Respect the Fangirls

Article by: Amal

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While flicking through the brochure for the 2018 London Film Festival, something caught my eye; a documentary called I Used To Be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story (2018). Having read just the title, I bought a single ticket and headed to the cinema to watch it, and it surely was one of the most heartwarming and validating films I have ever seen. Now that I am twenty years old and have some semblance of removal I can finally say I am a fangirl. It’s a tough life, but I have endured it.
I Used To Be Normal focused on four women of different ages who were all are or have been obsessed over different boybands; The Beatles, Take That, BackStreet Boys and One Direction. For me, my fangirl life started with One Direction who appeared on the X Factor when I was twelve - at that age, I fell into a long, completely one-sided and very complicated relationship with the boys. Because everything about boybands is so cultivated and manufactured, there is a general belief that any girl who fell for them must be stupid. As well as the apparent misogynist reasons which underscore the disrespect pointed to teenage girls, I have always been baffled by music snobbery: it was clear that One Direction would not be taken seriously because their following was mostly adolescent girls, yet when Harry Styles’ debut album came out, it was met with critical acclaim. Now that he is moving into rock and leaving the pop/boyband-adjacent genre, he has suddenly become a contender in the music industry. People (mainly men) are surprised that he’s a good musician, but of course, no one wants to admit that deluded, hysterical teenage girls might have good taste. The Beatles are now revered as gods of music by old men instead of remembered as the boyband who would be nothing without screaming girls. As with most things, the reason for this is… the patriarchy.
Of course, much of the hate boybands receive is a result of their marketing as well as their music. The term ‘boyband’ has little do with how the music sounds; rather it is a marketing term which tells us more about the consumers than the actual product. Cultural literacy tells us that products marketed to teenage girls are coded as vapid and silly. The manufacturing and marketing of boybands have always been specifically targeted to make teenage girls swoon. In my later teenage years, I questioned how I could fall for something so obviously deceitful only to realise that because the passion is so authentic, it doesn’t matter how much of the product is manufactured. Having said this, I have always been uncomfortable with the inherent link between boybands and capitalism. At any rate, teenage girls hold an important stake in the economy. It’s pretty undebatable that Twilight books are not the mark of great literature, yet the entire franchise made hundreds of millions of dollars and more importantly was incredibly formative in the reading lives of so many teenage girls.

There has always been a constant need to police people’s cultural choices like it has anything to do with the character of their being. But there’s something brave about loving something so passionately and sincerely and without any irony. That in itself an act of rebellion. We should all be examining why teenage girls showing their love for their favourite boyband is a mark of mania when grown men screaming at a football match is a rite of passage. Teenage girls deserve our respect and in the immortal words of Harry Styles, teenage girls are ‘our future doctors, lawyers, mothers, presidents, they kind of keep the world going’.