station in Hokkaido, but snapping a pic with Solbin seemed the right thing to do. Everyone else was, interviewing Iwata in English was going to be a waste of time, and given her proximity to me, it would have been kind of rude not to.
Not only am I not particularly fond of celebrity selfies, or is it a welfie? But any regular reader or follower would be aware of the sarcasm that pervades much of my work on Twitter.
In an attempt at self-deprecating humour, I tweeted.
If you are a K-pop fan that hasn’t come across this by now and are reading this for the first time, please stop sharpening that knife and plotting my death, it’s a joke, or at least an attempted one. This was not “trolling”, that is, the practice of setting out to upset a person or group of people on the internet.
Let’s break the joke down for the K-pop fans. Firstly, pound-for-pound (that’s not a pun), horse racing reporters are one of the least healthy and attractive group of people on the planet. They are not, generally speaking, the target of harassment by 20-year-old K-pop idols. Furthermore, K-Pop idols are not pests, they are delightful, at least the one I met was, and they most definitely do not frequent racecourses where I have worked before my stint at the Post.
Kembla Grange races, Bulli trots and Dapto dogs, are three such venues on the outskirts of Wollongong, Australia. These working class tracks are noteworthy for many things, but not K-pop starlets.
Any regular follower of this column would also be aware of the key demographic at Sha Tin, the angry guy with a rolled up newspaper guide with a propensity for paranoia and spitting profanities when a favourite is beaten.
Around 12 hours after the initial #pests tweet, things took a strange turn and the tweets started popping up.
It started with a trickle of tweets at first, calls to “respect Laboum” but also sprinkled with the occasional more aggressive and alarming missive, (i.e. “DIE” or being dubbed “literal cancer”)
Once a K-pop group has reached a certain level of stardom, its fan base is given a nickname, Girls Generation fans are called “Sones”, and Shinee fans “Shawols” and Laboum’s supporters are “Lattes”.
Why Lattes? No idea, but it seemed the Lattes from around the world were getting themselves into a real froth, taking my Tweet on face value, and questioning the veracity of my claim that Solbin had requested the selfie.
Like the kid told not to touch wet paint, I really should have just stopped there, but couldn’t help myself. Now, this is trolling.
Solvin is my fan and you are just jealous— Michael Cox (@KemblaCoxy) September 24, 2017
Note the deliberate misspelling of name to provoke added anger. This stepped things up a notch and abusive tweets started rolling in, and not just a few, hundreds, containing some of the greatest one-liners ever sent out across cyberspace.
“Stale piece of cauliflower”, “face like an uncooked stake” and “decomposing white trash” were all great, but one stood out for its creativity.
As if that goddess asked for a selfie with a man who’s face looks like a toddler tried to carve an easter island statue into a potato https://t.co/bIyr2N8vnB— 我需要张艺兴 (@habibixing) September 25, 2017
That tweet is like an onion – it has layers. Saying somebody has a head like an Easter Island statue is funny, especially when it is true, and that probably would have been good enough. Saying somebody’s head looks like a person tried to carve an Easter Island statue into a potato is even better, but saying a toddler tried to do it is the work of a true genius.
It was as if I had tweeted that Arrogate is better than Frankel ever was, or that Black Caviar was overrated. Which brings us to the original point; imagine of we could harness the obsession of these K-Pop fans and transform them into horse racing fanatics?
Maybe the Korean Racing Authority is on to something having the girls at the track – it’s not just about entertainment, they could save racing. Compulsive and committed to the cause – just what racing needs for a fresh injection of energy. Just don’t tell them Laboum wasn’t the first choice for Seoul that day.