On Sept. 10, Portland entrepreneur Jack Phan was hanging out on Twitter, watching the stream of Apple's keynote event, when he noticed something strange.
"This is a first. #AppleEvent is happening now yet #MOMO is trending worldwide. What is MOMO?!?" he tweeted.
Momo, it turns out, is one of nine members of the Korean pop group Twice. In preparation for dropping their new album, Feel Special, they released nine short teasers featuring each of the group's members. And Momo's video, dropping the same night of the Apple event, showed the 22-year old Japanese singer without the bangs she's sported since 2015. That's right—her forehead was exposed. It's a big deal.
Phan's Tweet exploded. His mentions were flooded by fawning K-pop stans schooling him on Momo and Twice. His follower count—already above 1 million—exploded as well, adding around 10,000 practically overnight.
"I realized real quickly that this fanbase was incredible," says Phan, who has held executive roles at several online publishers including Digital Trends and Money Crashers. (He is also the CEO and cofounder of PhanZu with Willamette Week publisher Mark Zusman.) "People can say I'm playing along, but really I'm not. It's about understanding what makes this fanbase special."
In the weeks since, Phan has become something like a familial elder to Twice fans, referred to collectively as Once. They call him #ONCEUncle, "uncle" signifying a showing of respect in Korea. There are memes photoshopping him into the group's press photos, and he's being swarmed by Korean news outlets. He was even shouted out by forehead goddess Momo herself.
For his part, Phan is embracing his new role as a K-pop mascot. He recorded a piano cover of Twice's single "Feel Special," which has received almost 10,000 views on YouTube in two days.
Phan says he's happy to act as an ambassador for the group. He's planning on creating more content for the group on his channel, to help spread their name to the Western world.
"It's really easy for a fanbase to knock me because I didn't know who they were," he says. "But this was different. There's a positive energy with this fanbase, and I love positivity. I think the world needs more positivity."