In the mainstream, it passes as a fringe tactic to personalise an existing para-social relationship with a celebrity of any kind, specifically designed to serve you exactly what you want to see. It feeds into the narrative built in fans’ minds and keeps them hooked and tuned in for more.
The term originated in Japanese anime and manga for anticipating the wants of the viewer and adding them to the experience, for that extra sense of satisfaction, sometimes with no actual relevance to the plot. Oftentimes within the genre, fan-service happens to be sexual in nature, most often targeting non-male characters.
Since its origins, it has evolved and grown into mainstream media, seen specifically in two main domains besides anime and gaming, namely Kpop and Thai queer drama.
A large factor of what makes K-pop stand a league apart from western pop is the relationship that is maintained between the idol and their fans. Idols enter the industry with the strict set of rules for what they can and cannot reveal about themselves and immense training to keep up an air of innocence and dedication to their fans. This has played out in the form of affectionately designed gestures and scripted interactions that place the fan in a personal position and feed into their fantasy. This strengthens the sense of loyalty and assumed connection between them. Some examples include acting cute, winking, and playing out romantical scenarios.
In more recent times, there has been an evolved form of fan-service, which is to play into fantasies surrounding two members of the same group and the relationship that exists between them, mostly between same-sex members. To feed the fans’ need to prove the legitimacy and intimacy between the members, they tend to play into homoerotic subtleties.
In the recent past, many companies and artists themselves have been directing music videos, stage choreographies when they might have no relevance to the plot, and even casual interactions in front of fans, which passes as queer-baiting. The behaviour is then encouraged by managerial figures and companies, despite any discomfort from the idol.
This is taken a step further within the industry of queer Thai dramas. Within the two main categories, BL (boy love) and GL (girl love), the lead actors of the show, are naturally expected to behave like a couple, or with romantical tension, after the show has wrapped up. Fans find solace in the couples and derive extreme happiness from the continuation of their fantasy, that the event that one of the actors is in an actual relationship, especially a heterosexual one, is enough to provoke fans to question the sexuality or force the explanation from the actor.
Within an industry that previously thrived off the ambiguity and stereotypical representation of queer characters to reach the demographics of both straight and queer audiences, fans redirected their anger and betrayal for the queerbaiting towards the actors. Even though there are genuine reasons actors might not want to disclose their sexuality, they might be told not to in order to rouse more speculation and keep fans continuing to “ship” them. Fan-service was a natural, and idols were often lauded for their professionalism, but the term has taken on a more negative connotation, being used to scrutinise every move of the idols with a delusional sense of authority and entitlement to their personal lives.