Dama, the middle-aged Chinese women known for their bulk gold buying and ubiquitous love of square dance, have yet another obsession: pop stars—specifically, male pop stars young enough to be their sons.
While waiting with flowers and cakes for their young idols at airports and chasing them down with cameras like paparazzi, these middle-aged women, often married with children, can be even more ambitious than the young, teenage groupies. They’re called “mama fans” (妈妈粉 māmafěn); this is because they are both mothers themselves and act like proxy mothers for teenage idols.
The way mama fans and teeny boppers show their love can be quite different. For teenage girls and boys chasing stars, they tend to picture the stars as being their future Mr. or Mrs. Right, but mama fans view themselves being obligated to take care of those teenage stars as if they were their own children.
Often, the younger a pop star is, the more likely he or she will attract a large amount of mama fans. There is, of course, a rather obvious and mercenary pull toward the mama fans: they have money and can actually afford albums and concerts. They also make excellent gig promoters and, with the confidence of age, can scream and holler at live shows loud enough to put their age-appropriate counterparts to shame.
On the birthday of Jackson Yi (易烊千玺), a member of TFboys, one of the most popular boy bands in China, a mama fan in the US rented a plane with a “HAPPY B-DAY JACKSON YI” banner to fly over Seattle—and New York and Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, another mama fan in Xiamen, Fujian Province, rented a LED board near the city’s ferry wharf and other fans brought advertisements on buses, subway stations, and other crowded places in big cities. There were, of course, less luxurious gifts for the 15-year-old pop star, including cologne, sneakers, and coats.
A fan group, “Moms for Jackson”, started a philanthropic project for the pop star, raising money in the name of Jackson Yi to finance schools for low-income children.
You may think you’ve seen the height of dama enthusiasm when you saw them turn the world gold market on its ear or perhaps in their militant defense of synchronized dancing outside your apartment, but you haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen their obsession with pop idols. They look younger than they are (or at least they think they do) and can more than hold their own when it comes to being crazed fans.
Su Yun, 35, works in a middle school in Changsha, Hunan Province as a Chinese teacher. She is strict but fair and gentle with her students—none of whom know she’s a secret fan of the TFboys.
“I did not understand why my students and my daughter like these three boys so much, especially my 11-year-old daughter, who used all the allotted time I gave her for playing on her iPad to read news about the TFboys,” Su told TWOC.
She was also shocked at how loyal the fans could be. In June 2015, Karry Wang (王俊凯), the leader of the boy band, made social media history after his birthday message was reposted over 42 million times on Sina Weibo, gaining him a Guinness World Record for most reposts on Weibo ever.
Then, one day, curiosity got the better of Su and she sat with her child to watch a performance and an interview with the band. To her surprise, she found that the boys’ tones and language reminded her of the best students in her class—only cuter. “I started to realize that there are many great attributes about these three boys. They are open-minded, optimistic, and humble, and I was relieved by the thought that they are a good influence on my daughter and students.”
She soon found herself devoting more and more time to the band. At first she viewed it as a good chance to share time and a common interest with her daughter; then, gradually, she started to like the band herself. “While listening to their ‘stupid’ and ‘thoughtless’ songs, I enjoyed a relaxing time and got to relive some of my teenage dreams, and my heart gradually softened,” she said.
However, as a Chinese teacher who should have “better taste” in music, Su was not sure if she should, at her age, go to fan meetings with her daughter. Then she got to know Dai Haixia, a housewife with two children who is also a big fan of TFboys, who told her of her experience traveling from Beijing to Chongqing to visit the boy band for a documentary on Youku.com.
In the video, her in-laws did not approve her “childish” decision but she insisted, saying that her dull life as a full-time housewife was revived after she became a fan and spared sometime for her own interests rather than just the children. Knowing there were others like her meant Su felt a little better about her obsession.
Besides the TFboys, EXO-M, a Chinese-Korean boy band has also attracted many middle-aged mama fans. Former members of the band—Lu Han (鹿晗), Kris Wu (吴亦凡) and Lay Zhang (张艺兴)—now in their 20s, all have their own mama fan groups. They’re young, good-looking, and are promoted as teenage idols who can dance, sing, and act.
Being a member of those fan groups means the mothers have to “work together” with younger fans. The responsibilities, as one might imagine, are different: teenage fans take care of online activities like getting their idols’ latest song to top the charts and mama fans take care of offline activities like organizing a fan meetings or thinking of PR plans like starting a philanthropic project.
“When we were in our 20s, we did not even know the word ‘idol’. China had no such people. Chairman Mao was my parents’ idol, not mine,” says a 40-year-old mama fan who organized a group of fans to participate in a meeting for Kris Wu, former EXO-M band member. “I like him not only because he’s talented, but also he beats the Korean pop stars in many ways, and it should make Chinese proud so the kids can stop loving the Korean stars.”
“Mommy-Boppers” is a story from our newest issue, “Internet Celebrity”. To read the whole piece, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the iTunes Store.