Illustration by Elly Malone.

K-Pop fandom is a wild ride filled with loads of online yelling, endless RT-ing, and real-life sobbing. The fandom is vast, covering a wide variety of K-Pop groups with supporters from all over the globe. Ask any hardcore stan to explain the workings behind it, and they’d have to block off a good chunk of the day to go through the basics alone.

Even so, the fandom hasn’t gotten to the global status that it currently holds without a little (read: a LOT of) help. After all, the K does stand for Korean, and while there are a few shows and agencies that include English translations in their content, there are still many that don’t.

International fans depend on translations to keep up with an artist’s updates, whether they be official announcements, tweets, or videos. This is where the real MVPs come in. Fan translators are fans, usually anonymous, who dedicate time to translating and subtitling videos (otherwise known as “subbing”) for the groups they follow, all for free. The translators’ volunteerism is a big deal, especially when you consider how the K-Pop industry, like any other music industry, is a big moneymaker, even playing a part in the growth of South Korea’s economy. These individuals are driven by their love for the groups that they translate for, as well as the knowledge that what they do will help to share that love with others around the world.

We often forget that these volunteers are real people who have to deal with real life responsibilities like work and school, so I spoke to the fan translators to find out how exactly they’ve made K-Pop fandom a dream come true.

Joseph, 25, admin at ReVelUp Subs, New York
Group: Red Velvet
Joseph is a founding member of ReVel Up Subs, a group that translates videos for the girl group Red Velvet. As a native Korean speaker, he began as an independent subber in 2015 during Red Velvet’s The Red era, then founded ReVelUp Subs with three other fans in early 2016. At present, ReVelUp Subs has 20 full-time subbers, 13 part-time subbers, one video editor, two website developers, and one graphics designer.

When you’re not running ReVelUp Subs, what do you do?
I was a biology major but I wanted to try something totally different between undergraduate and graduate school. So I decided to work at a law firm as a legal clerk/interpreter/translator. I also tutor high school students in various subjects, mostly Biology and Chemistry.

How did you become a fan of Red Velvet?
I came across Seulgi’s “White Christmas” video (when she was still a trainee) and I fell in love immediately.

Why did you decide to support and translate for Red Velvet instead of any other group?
I am a big SM [Entertainment] fan in general. I follow all artists, male and female, from SM so it was natural for me to get into Red Velvet. I think it’s a combination of timing, availability, and destiny (LOL). Red Velvet really never had a stable and long-lasting subbing team to translate their radio show/variety appearances. Most subs were done sporadically by solo subbers or a group of subbers for a short period of time. 2015 was a big year for Red Velvet, with “Ice Cream Cake” and “Dumb Dumb” being big hits, so the fans’ demand for Red Velvet related subs was growing.

A stable and consistent subbing team is like the face of a K-Pop group’s international fandom (at least for the first few years after a group’s debut) and I thought it’d be rewarding to be at the forefront of it. I graduated college that year, and without any exams to worry about, it was the perfect time for me to step in.

What’s a typical day like for you? How do you set aside the time to translate/manage ReVelUp Subs given the responsibilities you have IRL?
It really depends on Red Velvet. When they are promoting, I usually have to give up a lot of my tutoring hours because I simply won’t have time for subbing. I usually can’t sleep longer than four hours during their promotions. It’s practically impossible to keep a team this size running while working if I don’t give up my sleep. Whenever I’m not working, I’m doing something related to ReVelUp Subs. My day’s pretty normal when they’re not promoting, though.

Given that you have a relatively large team, what’s the translation process usually like (from the time Red Velvet uploads a video to the time you upload your translation and tweet about it)?
I usually get the video files and assign parts according to a sign-up spreadsheet. I’m basically on-call whenever I’m awake to answer questions and check how we’re doing. When everything is done, I do the final checks. Thankfully, I usually don’t need to partake in the actual subbing anymore, but when we don’t have enough members available on a given project, I jump in and do the extra work.

What are the challenges and rewards that come with translating?
It’s extremely difficult to balance life and subbing. Subbing becomes your life. It’s also difficult to deal with impatient people who demand for faster/more subs. But there are many more who are appreciative, and that’s the rewarding part. We have pride in being the bridge between Red Velvet and international fans. We don’t put ads on our website nor our videos (unless it’s put up by the video hosts themselves, which we get nothing out of). We’re not doing this for money.

All we care about is how to make more people discover Red Velvet and fall in love with them. There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing people say that they have become RV stans after watching our subs.

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw my sister watching our “Game Development Girls” web drama subs. She has no idea…No one around me in real life (family, friends, coworkers, etc.) know I do this. Trying not to look so suspicious, I asked her, as casually as I can, why she’s watching a drama with subs–she’s fluent in Korean–and she said she’s just watching it because it was on YouTube. I almost told her that I was the one who subbed it, but I smacked myself out of it before I let that slip.