All fans know the feeling — it starts with an innocent inquiry, or a desire to learn more about whatever it is you happened to stumble upon on your feed. Whether it’s a person, a TV show, a band, or even a line of plastic toys, the story is similar for everyone: you see something that makes you curious, one thing leads to another, and suddenly you find yourself deep into a black hole, maybe even physically buried in a pile of merchandise.
The journey into the fandom life is a thankless one, with one of the joys of it all coming in the form of accumulating merchandise associated to whatever you’re stanning at the moment. Sure, you may not necessarily need it, but it sure as hell feels good to spend your hard-earned money on something that you love with a passion. And what good is all the merch if you don’t get to show it off?
Underdog asked eight fans to turn their collections of their current and lifelong obsessions into full-on shrines (think Helga’s shrine in Hey Arnold). Here’s what they came up with.
A love that launched a thousand trips started with a misplaced KAT-TUN Lips single, the cover of which features six men sporting stark white lipstick. Livvy found it in the middle of stash of Arashi CDs lent to her by a friend, hoping to get her into the latter group: “That’s where she lost me. And “LIPS” still stays my favorite KAT-TUN song ever. My friends know I lose my shit every time they sing it in concert.”
From silver ribbons of confetti to a 2009 photobook of KAT-TUN as six, each piece solidifies milestones in the group’s career, plastic light-up gun and all. Each piece carefully collected during bouts of tours. To be a J-pop fan is no small feat. going through leaps and bounds of what feels like a blackmarket of media unreleased outside Japan. “Until now I’m still on LiveJournal. All the albums and singles are there, because you can’t stream them. Up to this day. 2020.”
Mawee is the proud owner and builder of a real life Batmobile. If we’re talking about grand proclamations of a love, his towering custom iteration of the 1940s vehicle is a sure benchmark, (bat)tering ram and all.
What began as a change of inclinations from real life cars to fictional ones eventually turned into a healing project. “I studied everything, the parts, the suspension,” Mawee recounts the first time he fixated on the Tumbler, the version of the Batmobile from The Dark Knight Rises. The cost of the Tumbler project was what turned him to focus instead on the 1940s version — one that could be molded out of a Volkswagen beetle. During this time he was looking for a space that shared in his fascinations. Mawee found The Dark Knight PH, a melting pot for everyone who loved the caped crusader. There he would find the person who handed him the blueprints to refine his finished product. In a year and half of carefully guiding car builders in creating his dream, Mawee’s Batmobile was born.
He also has a Batman shrine dedicated to figures, comics, and merchandise. “I used to buy things knowing they’d be an investment.” Lunch breaks and lunch money in college would be used to purchase Hot Wheels that he scrounged for in Greenhills. A lot of pieces in his collection were gifts from friends: a clunky wooden Batman that flapped through strings was found in a nondescript place in Canada by his girlfriend, a cardboard version of the Tumbler unearthed by a friend inside his garage. Pieces from everywhere quite literally left at his doorstep. When you think of Batman, you think of Mawee.
Fed Pua laughs recalling his first time listening to Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams”. “That was maybe my first experience of listening to a song and thinking that it is art rather than just words put together. We grew up in a very Pop era which is just what you see is what you see. So I never thought songs could be like that.”
Numerous vinyls are spread out in the space, all pieces that were not sought out to be collected but to be listened to and marinated in. “They made music to be played on the records. So it sounds nicer on the records,” is Fed’s philosophy on gathering vinyls instead of digital copies. “Every era has its own special personality or trait.” He loves their songs. Simple as that.
Fed’s inclination for the sartorial is not unknown, having recently launched the physical retail outlet for It’s Vintage Vintage, which offers his finds from everywhere he goes, including a wide collection of vintage tees. “I think that there’s a special feeling when you wear your bands… it feels like you’re part of a community,” he says. Starting conversations through clothing is a mindset embedded in Fed: “It’s like a proclamation. This is my fandom, this is what I subscribe to.”
Cholo’s infatuation with Funko Pops began after seeing someone else’s collection. “It just snowballed from there,” he says, gesturing to a part of his collection. As host of the podcast POP!corn with Cholo Sediaren, each figure in his collection represents all the universes Cholo loves. He began his Funko collection in 2013, and has since gone on to collect 500 of them, from Friends characters to Darna, with the 500th being another edition of Captain America.
In the midst of his Funko Pop craze, Cholo found himself attending local community events that rewarded him with exclusive figures (Golden Jollibees). “My bedroom’s just my collection and a bed,” he remarks, while attempting to arrange a modest sample size of his figures atop a mirror. “All of it is an expression of all things I love in pop culture.”
Cholo admits that he only became invested in the Star Wars franchise when the new trilogy under Disney premiered. “It was the energy of the theater, being there during The Force Awakens. Everyone was cheering!” He admits that he’s still a, “baby Star Wars fan,” for now only beginning to accumulate merchandise from the new trilogy.
“Star Wars characters and creatures have some of the most unique designs in pop culture,” he remarks. “It really translates well into merch and collectibles.” Among his collection is a Porg plushie, a Lego version of BB-8, and Coca-Cola bottles that light up when you push the lightsabers. Being able to bring home a piece of the intricate world of Star Wars is a large part of why Cholo is so drawn to the fandom.
It was love at first sight for Hannah, who began stanning K-Pop group BTS after her friend told her to move on from liking anime (said anime in particular was Haikyuu, which she still loves nonetheless).
It was a downward spiral from there, and Hannah doesn’t hesitate to wax poetic about her bias. “[Seokjin] is the embodiment of love for me. No matter who he interacts with, if he sees someone who’s lonely gonna come up to the person and be friends with them. So that’s what I want to be in general. As beautiful as he is on the outside, that’s how beautiful he is on the inside.”
Back then, K-Pop merch was hard to find in the Philippines, so she’d hoard everything she could during trips abroad, from bootleg photo cards to posters. By the time she started earning her own money, it became easier to get her hands on BTS-related merch, which was how she began to build her Jin collection.
The highlight of Hannah’s shrine is RJ, the happy-go-lucky alpaca designed by Jin for the group’s BT21 collaboration with Line, and a rose similar to the one he throws up in every performance of “Boy With Luv”.
Maia was born to be a Pokémon fan. “My mom would buy the Pokemon CDs from Vira Mall, then she would watch it when I was a baby,” she says. It follows that her mom was the one who started her collection, consisting of those CDs and stuffed toys, eventually expanding to include the video games and other related merch over the years. Maia started actively collecting for herself in her second year of high school, when she went on exchange in Japan. “I got to go to the Pokémon Center every day. My maleta was just half Pokémon!”
With all the Pokémon-related content continuously being released, Maia says that it isn’t hard to continue loving the franchise. Most of her closest friendships were made through a mutual love for it, and some of her friends have even given her items to add to her growing collection. For this shoot, Maia brought a portion of her Pokémon stuffed toy collection that she keeps in her room, including her favorite, a Sylveon plushie.
Getting into 20 K-Pop groups at the same time may sound like a challenge even for the most seasoned multi, but it’s something that Sam knows all too well. She’s been into K-Pop since high school, having been obsessed with EXO, B1A4, and Super Junior, but eventually had to give away all her merch from that period when she moved out for college.
When Sam began building her collection again as a working gal, she knew she had to set some guidelines because of the limited space in her home. “I only buy albums if I like all the songs on the album and if I don’t care about who’s on the photocard because I will like them all. And then I buy lightsticks because I plan to go to a lot of concerts.”
Liking K-Pop, Sam says, has helped her be more open about music and different genres. Among the groups that hold a special place in her heart are Day6, NCT 127, Seventeen, and ATEEZ. Groups like BTS, she says, are a very meaningful part of her life. “I love their music production, how hard they work and you can see their growth as artists and when I was going through some really dark times they really helped me through that like as a comforting presence and also as a guide.”
Few fans can say that they’ve met their idols, and even fewer can say that they’ve had a full-blown conversation with them. Gracie is one of these lucky few. The 19-year-old student has been a fan of Julie Anne San Jose for over eight years now, and has met the pop singer multiple times, complete with framed photos to prove it.
She first met Julie, or “Japs” as her fans call her, at a Japs Squad (the official Julie Anne San Jose fan club) anniversary gathering back in 2017. Since then, Gracie’s been an active member of the Japs Squad, regularly going to events and even having the honor of being recognized by the singer herself.
The singer serves as Gracie’s major inspiration in life. “Noong una, kasi sobrang talented niya, different instruments kaya niyang tugtugin,” she says of why she continues to be a dedicated fan. “And then na-realize ko na ang dami kong natutunan, and ang dami kong naging friends na parang family na rin turing ko sa iba.”
Got a fandom shrine that you want to show off? Post a pic and tag us @readunderdog on Twitter and Instagram.
Photos by Renzo Navarro
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