The Rise of the “Masternim’s”

-nim is a Korean honorific suffix used to address someone of a higher status who displays a significant amount of skills and intellect. This honorific is often used by trainees in South Korean music companies to address their CEO and producers, so fans had taken this and applied it to fans who have expertise that not all fans have (knowing Korean, taking high quality photos of idols all the time, etc.), calling them “masternims”.

Isu Mizumi
4 min readMar 23, 2017
(Image Source)

Kpop Idol fan culture is a culture that was founded by people who shared a common interest in KPop and used popular social media sites (Facebook, YouTube, Tumblr, etc.) to connect worldwide. That being said, there is a huge disconnect between people of the culture and the technical side of the websites. The fans themselves do not have a hand in designing and handling the requests on such websites, for they use the sites like any other person. People of cultures that connect over and have grown due to these sites usually don’t have a hand in creating the technology for the sites to run. There are some exceptions for specific sites like Tumblr where users can use HTML to format their blogs and create themes, but other than details like these, users often socialize on these sites more than working on them behind the scenes. There are a couple aspects of the fan culture where the fans actually have a hand in running the technology.

The many lenses collected and used by a fansite to take really high quality photos of their beloved idol/idol groups. (Image Source)

Fans that LEGALLY follow idols during their work schedule to take pictures of them are known as fansites (or to fans, fansite masternims). They travel all over the world (or within South Korea) to follow a specific idol or group and take high-quality photos of them with high-quality DSLR cameras that have telephoto lenses (which are really powerful and great for taking high-quality portrait photos!). From there, they apply the watermark, using a basic photo editor, to the photos so that other fansites will not steal them. Many fans appreciate the work that fansites do as they would upload the photos (often on Tumblr or Twitter) for fans from all over to see and enjoy. Because following idols all the time on their busy schedules can get expensive, fansites capitalize on the interest that fans have and create goods such as photobooks, photocards, or basically anything that can include the face of the idol or group of interest. Because the photos are high-quality, many dedicated fans will feel compelled to buy these products. A lot of the money earned is used to support to support the masternim while some of it is used to buy gifts or donate to charities for his/her subject of interest.

All these gifts were purchased by a fansite for the idol that the fansite follows and gets pictures of. (Image Source)
(Here is an example of a set of goods sold by a Korean fansite on Kpop girl group TWICE’s Nayeon. This includes some of the things that fansites can make or include to showcase their photos as they followed her on her official work schedules — totally legal since it’s the fansite’s photos.)
An example of a high-quality fansite photo of GOT7’s Choi Youngjae. (Image Source)

Many fans love to watch the variety shows that their favorite idols are in, but everything is in Korean. There are, however, many Korean fans or Korean speakers who take time to add English subtitles to the variety shows so that English-speaking fans can understand what their idols are saying. Many fans address these translators as masternims as well because they take the time to benefit the culture by using their expertise in Korean and English to make accurate and helpful translations. A fan that is fluent in both languages can also manage group orders for fansites. Fansites usually only know Korean and have the ability to follow the idol schedules that predominantly take place in South Korea, so if enough people are interested in their products in an English-speaking country like America, fans would need a group order manager (or manager-nim) to communicate with the Korean fansite and place the group order. Group order managers also tend to use social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to begin group orders. The main benefit for hosting group orders is that everyone pays only a little bit for shipping. The more people they have, the cheaper the shipping cost and the faster shipping option they can choose.

The websites that are used by fans are only social platforms run by technology creators that aren’t directly associated with the culture. However, these sites can be used by other fans (particularly masternims) to interact with each other and create a niche market of their own using their own technology and resources to better pursue their personal agendas like earning money to support the idol group of their choice.