The K-pop industry has always been adept at monetizing fan-artist relationships, but has been frustratingly slow to digitize them. Until 2019, merchandise and albums were often only available through third-party websites and official fan communities hosted on Korean forums.
Over the past three years, a handful of platforms have sprung up to deliver monetization exclusivity and the ability to message your favorite artist directly — for a price. Because even with the frequent updates from K-pop artists on Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and Tiktok, fans are still willing to pay for content from their idols. The best apps are now global one-stop shops for merchandise, original video content, fan interaction, and exclusive posts from the artists themselves.
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The top three players are WeVerse, Universe and Lysn, which together host the content of more than 100 acts in the industry. We’ve broken down their key features, pricing, pros and cons, and how they compare to newer, more niche apps like Phoneing and Fab.
WeVerse is easy to use and offers much of its content for free.
Credit: Mashable Composite; WeVerse
The base: Weverse is a mobile app and website owned and operated by HYBE Entertainment, the company behind BTS. It hosts exclusive free and paid content for 63 acts from HYBE (BTS, TXT, Seventeen), YG Entertainment (Blackpink, IKON, Treasure), small and independent labels (CL, Sunmi, Everglow, Oneus) and a handful of non-Korean acts (PrettyMuch, Lil Huddy). From March 2022, the app has more than 6.8 million monthly users. Given HYBE’s support and guidance, WeVerse will become the most robust fan community app on the market.
Functions: Fans join a free community for their favorite artist where they can post, comment on other fan posts and see exclusive WeVerse photos, videos and text updates from the artists themselves. A home feed combines posts from the artists you follow with suggested content from other artists to aid discovery, while a notification tab lets you switch between posts from one artist at a time. Official merchandise and fan memberships are available through the Weverse Shop, and editorial content is distributed through the app through WeVerse Magazine. Due to the merger of WeVerse with live streaming platform VLive, a live streaming function was recently added.
Advantages: WeVerse is the most comprehensive and easy-to-use platform on this list, featuring merchandise, original content, and fan-fan interaction. And because WeVerse is a closed platform (versus, say, Twitter), HYBE artists in particular seem to let loose and show their personalities in posts, comments, and photos.
cons: If you’re a fan of a WeVerse artist, you’ll need to create an account and download the app at some point, as much of their merchandise and content isn’t available anywhere else. While there appears to be some content curation in the home feed, a lack of moderation of fan-created posts on the site has led to rampant racism and hate speech within certain fandoms. There is a fair amount of anonymity (and lack of accountability) as users can choose a different display name in each community they belong to.
Prices: Free to download, paid content for sale.
Some of the content on Universe’s Discover feed is free, but you may need to purchase Universe currency to access certain features.
Credit: Mashable Composite; Universe/NCSoft
Overview: WeVerse has significant business backing from HYBE, while Universe leverages the resources of leading video game developer NCSoft. Universe made a big impression at its launch in January 2022, with plenty of original content, including a heavy investment in app-exclusive music videos and original series.
Functions: Fans join communities for artists called “planets” for free. Artists can post text and videos on their planets, but photos seem to be the main attraction on Universe. Like WeVerse, Universe offers exclusive subscriptions and merchandise and hosts impressive, high-produced original content. The most unique element of the app is its use of AI to read artists’ messages in their voices. Fans can also pay artists who send direct messages, who see the messages in what is essentially a large group chat and respond to the entire group, but cannot respond directly to a fan.
Advantages: It is real, For real cool to hear an artist express his thoughts in his own voice. Universe’s original content is a huge draw, in addition to Universe’s exclusive artist posts.
cons: Originally clumsy and dependent on scary AI based features when it launched, Universe has since scaled back to be much more streamlined. But it can still be confusing to use. The app is overly designed (for example, why are communities called “planets”), and the currency system is so complicated that fans guide videos to help other fans understand. If you’re a Universe artist fan, you’ll need to create an account and download the app at some point, as much of their content isn’t available anywhere else.
Prices: Free to download, view selected content and view artist posts. Three types of currencies exist within Universe: Slap (currency earned from completing tasks that can also be purchased), Love (currency purchased), and raffle tickets (also purchased). You can only pay for certain content with Love. Bundles of these currencies can be purchased in-app for anywhere from $0.99 to $299.
On Bubble for JYP, all content is behind a paywall.
Credit: Mashable Composite; Dear U Co./ Bubble for JYP
The base: Bubble was created by SM Entertainment as a way for their artists to connect with fans. The Bubble app for SM groups is called Lysn and the company has also created an app especially for JYP Entertainment artists called ‘JYP Bubble’. Fans pay to access an artist’s bubble and watch app-exclusive content from their favorite artist.
Functions: Once you pay to subscribe to an artist, you can view and download their photos, videos, and audio notes. You can also message that artist, but you’re limited to three at a time, and the character count will match how long you’ve been in the app: 30 characters for the first 49 days, 50 characters after that, and so on. As on Universe, artists see these posts in what is essentially a large group chat and respond to the entire group, but they can’t respond directly to a fan. To fans, the user interface looks like a personal chat between you and the artist. A live streaming feature was recently added to Bubble for JYP.
Advantages: You pay for content not available anywhere else. Fans share Bubble content on Twitter, but it’s both illegal and generally frowned upon by other fans.
cons: Lysn does not produce original content, facilitate interaction between fans, or provide access to a store. You must pay to access all artist content. Just like on Universe, messaging with an artist is one-sided. So you can ask an artist what they had for lunch, but if they write, “I had a salad before!” you can never be sure if they saw your question or answer someone else’s or just tell fans about their day. However, some fans say they don’t mind. Also, the translation function is not always completely accurate, which has led to some confusing, albeit entertaining, accidents.
Prices: Free to download, but you’ll need to purchase one ($3.99), two ($6.99), or three ($9.99) tickets, with each ticket giving you one month of access to a single artist’s Bubble.
Phoneing’s Y2K-tastic homepage offers free New Jeans messages and other goodies like a virtual album decorating feature.
Credit: Mashable Composite; WeVerse/ Calling
Overview: As part of the pre-album release rollout of HYBE’s newest girl group, NewJeans, the company announced that the group would have its own app rather than joining their label mates on WeVerse. The 90s Nokia-chic theme blends with the look of the debut album and Gen Z’s current obsession with Y2K nostalgia.
Functions: The app mimics a phone and NewJeans members appear as “friends” in a contact list. Live streams appear as a “call” from a member, which you can record to watch when they happen or later tune in on-demand via a call log. Members also send messages and photos to each other in a group chat for about 20 minutes every day. Fans see the messages pouring in, but can’t (yet) participate or message the members directly. The app also has a calendar of the group events, a photo gallery, a virtual try-on feature that lets you dress up avatars of the members in different outfits, a virtual album decorating feature, and a handful of other fun freebies.
Advantages: Bubbles are cute, and the modern take on Y2K aesthetics feels like a fresh, tangible extension of NewJeans’ music. Plus, the features are free and so unique that you won’t find them anywhere else.
cons: Calling is slow…like 1999 slow. Pages can take a while to load and navigation is not always intuitive. There is also no way to talk to other fans through the app. Notification settings can only be toggled on and off, and a lively 20-minute convo between members results in hundreds of daily notifications. So you have to choose between no notifications from the app or dozens.
Prices: Free to download and use.
You can only see the most basic information about your favorites on Fab, unless you want to buy a post for 10 points.
Credit: Mashable Composite; NEOWIZ lab
Overview: Fab was launched in February 2022 with Loona as the inaugural artist. In March they added group NINE.i.
Functions: Loona members are considered separate artists in the app and post separately. NINE.i posts as a group. Loona members occasionally update their “status”, which is free to view, but all other posts are hidden behind a paywall.
Advantages: You pay for content not available anywhere else. If you are an Orbit or NINE.i fan, this is the app you need.
cons: If you’re not a fan of Fab’s two artists, this isn’t the app for you. It is limited to paid artist posts only; there is no way to connect with other fans, no original content and no store.
Prices: Free to download, but each post costs 10 points to view. You can buy points (between 100 for $0.99 and 2300 for $19.99) or earn single points by viewing ads.