Previously in this series, An Introduction to Idol Limerence and BTS, the experience of limerence was defined and explored with the added context of Jungian psychology, and Giddens’ self-reflexive identity.
If you’re thinking tl;dr, don’t worry, this is what you need to know so far.
Limerence is a cognitive and emotional state of loving adoration and attachment felt towards another person, the limerent focus. Limerence is not reciprocated and is experienced as ruminative thinking and fantasising which one cannot control. There are many positive feelings, limerence is in many ways the feeling of first falling in love. However, limerence is characterised by experiences of depression and anxiety.
It is the argument of this series that limerence can be reframed as a potentially transformative experience and language for social movement.
Future articles will represent BTS’s Kim Namjoon, also known as RM, as an exemplar for this. RM is using his immense social and cultural influence to create positive social change; harnessing limerence experienced towards him and his idol group. However, before we get to RM, we must first come to understand the concept of idol which this article aims to do.
In a rapidly changing world, consumer-culture has given rise to the immense social, cultural and political power of celebrity, and in more recent times, the idol. Reigning from the cultural powerhouse of South Korea (hereafter, Korea) comes the almighty K-pop (Korean pop) industry which has given new meaning to the word idol. Idol specifically refers to K-pop artists, often in the form of groups, who have undergone rigorous training in music, dance, speech and image. All in order to take on designated personality roles — a persona — to better play the part of über talented all-singing, all-dancing, often rapping proprietor of uncommon potent eye contact.
The addition of this new form of celebrity brings about the need for a new type of limerence to be explored: idol limerence, wherein the limerent focus is an idol who is purposefully playing the role of limerent focus. This can be also understood as a parasocial relationship. Parasocial refers to a one-sided relationship, similar in this regard to the experience of limerence, where one person expends emotional energy, showing great interest in the limerent focus, and the other party, aptly named the persona is completely unaware of the limerent persons existence .
This parasocial relationship, or parasocial kin, is maintained and perpetuated by K-pop’s fabricated idols; and the fans themselves. From this comes a new range of complexity, and a shared lived-experience of adoring fans globally. Most of whom are young, and without the resources to safely address and work with their varied situations, as the resources simply do not exist. Idol limerence not only runs parallel to the phenomenon of idol, and fuels the fire of popularity, but comprises the phenomenon of idol in and of itself.
As mentioned before, there is no such thing as coincidence under capitalism. From the screaming so-called hysterical — predominantly female — fans of The Beatles in 1964 to K-pop boy band BTS breaking records with 78 million video views in just 24 hours in 2019; true love attachments fostered in fans result in greater profit margins. But does this diminish the lived-experience of fans or that of idol’s themselves? Simply put: no. All it does is make for a far more complex issue than just that of limerence or idol alone.
Idol, not idle
In the West, the term idol has often been used to describe a singer, such as on popular television series American Idol and its international counterparts. However, the use of the word in popular culture dialogue has all but died out. Bar the television series, which somehow is still alive and kicking. Strange…
In Asia and the rest of the non-Western world which, much to the surprise of the West, does contain a majority population, Idol is something else entirely. Originally, idol was used to refer to something God-like, an object or a person treated with reverence and subsequently worshipped. In contemporary culture idol still has its original meaning, but is used more broadly to refer to Korean musical artists who have acquired devoted fans. Though the mode of idol being that of worshipped, revered, respected, is the same, perhaps the uniqueness of the term has disappeared with the uprising of mass-produced musical acts coming from Korea.
In Korea, and the rest of the world, idol can be both a revered term, and an insult.
On the one hand, idols are the embodiment of their idealised culture, with all their many faces and personalities. They are by all means Korea in human form. Idols are affluent, positive forces of good and icons for the masses to look up to, and model their lives upon. On the other, idols represent the status quo. The dominant and heavily patriarchal force of mass-culture that bulldozes everything else — deemed genuine and pure — out of its way on its trajectory to total world domination.
The Korean idol is not an accident; idols are not made overnight. Rather they are scouted or auditioned, and trained as rookies for many years — a period characterised by poverty, financial hardship and distress — before fully assuming their assigned identity and, if they’re lucky enough, debuting. Along with this comes the ability to dish out uncommon potent eye contact as easily as shrugging, and the ease of sharing many aspects of their lives to the masses.
All other arguments aside for the time being, an idol and a person experiencing limerence have a few intersecting commonalities. The most important of which is persona.
Idol is a constructed identity which hides ones true inner nature
A constructed identity can also be known as a persona
Idol is persona
Persona is created, and perhaps even maintained in a fantasy state
This is where persona meets limerence as:
Limerence is created and maintained in a fantasy state
Limerence, over time, becomes intertwined with ones own narrative
Limerence becomes identity, crafted to suit the desires of the limerent focus
Limerence becomes persona
Limerence is persona
This huge commonality is indicative of the external forces shaping both idol and persona, as both exist to uphold the status quo. Perhaps what this demonstrates most of all is the unique connection between idol and someone experiencing limerence. Though in many ways limerence is used to benefit the idol, it can be repositioned to be mutually beneficial — almost altruistic — in order to save the idol; the limerent, and through that; the world.
When undertaken, the role of idol in the very least must become ones’ persona. If one can make it stick, turn it from a mask into a face which blurs the line between identity and work, then one would truly become the idol. Surely then they would transcend all other identities and start living in full-time God-mode. Surely then their demise would be imminent. Perhaps this is the eternal struggle of an idol, stuck between self-made and society-imposed identities, constantly negotiating the complexities of a multi-billion-dollar industry and the quest for self-actualisation. An idol is a persona, a role, and must remain as only that for the idol to maintain a positive inner balance.
Idol is no longer a unique term, with over 200 groups currently active in South Korea. So why is it then, that idols are still worshipped and treated with great reverence by millions around the world?
One answer to this comes from the term parasocial, which refers to a one-sided relationship. Not dissimilar to the concept of limerence.
This is made easier by the accessibility of internet platforms where idols can put out content and connect with their fan base every moment of every day. For fans of K-pop, the stream of new videos, pictures and words is almost never-ending, especially around the time of a new album release, otherwise known as a comeback. Idols share everything, from the mundane to the awe-inspiring, in the quest to connect with their fans and build these parasocial relationships. It must be noted that originally it was parasocial kin that was the ideal relationship to be fostered, but this article will later argue that it is no longer a family bond that is being incited, and perhaps never was.
Fans have a high-speed instantaneous connection to their idols and feel like they know everything about those they love. Once the parasocial relationship has been fostered, fans look to one another to form social groups, and from this, they drive the success of their beloved’s music. An example of just how powerful fan groups are comes from BTS’s ARMY who regularly take out billboard ads in Times Square, and drove BTS’s Twitter mentions to 36 million in two months, which is 4000 times more than the expected norm of a celebrity account. This shows the power of a parasocial relationship which uses the true-love feelings of fans as a driver of immense success, which only perpetuates the dominance of groups such as BTS. This process creates new fans every day who go through a similar process of interest to love — and, arguably even to limerence — all within a short period of time. Which is only exacerbated by the never-ending stream of intimate, parasocial fostering content spread far and wide across the internet.
It would be all-too dangerous to show the idol as passive, as they take an active part in the development and maintenance of their persona, and further, it would also be dangerous to construct the idol as inherently bad or wrong. On one hand, the idol represents all that is wrong with mass-culture: patriarchy; capitalism; commodification; consumerism, just to name a few. On the other, the idol is in a unique position to be something more: a voice for a generation burdened with saving the world, saving society from itself.
How interesting that perhaps the one thing — the idol persona — that upholds and perpetuates so much of what is wrong with society, can also be that which brings about a new order. Just like how persona creates limerence, and limerence creates persona; breaks it down and; builds it back up again, the idol does the same with society.
Not only is an idol a reflection of its parts — the fans — and society as a whole, but an idol can shape society through their words and actions. Idols such as BTS have the most powerful fan group on the planet, hanging on every word, every micro-expression, ready to convert it into mass social-action.
About this series: An Introduction to Idol Limerence and BTS
Limerence is a cognitive and emotional state of loving adoration toward another person . Limerence is experienced as intrusive, invasive and all-consuming [2,5,6]. Some have described it as a necessarily negative state , and others have described it as transformative . It is argued that limerence is inherently romantic and that romance is being in love with love itself . Therefore, it is limerence that precedes a relationship, and the desired element of romance perpetuated by mass-culture since the release of the first novel .
The novel and the concept of the modern constructed biography  provides an important sociological perspective to further understanding limerence as more than personal, as it’s highly political . Persona as a social mask is rooted in fantasy , as is limerence, both of which create the other in negative and positive ways. Persona is an important element to understanding both limerence, and the idol.
K-pop (Korean Pop) idols, and in particular BTS (K-pop Group), not only represent all that is potentially wrong with capitalism, but hold immense social and cultural power which can be used to positively shape society. Parasocial relationships are intentionally, and otherwise, fostered in fans of K-Pop which result in one-sided true-love relationships with idols. Parasocial relationships can also be understood as idol limerence.
Idol limerence results in an all-powerful fan base, as shown with examples of BTS’s ARMY, which drives the immense success of its idols. BTS, in particular, are in a unique position, under the leadership of Kim Namjoon, to be revolutionaries. However, idols are not immune to capitalism and are both powerful and powerless at the same time.
Fans of BTS regularly share their lived-experience of limerence online through personal essays, artwork, fan fiction and the asking of questions on forums. By using their work and questions we can start to match their experiences to the key components of limerence as outlined by Tennov , Wakin and Vo  and Willmott and Bentley . Through this, it can be shown how fans are already working through their own experiences toward a state of Insperence, where the negative feelings of limerence are transformed, as are those experiencing it.
- Bennett, N., Rossmeisl, A., Turner, K., Holcombe, B. D., Young, R., Brown, T. & Key, H 2017 Parasocial Relationships: The Nature of Celebrity Fascinations. <https://www.findapsychologist.org/parasocial-relationships-the-nature-of-celebrity-fascinations/>
- Willmott, L & Bentley, E 2015 Exploring the Lived-Experience of Limerence: A Journey toward Authenticity.
- Jung, C. G. 1953, Two Essays on Analytical Psychology. London
- Giddens, A 1992 The Transformation of Intimacy: Sexuality, Love and Eroticism in Modern Societies. Cambridge: Polity
- Wakin, A. & Vo, D. B. 2008 Love-Variant: The Wakin-Vo I.D.R. Model of Limerence.
- Tennov, D 1979, Love and Limerence: The experience of Being in Love. Scarborough House
- Novak, M 2013 The Myth of Romantic Love and Other Essays. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers
- Mills, C. W. 1959 The Sociological Imagination. London: Oxford University Press