Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — When you match an online account to a face, there’s a lot that surprises you. The internet is replete with faceless voices: strangers behind phones and computers, the complexity of their lives distilled by character counts, profile pictures not their own, and a myriad of memes.
From an outsider’s point of view, Filipino love team fans can appear unhealthily obsessed, even vicious — coming together en masse and eviscerating anyone who dares post any sort of criticism towards their idols and their work.
But the people behind fan accounts are people too. Meeting them in person was a reminder that these are people from a wide range of backgrounds, with jobs, families, and aspirations. While their membership in their respective fandoms may be a key part of their lives, it’s also intertwined into a bigger story of who they are.
They’re quick to tell me that the toxicity of people they consider outliers shouldn’t define the fandoms. Rather, outsiders should see the sheer positivity in the relationships fans develop with their idols, and with one another.
There’s a lot to be said about fandom, whether for love teams or basketball teams and the way it redirects people’s lives. An article on Vulture draws out different perspectives in psychology over reasons people become obsessive fans and the effect fandom has on mental health. Professional opinions vary on the line fandom crosses from love to unhealthy obsession. In a worst case scenario, fandom is a frightening, emotionally stunting escape from reality. However, as psychiatrist Sudeepta Varma explains in the Vulture article, there are opportunities for a positive net effect when fandom comes in moderation. “There is a degree of escapism and avoidance, but there’s hope and optimism. There is camaraderie. A common shared interest brings people together. To me, that’s a positive thing,” Varma says.
The meet cute
Each fan speaks fondly of the moment they discovered their idols. There’s a quality in these celebrities they immediately found themselves latching on to. Like anyone passionate about something, it’s hard for fans to explain exactly what reeled them in, but for the most part, it’s a feeling.
For Ruth Rin, the administrator of the We Love JaDine Official page, it was how genuine and candid James Reid and Nadine Lustre were about their lives, particularly in interviews. “Simula pa lang, wala silang paki kung anong sasabihin ng tao. Ramdam ko na gagawin nila ‘yung gusto nila as long as ‘di naman makakatapak sa ibang tao.”
Jean Magallanes of Solid JoshLia Official mentions that she was drawn to Joshua Garcia and Julia Barretto’s undeniable onscreen chemistry. At 19, she’s also closer in age to the pair than to other love teams.
Agot Sison of KathNiel KaDreamers World cites a sense of realness with Kathryn Bernardo and Daniel Padilla, as well as the kindness the loveteam shows to their fans. “Totoo talaga sila, kung ano ‘yung makikita mo on-cam, off-cam ganoon din sila. Doon [ako humanga] kasi ganoon sila.”
Merce Gatchalian-Spanneut of One AlDub Nation discovered AlDub while living in Qatar. She explains that stumbling on one of Maine Mendoza’s Yaya Dub videos led her to finding out about the tandem’s kalyeserye. “It was really the collision of real and reel — alin ba ‘yung totoo at hindi? I became hooked.”
It was also a means for her to connect with Filipinos in Qatar. Before AlDub, Gatchalian-Spanneut says she didn’t really connect with the Filipino community in the Arab country. Alden Richards and Maine Mendoza became a common discussion topic and a shared passion among the Filipinos around her.
Amy Musngi of Tatak LizQuen shares a similar experience of working abroad (in the U.K.), and watching Liza Soberano and Enrique Gil in “Forevermore” as a means of coping with her separation from home. “Nag-check ako online for groups na pwede kong salihan. And they asked me if I could lead the group kasi that time, I was scheduled to come back.”
What you do for love
Fandoms have been a fixture in Filipino pop culture for decades, studied time and again for the sheer strength of fans’ emotional connections to their idols. Love teams are unique to the Philippine entertainment industry, in the sense that they are more ‘real’ than the ‘ships’ that populate fanfiction in popular culture. Once, in a popular international gossip site, those familiar with ‘love teams,’ even had to explain to other commenters as to what it was, seeing as this real-reel life tandem is largely distinct to the Philippines.
Love teams, both organic and manufactured, are launched regularly, because if and when they do make a dent in popular consciousness, it makes for an incredible income stream. Fans save and scrimp to pay for film tickets and merchandise of a love team they genuinely believe in.
It’s hard to grasp how these fans go through incredible lengths for their idols, but it comes with its own work that they must fit into their daily lives. Musngi and Gatchalian-Spanneut are working moms in their 40s. Sison runs an online business. Rin is a physics analyst by profession. Magallanes is an undergraduate at Universidad de Manila.
For all of them, it’s a matter of balance and sacrifice. Musngi and Gatchalian-Spanneut, for instance, bring their young children to their respective interviews for this feature. I find out later from photographs they show me that the kids participate in fandom events as well, coming in costume and meeting their moms’ idols.
Magallanes recounts all the block screenings of “Love You To The Stars And Back” she attended while having to balance her studies with work as a fan page administrator. She even took part in a set visit to meet Joshua Garcia and Julia Barretto. “Sobrang saglit lang pero sobrang sulit ‘yung binyahe mo from Manila to Bulacan.”
Meeting their idols always feels like a new experience for these fans. Gatchalian-Spanneut says she sat in the live studio audience of “Eat Bulaga” multiple times just to see AlDub and the experience is always magical for her. Rin, on the other hand, shares, “Halimbawa nakipag-selfie ako sa kanila, never ako nagkaroon ng malinaw na picture kasi lagi akong nangininig pa din!”
I ask every fan: Why? Why carve out this much of your life with no compensation whatsoever? The answers are similar: that it’s love — mysterious, inexplicable but entirely palpable. It’s a pure emotional connection, an aspiration for the love they see onscreen, whether it’s the comedic chemistry of a JoshLia or AlDub, or the realistic kilig of a KathNiel, a LizQuen, or a JaDine. Rin explains, “Minsan din kami, kami-kaming nag-uusap, [tinatanong namin,] ‘Bakit?’ Pero ‘di namin ma-explain, eh. Parang ando’n talaga siya, na minahal lang namin sila nang sobra.”
Love teams in the time of the internet
When it comes to the reputation for vicious bashing that fandoms have gained, most of them deflect, saying they always work to inform fans against it. Rin says, “Lagi naming nire-remind na there’s room for everyone. Kasi ‘yung iba, iniisip nila na kung sa iba ‘yung binibigay ‘yung spotlight, nalalamangan ‘yung sa amin. Kami, lagi naming nire-remind na, grabe, sobrang luwag ng mundo.”
“That’s our rule. We ask na don’t join the fandom war or the bashing online kasi hindi siya healthy,” Musngi says. “Actually, most of our members are ages maybe 40 to 60. When it comes to bashing, ‘pag bina-bash ang LizQuen ng ibang grupo, sila ‘yung nate-tense. Apektado talaga sila.”
Sison makes a distinction between fans who actually partake in events and those who do most of the social media trolling. “Ang mga mas nagkakaroon ng bashers, hindi sila involved sa fandoms, wala silang alam [sa] nangyayari sa fandom. Hanggang bahay, hanggang social media lang sila.”
As it is with love, all of this remains to be difficult to explain to people on the outside. There are only so many words to describe an instant emotional connection a person makes with media; one that draws out the kind of love that gets you kilig again and again, the kind of love that brings you to far-off places to meet your idols, and yes, the kind of love that makes you trash-talk people on the internet.
“As a fan, we have mastered ‘yung tinatawag natin na one-sided love affair,” Gatchalian-Spanneut shares. “You have to accept that it is one-sided. The people you admire are not your friends. They are also people. They have their own lives, so we have to respect their own personal lives. Kung anuman ‘yung nakikita nila sa screen, we get to enjoy that pero kailangan merong barrier, merong demarcation line. ‘Yung attention na binibigay natin sa kanila, hindi natin pwedeng i-demand na ibalik nila sa atin.”
These are people who are willing to go the distance for the idols they’ve grown to love and have made a place for in their day-to-day lives. There’s something heartwarming — admirable even — about people who can speak so enthusiastically about their passions. And although all of this is one-sided and can veer dangerously into emotionally unhealthy territory, no one can deny that to them, this is absolutely real.