The K-pop industry has always been skilled 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 were hosted on Korean-language forums.
In the past three years, a handful of platforms have bubbled up to deliver monetized exclusivity, and the ability to message your favorite artist directly — for a price. Because even with K-pop artists’ frequent updates to 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-to-fan interaction, and exclusive posts from the artists themselves.
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The three main players are WeVerse, Universe, and Lysn, which combined host the content of more than 100 acts across the industry. We broke down their main features, pricing, and pros and cons, and how they compare to newer, more niche apps like Phoning and Fab.
WeVerse is easy to use and offers much of its content for free.
Credit: Mashable Composite; WeVerse
The basics: 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). As of March 2022, the app has more than 6.8 million monthly users. Given the backing and guidance of HYBE, WeVerse stands to become the most robust fan community app on the market.
Features: Fans join a free community for their favorite artist where they can post, comment on other fan posts, and see WeVerse-exclusive 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 promote discovery, while a notification tab lets you toggle between posts from one artist at a time. Official merchandise and fan memberships are available through the Weverse Shop, and editorial content is sprinkled throughout the app via WeVerse Magazine. A live streaming feature has recently been added as a result of WeVerse’s merger with live streaming platform VLive.
Pros: WeVerse is the most comprehensive and easy-to-use platform on this list, encompassing merchandise, original content, and fan-to-fan and fan-artist interaction. And because WeVerse is a closed platform (versus, say, Twitter) HYBE artists especially seem to let loose a bit more, showing off their personalities in posts, comments, and pics.
Cons: If you’re a fan of a WeVerse artist, you’ll have to create an account and download the app at some point since much of their merchandise and content isn’t available anywhere else. While there does seem to be some content curation in the home feed, a lack of moderation of fan-made posts on the site has led to rampant racism and hateful language within certain fandoms. There is a fair amount of anonymity (and lack of accountability), given that users can choose a different display name in each community they belong to.
Pricing: Free to download, paid content available for purchase.
Some of the content on Universe’s Discover feed is free, but you may need to buy Universe currency to access certain features.
Credit: Mashable Composite; Universe/ NCSoft
Overview: WeVerse wields the significant corporate backing of HYBE, while Universe leverages the resources of leading video game developer NCSoft. Universe made a big splash upon launch in January 2022, with lots of original content, including a heavy investment in app-exclusive music videos and original series.
Features: Fans join communities for artists called “planets” for free. Artists can post text and videos in their planets, but photos seem to be the main attraction on Universe. Like WeVerse, Universe offers exclusive subscriptions and merchandise and hosts impressive, highly produced original content. The app’s most unique element is its use of AI to read artist’s posts in their voice. Fans can also pay to direct message artists, who see the messages in what is essentially a large group chat and reply to the whole group, but cannot reply to a fan directly.
Pros: It is really, really cool to hear an artist express their thoughts in their own voice. Universe’s original content is a huge draw, in addition to Universe-exclusive artist posts.
Cons: Originally clunky and reliant on creepy AI-based features when it launched, Universe has since scaled back to become much more streamlined. But it can still be confusing to use. The app is over-designed (for example, why are communities called “planets?”), and its currency system is so complicated that fans have created guide videos to help other fans understand it. If you’re a fan of a Universe artist, you’ll have to create an account and download the app at some point since much of their content isn’t available anywhere else.
Pricing: Free to download, watch select content, and see artist posts. Three kinds of currency exist within Universe: Klap (currency earned through completing tasks that can also be purchased), Love (purchased currency), and raffle tickets (also purchased). You can only pay for certain content with Love. Bundles of these currencies can be purchased on the app for anywhere from $.99 to $299.
On Bubble for JYP, all content is locked behind a paywall.
Credit: Mashable Composite; Dear U Co./ Bubble for JYP
The basics: Bubble was created by SM Entertainment as a way for their artists to connect with fans. The Bubble app for SM groups is named Lysn, and the company has also created an app just for JYP Entertainment artists called “JYP Bubble.” Fans pay to gain access to an artist’s bubble and view app-exclusive content from their favorite artist.
Features: Once you pay to subscribe to an artist, you can view and download their photos, videos, and audio notes. You can also send messages to that artist, but are limited to three at a time and a character count corresponding to how long you’ve been on the app: 30 characters for the first 49 days, 50 characters after, and so on. Like on Universe, artists see these messages in what is essentially a large group chat and reply to the whole group, but cannot reply to a fan directly. For 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.
Pros: You’re paying for content that won’t be available anywhere else. Fans do share Bubble content to Twitter, but is it both illegal and generally frowned upon by other fans.
Cons: Lysn does not produce original content, facilitate fan-to-fan interaction, or provide access to a store. You must pay to gain access to all artist content. As on Universe, messaging with an artist is one-sided. So you may ask an artist what they had for lunch, but when they write “I had a salad earlier!” you’ll never be sure if they saw your question or are answering someone else’s or just telling fans about their day. Even so, some fans say they don’t mind. Also, the translation feature isn’t always entirely accurate, which has led to some confusing, albeit entertaining, mishaps.
Pricing: Free to download but you’ll need to buy one ($3.99), two ($6.99), or three ($9.99) tickets, with each ticket granting you one month’s access to a single artist’s Bubble.
Phoning’s Y2K-tastic home page offers free messages from New Jeans and other goodies like a virtual album decorating feature.
Credit: Mashable Composite; WeVerse/ Phoning
Overview: As part of the pre-album release roll out of HYBE’s newest girl group, NewJeans, the company announced the group would have their own app instead of joining their label mates on WeVerse. Phoning’s ‘90s-era Nokia-chic theme pairs with the look of the debut album and Gen Z’s current obsession with Y2K nostalgia.
Features: The app mimics a phone, and the members of NewJeans appear as “friends” in a contact list. Live streams appear as a “call” from a member, which you can pick up to watch as they happen or tune in on-demand later via a call log. Members also send messages and photos to each other in a group chat for about 20 minutes every day. Fans watch the messages roll in but cannot participate or message the members directly (yet). The app also has a calendar of the group events, a photo gallery, a virtual try-on feature where you can dress avatars of the members in different outfits, a virtual album-decorating feature, and a handful of other fun freebies.
Pros: Phoning is adorable, and its modern take on Y2K aesthetics feels like a fresh, tangible extension of NewJeans’ music. Plus, its features are free and so unique you won’t find them anywhere else.
Cons: Phoning is slow… like 1999 slow. Pages can take a while to load, and the navigation isn’t always intuitive. There’s also no way to talk to other fans through the app. Notification settings can only be turned off and on, and a lively 20-minute convo between the members results in hundreds of daily notifications. So you have to choose between no notifications from the app or dozens.
Pricing: Free to download and use.
You’ll only be able to see the most basic info for your faves on Fab, unless you want to buy a post for 10 points.
Credit: Mashable Composite; NEOWIZ Lab
Overview: Fab launched in February 2022 with Loona as its inaugural artist. In March, they added group NINE.i.
Features: Members of Loona are considered separate artists in the app and post separately. NINE.i post as a group. Loona members occasionally update their “status,” which is free to view, but all other posts are hidden behind a paywall.
Pros: You’re paying for content that won’t be available anywhere else. If you’re an Orbit or NINE.i fan, this is the app you need to be on.
Cons: If you’re not a fan of Fab’s two artists, this is not the app for you. It’s limited to paid artist posts only; there is no way to connect with other fans, no original content, and no store.
Pricing: Free to download, but each post costs 10 points to view. You can purchase points (anywhere between 100 for $.99 and 2300 for $19.99) or earn single points by watching ads.