I (Don’t) NEED U: K-Pop Fans Move Ads From Skytrains to Tuk-Tuks

Left: An empty billboard at an MRT station. Photo: Matichon. Right: A tuk-tuk ad wishing Kim Tae-Hyung, or V of BTS, happy birthday. Photo: Baristmtle / Twitter

BANGKOK — Some K-pop fandoms are no longer posting happy birthday ads on two of Bangkok’s most popular transit systems in retaliation for shutting down their services during pro-democracy protests last month.

The move is expected to be a blow for BTS Skytrain and MRT subway enterprises, whose lucrative ad business had reaped millions of baht from Thai fans of Korean pop stars in recent years. A fandom of BTS (the boy band, not the skytrains) led the trend by announcing that they were placing ads on tuk-tuks instead.

“The uncles are really happy. At least we get to help them a bit,” user @Nuna_vmin tweeted.


The user also posted screenshots of a chat with a tuk-tuk driver who said the ad revenue from BTS fans – also known as ARMY – helped him afford infant formula for his children.

In a follow-up interview, @Nuna_vmin said tuk-tuks will also help add a touch of Thailand to the birthday congratulation messages for her idols.

“Tuktuks show Thainess, and whoever sees it will think of Thailand,” she said. “ I hope the artists will be able to see it and know that it’s from us Thai fans.”

Thai K-pop fans often bought billboards and placed ads on skytrain and subway stations to celebrate the birthdays of their favorite singers – or ‘bias’ in K-pop jargon – raising their profiles in public eyes.

Renting smaller billboards and light boxes on the subway systems cost about 20,000 – 40,000 baht per month, while larger ones can cost up to 60,000 baht monthly. Tuktuk ads cost considerably less, ranging in the thousands of baht.

There are currently 24 tuktuks with BTS ads on the streets, according to ARMY member @Nuna_vmin.

Fake Love for Customers?  

A number of fandoms boycotted the ad space on BTS and MRT stations after the two services repeatedly shut down their operations for hours at a time when pro-democracy rallies took place in Bangkok.

The shutdown did not only cause headaches to commuters in the capital, but also prevented some demonstrators from entering or leaving rally sites.

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A security guard stands watch as placards against shutting down mass transport systems hang at Asoke BTS station in Bangkok, Thailand, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

“During the protest, when everybody needed to go home, the BTS and MRT always closed, even though many fandoms … bought billboards with them,” Natsu, a 27-year-old fan of Korean supergroup BTS, said in an interview.

In the most notorious case, many protesters had to seek refuge in Chulalongkorn University when police cracked down on their rally on Oct. 16, as they could not use the BTS and MRT services to go home. Some stragglers were also arrested.

“I was furious when they closed the trains,” said Natsu, who has donated to several ad campaigns in the past. “It was difficult to travel. I had trust in them that even though the BTS was closed, at least the MRT would be open.”

Natsu said he supported the idea of buying up ads on the back of tuk-tuks instead of giving money to big corporations.


“I feel like it’s a way of spreading the wealth, not just with one company with lots of capital,” Natsu said. “So [ordinary people] would get more ways of earning income that they didn’t think they would get.”

K-pop fandoms in Thailand have been involved in activism since the latest wave of pro-democracy protests broke out in October. In that month, different groups of fanclubs raised millions of baht for the demonstrations. 

Their prominence on social media also helps raise awareness about the protests and share the news about the political situations without having to rely on traditional media.