One of the things that made Beyonce’s 2013 surprise self-titled album drop such a big deal was that it was a true surprise. There were no leaks. Miraculously, at a time when social media was starting to really ramp up. Somehow, her fans and the media were successfully blindsided.
It’s fun to be surprised, especially in a world where the “spoiler” reigns supreme.
Now, something I have noticed about ARMY is that as a fandom, we seem positively allergic to leaks. And this isn’t to say that they don’t happen. It’s just that we ignore them to the point where they are a non-factor.
I don’t quite know how to emphasize how absolutely RARE it is to have as huge a community as ARMY not be remotely tempted to go and listen to leaked music. But then, we’re the kind of people who throw our money at free mixtapes. 😂
In any case, many artists lament leaks, not just because they ruin the fresh surprise of anticipated music, but also because these leaks often provide music listeners completely free access to their music, stifling the motivation to provide financial support by way of sales. Sales do matter, despite the industry’s heavy emphasis on streaming (aka, preference for a format that pays platforms and labels well but often leaves the artists themselves high and dry.)
In this climate, ARMY is an exception, and for the longest time, I have tried to mull over why that is. Well, between packing my bags for my move, I think I’ve come up with a few possible theories as to why ARMY is one fandom that is so determined to have nothing to do with leaks.
THEORY #1 – OUR SENSE OF FAIRNESS AND JUSTICE
ARMY has a strong sense of justice and fairness. That’s why we call out racist and xenophobic behaviors toward BTS. It’s also why we don’t promote the use of VPNs
or (allegedly) try to pass off Korean sales as American sales. We want BTS’s success to be achieved in an obvious, transparent, and organic fashion!
I believe that our fandom-wide investment in removing any shadow or shade from BTS’s achievements contributes to our desire to support them on the level. We want to respect BTS as artists and help them see a positive outcome for their hard work.
Going out of our way to entertain leaks isn’t something that ARMY does because it is not respectful to BTS, and it would ruin their strategies and hard work. It wouldn’t be fair to BTS, who worked hard, teased us with clues, and built up all that anticipation, just to be disheartened when their entire fandom ran and downloaded illegal leaks. It would probably hurt even more to know this behavior coincided with a blatant lack of interest in financially supporting the album or singles.
We are intimately aware of the guys’ hard work, and we definitely want them to feel happy with the outcome. No better way than getting BTS to witness firsthand how hard we support them. This brings me to my second theory…
THEORY #2 – GENUINE ANTICIPATION
There are few feelings quite like knowing that an awesome new BTS release is on the way. This information is met with a host of fandom responses. We create new graphics and change our profile pictures and headers. We start looking at clues and coming up with theories. Also, ARMY members begin to make various sales strategies and goals. It is an all-encompassing series of events and memorable moments.
I think that because we ARMYs are so truly invested in the build-up toward release, we instinctively ignore leaks because they do not provide the level of satisfaction we get from participating in the process in our own way by promoting and advocating for BTS’s music. The nature of ARMY’s parasocial relationship with BTS means that we feel connected to the process. Often music is dedicated to us and when you are made to feel part of that process on an emotional level…you’re less willing to cheat yourself.
As much as we whine and get weird between releases the longer they stretch on, just knowing that new music is on the way is enough to get us to lace up our boots and go marching—to the store, not the pirated links.
THEORY #3 – OUR GOOD FRIEND, DOPAMINE
*puts on nerd hat*
Just as I once theorized that our brains reward us for liking BTS so damn much, I also suspect they are rewarding us for not going anywhere near pirated leaks. And you can thank a certain neurotransmitter called dopamine.
Dopamine is the “happy hormone” connected to feeling rewarded, motivated, and productive. Now if you experience a rush from comeback mode and preparation, and the sensation of experiencing the release together with ARMY, and then working together toward certain goals, then your brain is going to like that experience a lot and want to repeat it.
Compare this to a brain that wants instant gratification by way of running off to listen to a song that was leaked, and gets no further stimulation from the act of waiting or supporting the song/album. That behavior will likely be repeated as well.
So, if you are trained, mentally, to behave in a way that will get those neurons going, then that will dictate your behavior. With this theory, you have a situation where over time, our brains get wired or rewired. Our dopamine receptors prioritize the behaviors that let us get the most out of comeback season. And because we get no fulfillment from leaks, we ignore them. It may also be possible to get a sort of dopamine rush by actively ignoring leaks!
*removes nerd hat*
THEORY #4 – COMMUNITY INFLUENCE/PRESSURE
A community can shape and influence individual behaviors. And if that community (ARMY) actively discourages listening to and sharing leaks, the individual hoping to fit in will more than likely comply with that behavior. Or, they will be smart enough to appear as if they do.
I can’t speak for every person, so I can’t say with 100% certainty that no fandom member has ever snuck to a leak. But based on the scarcity of leaks, I do feel confident that such people apparently know better than to advertise this misbehavior, understanding it will not get received well at all.
That’s ARMY is a fandom that shames and blocks with a quickness. Anyone witnessing such an immediate and far-reaching backlash who doesn’t wish for themselves to be on the receiving end will either quickly adapt (ignore leaks or refuse to share them) or flee the fandom (if this behavior is what they prefer to the community, they’ll find a niche where it is acceptable).
The fact that leak-dodging is an established part of the ARMY fandom makes it easier to incorporate going forward with baby ARMY. Imagine if we lacked any real emotional investment and felt entitled to free and easy access to unreleased music?
Never mind, don’t imagine it. *shudders*
FINAL THEORY, #5 – OUR COMPETITIVE NATURE
My last thought on why ARMYs ignore the hell out of leaks is that spreading leaks would fundamentally undermine us and our goals. This fandom often places a heavy emotional emphasis on the success of singles and albums. As such, we ARMY are concerned with sales, streaming figures, record-breaking, etc. We are certainly determined to give the industry a black eye in reaction to certain antics we and BTS have had to endure.
This competitive, “we’ll show you!” nature doesn’t favor worrying about leaks. Leaks do not lead to sales. They do not encourage a positive outcome, as they are more likely to contribute to passive behaviors. So, for a fandom as driven and competitive as ours is, leaks are just in the way.
CONCLUSION? LEAKS ARE ONLY AS DEVASTATING AS THE FANDOM IS LOYAL…
I bring it back to a past thread series I created where I said that there was some confusion between music fans and social media followers.
One of the major costs of this confusion is the decision to expect loyalty from the wrong people. Social media followers are passive observers who tend to be more concerned with clout than anything else. Meanwhile, artist-oriented fandom members will be more likely to care and offer their support.
If a “fandom” is actually a group made up of 70% social media followers and 30% artist-oriented fans, there will be a notable lack of emotional investment, self-regulation, and not to mention, an overall lack of loyalty that would keep people from seeking out leaks or sharing them openly. For many modern artists with this type of social media-based following, there are devastating consequences to this ongoing refusal to know the difference between fans and social media followers.
As for the community, ultimately, it is vital to establish ground rules for acceptable fandom behaviors early. Otherwise, you get a “fandom” filled with entitled people who unironically demand labels use pay0la to claim an artist is successful just so they don’t have to do anything meaningful. If you want a fandom that doesn’t embrace leaks from day one, avoidance has to be the norm.
I have multiple theories as to how it became our norm, but whatever the truth is…I’m just glad we ignore them the way we do. 🙂