One Direction performing in Glasgow in 2015 / marcen27 / Wikimedia Commons
Admit it, we’ve all had that one (or many) moment(s) in our lives when we loved something so much that we were too embarrassed to acknowledge it for fear of being ridiculed. For me, that great source of shame was my love of boybands.
Some of you might think I’m very old when I state that I remember when the Internet came about (I’m young at heart, fellow kids). My first taste of it was being able to chat to other people around the world (big ups to anyone who remembers Alamak chat) and my second taste was downloading and printing pictures of my favourite boyband members. They’d get collaged on our folders or walls, we’d learn their dances, and I even once wrote a novella starring said boyband and my friends, salaciously entitled Boxers and Barbados.
Yet the love of boybands has forever been tainted with a type of embarrassment of being terribly uncool. Yes their songs were cheesy-verging-on-ridiculous, yes they often made questionable fashion choices and yes there was always one in the group who was completely useless and you wondered what cave he wandered out from, but boybands, like most other fandoms, provided a community. This was a safe community where you could share your passions without fear of harassment. The boyband provided an ideology that we were all aware of: love conquers all – you are great just as you are, you belong and that no matter what, everything will be all right in the end. So why the haters?
Morgan Spurlock, the director of the One Direction documentary This Is Us, once asked what the difference was between grown men obsessing over their favourite sports team and teenage girls obsessing over their favourite boyband. In such a tribal culture, where we naturally align ourselves with others who share our passions, should there really be a hierarchy on whether that passion is about a bunch of hot men running on a field about or a bunch of hot men gliding on a stage? Yes apparently, because one is for the amusement of girls (women and gay men). Sadly this inequality is inherent throughout pop culture where terms like ‘chick lit’ and ‘chick flicks’ reiterate that they – and their audiences – should not be taken seriously. Which means my brilliant short story about cloning Jordan Knight, so that he may live forever, might not ever get the serious clout it needs!
Sacha Judd has made some excellent points about this gendered inequality about our passions and she also notes how this fandom is one of the reasons why young women are gaining tech and artistic skills. ‘Larry’ may have been a conspiracy theory amongst the 1D fandom but if you’ve ever encountered their fabulously unashamed homoerotic fan art, you will be blown away by some of the work. Yet because they’re told it’s ‘embarrassing’ these girls never learn the strength of their skills. It’s not like women and minorities are flooding the tech industries right now so why are we not encouraging it more?
I’ll be honest, most boyband concerts I’ve been to (by choice or by force) do resemble something more like a teenage crèche – complete with screaming girls and terrified dads. You can barely hear the band, the useless one can never dance and it’s really hard to guzzle your smuggled in vodka tonic. Yet the sense of community is strong. It’s a community full of passionate young girls (women and gay men) who are saying a big fuck you to that patriarchy that wants to silence them. In fact, the 1D fandom did just that by attacking GQ Magazine when it published a rather, ahem, opinionated feature about them (I don't condone death threats, but hell hath no fury like a Directioner done wrong).
So, like Judd, I too would like to make this plea: be nice to young women. Stop telling them what they cannot do. In boyband fandoms, girls and young women are finding likeminded people, honing their creative skills and engaging in tech. Encourage their passions, support their obsessions and let them love what they want to love – because, baby, that’s what makes them beautiful.Support Villainesse