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How fans host a K-pop birthday cafe

Updated: May 3, 2021

어덕행덕: 어차피 덕질을 할 거면 행복하게 덕질하자!

If you are going to fangirl anyway, fangirl it happy!


In the spirit of cheerfully supporting their stars, Korea teems with the culture of 덕질 deokjil (or fangirling, aka actively obsessing over one's K-pop idol). Idols' birthdays are their Christmas. For such important holidays, fans wholeheartedly dedicate their time and money to see stars' photos on high-rise billboards, subway advertisements, and flanks of public buses - to show the whole world who the man of the hour is.

But fangirls realized putting a giant photo of their idol on billboards is a rather passive way to celebrate. For Gen Z who considers themselves the most creative generation yet, that fell short. As a result, the more recent evolution in fangirling world has been the emergence of 생일카페 birthday cafes. Birthday cafes are pop-up projects that fans themselves organize through partnership with local cafes. According to Naver's Keyword Trends, the search term 생일카페 became increasingly popular since end of 2018.

Naver Keyword Trend for the term "생일카페"

Disclaimer: birthday boys do not actually show up, nor are they necessarily aware of these celebrations. But fans get an enormous sense of satisfaction in seeing their idols fill up the entire space through music, food, photo booth, and exclusive goodies. One ubiquitous feature that has become a hallmark of these cafes is custom-made cup sleeves that showcase their stars. As a result, the term cup sleeve events (컵홀더 이벤트) has become synonymous with birthday cafes.

A birthday cafe featuring Baekho (Nu'est)

Source: Chosun Ilbo


So how do Korean fangirls host these sleeve events? Here, we provide a brief summary of some have done it. Click on the link to see full detail in Korean (use Google Translate).


Hosting Mingyu (Seventeen)'s Birthday Cafe: Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4

Source: @min9_970406, @riul0610, @iill0625

  • Hosts: Three fans who met online cooperated to host this event. Any enthusiastic fan can do it. You don't have to be an influential homemaster (homepage masters who manage online fan community sites).

  • Prep time: Hosts planned for about 3 months in advance since January; Mingyu's birthday is April 6.

  • Dates: They decided to hold the event for three days from April 4 to 6.

  • Place: The majority of sleeve events are held in Seoul. The other alternative is in the hometown of the idol. In this case, the three Carats picked the suburban city of 안양 Anyang where Mingyu was born.

  • Cafe: It was not easy for them to find a cafe to rent. They approached three different cafes that had good food and decor. In all three, they had to do a great deal of explanation to the owners who were not familiar with the fangirl culture, not to mention a sleeve event. One cafe owner rejected the proposal straight away. Another agreed to it after much discussion, only to bail out later on fearing it would hurt the cafe's brand (in terms of music, interior, and concept). And the last one was very willing as she had been a big fan herself.

  • Roles and Responsibilities: The three, though they had never met prior to this project, worked together like a professional team. The project leader oversaw all things, contacting all parties involved, and marketed the event on Twitter. The other two were more hands-on, responsible for decoration, gifts, and playlists.

  • Decoration: They custom designed, ordered, and printed numerous posters to put on the cafe's walls, a whole process that took weeks of operation. Banners were also produced so they can be hung outside or shown in cafe's doorsteps. They scoured for magazines and photobooks to use as display. They also made sure to have interesting photo zones. The evening before the D-day, they went to the cafe to finish decoration.

  • Merch: Another aspect of the preparation that took weeks. They decided on a common concept on which custom goodies would be designed. Main focus was on cup sleeves featuring Mingyu, which would be provided on purchase of a drink. When making custom photocards, they were careful in photo selection, distinguishing WeVerse official photos from those taken by homemasters. For actual printing and production, they took advantage of online services in Korea such as Snaps that specialize in fan goodies.

  • Events: What fun are parties without raffles? The Carat hosts organized giveaways so that people who order a particular coffee or a dessert get a chance to win 특전 exclusive merch. Prizes included Carat sponges, posters, and postcards. Prior to the event, they also did a Twitter giveaway event to fellow fans who retweeted their cafe announcements.

  • Fandom support: They got help from other fangirls, who lent a projector to use in the cafe for viewing media and made videos to promote the sleeve event.

  • The big day: The birthday cafe was a resounding success. Thanks to well planned promotion, the cafe was crowded with fellow Carats from the first day, fangirls lined up to enter the cafe from the morning. The hosts were there throughout all hours of operation to greet and chat, immensely pleased to encounter people of common interest. They were extremely grateful to be able to celebrate together.

See the below vlog by a Carat to explore the cafe yourself! From the timestamp 2:56.

 

In this post, we explored how Korean fans are celebrating their stars' birthdays by hosting pop-up events at private cafes, arduously prepping at a very large scale, often months in advance.


Here are some other blogs on how Korean fangirls organized birthday cafes for:


What are your thoughts on celebrity birthday cafes? Would you be interested in participating in the vibrant scene of fangirling in Seoul? What is the main difficulty in hosting one in your own neighborhood? Let us know!

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