A BTS-Backed Social Network for Fandoms Wants to Revolutionize Stan Culture

BTS Dick Clark New Year's Eve - Credit: zz/John Nacion/STAR MAX/IPx
BTS Dick Clark New Year's Eve - Credit: zz/John Nacion/STAR MAX/IPx

Here’s an open secret: Record-label executives do not run the music industry these days. Super-fans — a fierce breed of individuals who work day jobs and night jobs, attend schools, maintain relationships and hobbies, and still find time to learn everything there is to possibly know about the artists behind their favorite music, record themselves learning acoustic-guitar covers or complex choreography, create fan fiction, design their own merch, and promote new releases online with absolute fervor — are the real power brokers by sheer force of will.

These artist champions, however, are often treated like second-class citizens in the business they uphold. Now, Fave, a new platform focused on bettering fan-to-fan relationships, wants to change that. On Wednesday, August 18th, the app will take one big step out of its beta status to launch a section devoted entirely to the BTS Army.

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What exactly do these individualized sections house, though? Fave CEO Jacquelle Amankonah Horton tells Rolling Stone that the uniquely organized hubs will let fandom members post videos and photos, as well as basic text content — so fans can share timely updates with speed. These fans can customize their profiles to highlight their own stories — explaining why and how they became a fan, and listing milestones like when and where they met their beloved stars. They will also be able to participate in fandom-specific quizzes and competitions that, according to Horton, allow them to win special prizes and/or points that then allow them to “prove their top-fan status.” Also, live video rooms that support watch parties could be a chance to organize trivia nights together — or even talent shows that let fans show off dances they create, along with songs they write inspired by their favorite artist.

Lately, artists have gotten in the habit of creating their own “talk shows” by using tools like Instagram Live, and Fave is eager to help fans mirror those. Horton says a cooking class for the BTS Army is also on the way: “One of the members did ‘Eat Jin,’ so we’re gonna host Eat Army,” explains Horton — a whip-smart 31-year-old, who got her master’s degree from USC at 20, before going on to hold multiyear positions at BET, YouTube, and Google, and eventually founding Fave.

Eat Army — which is scheduled for Monday, August 23rd — is just one of many launch-month events Fave has in store. Before that happens, to celebrate day one on August 18th, Fave will host Army Log, a spinoff of Bangtan Log that will let fans share their stories of joining Army. On August 21st, the platform will reveal a slew of opportunities to celebrate the one-year anniversary of hit song “Dynamite.”

Then, August 24th will be a day reserved for discussing BTS’ 2013 album 2 Cool for Skool. A karaoke night will take place on August 27th. August 31st and September 1st — Jungkook’s birthday — will be devoted entirely to celebrating the nearly 24-year-old BTS member. It’s still unclear if BTS members will make any sort of virtual appearances during these events.

In general, the artists themselves can be as engaged as they want to be on Fave. Horton says that Fave lets every celebrity know that these hubs are being created prior to their construction, but she wants to let the busier — or more-skeptical ones — observe from afar if they wish. However, if they want to be involved, they could hop on Fave to have fans vote on album artwork ideas or create dream set lists.

Fave is also introducing a new kind of passive revenue stream for artists. On Wednesday, Fave will launch its marketplace, which Horton describes as an Etsy-esque space for the buying, selling, and trading of user-generated merch. Here’s the kicker, though: The musical artists who inspire said merch can request a 10 percent royalty if they so wish. (Fave, by the way, will also take 10 percent; these cuts are applied every time an item is resold on the platform as well.) Horton says she asked “a bunch of fans” if they would be deterred by such unofficial options. “They were like, ‘No. I actually might want these more, because these fan-made things are high quality and unique,'” she recalls. “People get excited to have an exclusive version of something — something that could even be one-of-one or one-of-10 — and they get excited to support small businesses and fellow fans.”

If the artist wants to be involved in marketplace transactions, it’s just the cherry on top, she says. Artists often feel like they need to send take-down notices when their likeness or intellectual property is used without their permission, Horton explains, but this development lets the well-intentioned fan move forward. “They’re doing this because they adore you,” Horton says to the proverbial artist, exasperated. “It’s unfortunate that the incentive isn’t aligned and you feel like they’re stealing from you.” She believes her solution is a “win-win.” She urges people to think about the floodgates this could open: While artists have to design merch that even their most passive fans will like, superfans can design merch based on memes, so-called Easter eggs, and fandom-specific inside jokes. “And they feel like they’re in business with the artist. That’s cool to them. It’s like, ‘I’m supporting them in this way through what I am doing?! The tables have turned!'”

“Fans are deeply passionate, and yet, on today’s social platforms, they can just like, heart, and comment — these small transactions that do not take advantage of this depth of passion.”

While Horton is aware that fans often end up congregating on general networks like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, she also knows that those platforms do not cater to the fan. “Fans are deeply passionate, and yet, on today’s social platforms, they can just like, heart, and comment — these small transactions that do not take advantage of this depth of passion,” Horton says. “We [at Fave] want to know the story behind the heart. These people are creating extensions of entire worlds; we want to empower them to share their perspectives of their broader worlds, instead of only consuming.” Additionally, Horton points out, the more-general social networks often put the fan in a vulnerable position. “Sure, I may be on there, but so is my co-worker — and my best friend from school is on there. They don’t care about the fact that I love Justin Bieber this much, and they might judge me if I fan out crazily in my stories.”

Random sweepstakes on artists’ own websites have their flaws as well. The first person to nab tickets to an exclusive meet and greet, for example, may have an advantage like faster Wifi or financial wealth, both of which have nothing to do with their fan power. (Plus, there’s always those pesky scalper bots.) What if there was a barrier of entry that made superfans prove that they were indeed superfans before they could proceed, though? Fave is working on a plan to do this in a way that doesn’t also intimidate or isolate genuine participants in the process. “Fans have told us things like, ‘I see these random sweepstakes all the time. Meanwhile, I’ve been a fan since 2002 and I haven’t gotten anything — just because it’s random. I wish there was a way I could prove my worth and show that I’m a deserving fan who should get exclusive access to this thing.'” She says another fan pointed out that popular, late-night TV shows often use services like seat-filler websites to pack their audiences: “No,” she exclaims. “They should be the fans!”

Another key aspect to what Fave is doing revolves around giving artists more powerful, detailed data about their fans. On other platforms, they may be able to see a fan’s username and location, but that doesn’t tell them much. “You need to understand that ‘Fan A’ buys this much, goes live once a week, listens this much, and went to your VIP experience in 2012. [On other platforms] you know that they’re a big fan but you don’t know anything else: Why are they a big fan? How new are they? And how much influence do they have? Sometimes, business is business — so if you interact with one fan, as opposed to another, that’s going to take you further and get more eyeballs. If you have to pick and choose, there are ways to strategize better. And then, act on that. Given that Fan A created this merch for you and it’s actually doing quite well in the Fave marketplace, why don’t you feature it in your store or take it on tour with you?”

Currently, Fave has a Swifties section for Taylor Swift fans is in beta. Fave is also letting its users vote on which fandoms it should invite next; options include Justin Bieber’s Beliebers, Selena Gomez’s Selenatos, Beyoncé’s Bey Hive, Harry Styles’ Stylers, Ariana Grande’s Arianators, Dua Lipa’s Loves, The Weeknd’s XO Crew, Blackpink’s Blinks, Megan Thee Stallion’s Hotties, Billie Eilish’s still-unnamed fandom, Olivia Rodrigo’s Livies, Bad Bunny’s fandom, Cardi B’s Bardi Gang, and Tate McRae’s Tater Tots.

Jacquelle Amankonah Horton, CEO of Fave: “[BTS’ Hybe] is very excited and interested. They told me this was one of the fastest deals they’ve done; it’s also the earliest-stage company they’ve invested in. They’re looking at this as their U.S. entry into the fandom business.” - Credit: Weinberg-Clark Photography
Jacquelle Amankonah Horton, CEO of Fave: “[BTS’ Hybe] is very excited and interested. They told me this was one of the fastest deals they’ve done; it’s also the earliest-stage company they’ve invested in. They’re looking at this as their U.S. entry into the fandom business.” - Credit: Weinberg-Clark Photography

Weinberg-Clark Photography

Horton, who left her job at Google in the spring of 2021 to focus entirely on getting Fave off the ground, has already raised more than $2 million in funding — and that’s before going through a Series A round of investments, which she hopes to do by the end of this year. Horton won “Startup of the Year” at last year’s Music Tectonics conference, which she says led to her connecting with leading venture capitalists and major music companies. Her first meeting with Hybe, the label and management giant that represents BTS, came in February; by the end of April, they had become one of Fave’s biggest investors.

“We had a 20-minute meeting scheduled,” Horton says of her initial interactions with Hybe executives. “Within the first few minutes, I could see that they weren’t paying much attention to me; they were on their phones. And then, like nine minutes in, they go, ‘Sorry, we were just texting each other saying we must invest in your company.” She says they pretty quickly started throwing around the idea of acquisition, but Horton claims she wanted to prove herself first. “They’re very excited and interested. They told me this was one of the fastest deals they’ve done; it’s also the earliest-stage company they’ve invested in. They’re looking at this as their U.S. entry into the fandom business. On our end, we saw that this coupled with their acquisition of Ithaca Holdings allows for them to have a much-fuller picture of music in the West.”

Horton, who previously helped develop the YouTube creators program, as well as BET’s 106 & Park app, BET Awards app, BET Experience app, and BET NOW app, has seemingly plucked inspiration from all the fan-centric parts of broader platforms. In theory, with her expertise, Fave could help keep an artist’s brand alive and relevant with minimal to no added effort from the artist. “The artist always has the responsibility on their shoulders to create content, create more content, pump out something else for their fans to consume,” Horton says. “We see that on YouTube, Patreon, all the creator-to-fan things. What’s been missing is a place just for fans to come together and interact with each other.” She’s not wrong. TikTok’s algorithm, for example, encourages users to post something new every single day if they want to boost engagement — and it’s not as simple as just posting whatever whenever; users may want to cater their content so that its unique to the platform and goes up at a time that best suits their targeted demographic. That’s a full-time marketing job that artists are now feeling the pressure to take on, along with everything else that goes into “making it.”

Horton isn’t a suit in fan’s clothing either; she says friends jokingly call her “the original Stan,” referencing the Eminem song title from 2000 that turned into a hyper-popular colloquialism. “I would watch 8 Mile every single night,” she says of her love of Eminem. “To this day, I could probably spit any battle he’s ever done. I celebrated his birthday, knew how many freckles he had, and I wouldn’t let my parents come into my room until they said his name. But I couldn’t afford to go to all of his concerts or buy the $70 merch. I then realized that the artist and the industry were getting nothing from me, even though I was sitting in my bedroom completely obsessed with this person. I would just walk around with white-out on my backpack repping like crazy.” She knows firsthand how important artist-specific communities can be, pointing, too, to the many people she knows who have met their best friends, roommates, and romantic partners through fandoms.

All that said, though, Horton is not a one-woman show. She credits a lot of Fave’s potential success to the younger fans she’s hired as consultants. “We’ve partnered with these people to learn more about the influencers within these fandoms that the fandoms trust,” she says, adding that they provide crucial information about fandom politics and beefs that must be managed in weaving a multi-fandom web. “We work with them to better understand the inside jokes, Easter eggs, and what’s important to them.”

Horton hopes to expand Fave’s team exponentially in the coming months. And as Fave grows, her main concern is keeping the platform safe, hate free, malleable, and fan first. “One of our fans told us this was a dream come true for Army,” she says. “Living up to that expectation — and really having this be a place where they can rely on immersing in their world — is everything. We have goals to add dozens more fandoms and features by the end of the year, but we need the fans to be along for the ride.”

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