“Teenage-girl fans – they don’t lie. If they like you, they’re there. They don’t act “too cool”. They like you and they tell you which is sick,” Harry Styles said back in April 2017, causing hearts to flutter for many fans across the world.
Harry’s right – being a teenage girl and a fan of boy bands such as One Direction, The Jonas Brothers or BTS is seen as decidedly uncool, but that doesn’t stop me, or millions of others, from loving them beyond our teenage years.
Though the “fangirl” label is often thrown around as an insult and can isolate the bearer from the rest of society, the fandom itself, no matter how uncool, can be a light in the dark, a safe space and a lifesaver for the individual.
Fanatic female behaviour has been around for centuries. Back in the mid-1800s, women grew increasingly attached to composer Franz Liszt. So much so that Heinrich Heine created the term ‘Lisztomania’ to describe the passionate reaction women were exhibiting in connection to the composer. Their behaviours included grabbing at Liszt and collecting cameos and brooches that bore his likeness – merchandise before merchandise existed.
This phenomenon has continued throughout history and, with the invention of the radio, the television and the internet, it has grown exponentially.
Beatlemania evoked similar reactions in the 60s and saw many regard the fans as unusual and possibly unstable, as Paul Johnson speculated in the New Statesman in 1964: “Those who flock round the Beatles, who scream themselves into hysteria whose vacant faces flicker over the TV screen, are the least fortunate of their generation, the dull, the idle, the failures.”
In the 21st Century, we have One Direction, The Jonas Brothers, 5 Seconds of Summer and K-pop boy bands taking the forefront, with millions of girls following them claiming that their chosen group has saved their lives.
But did they really save their lives or is that statement just hyperbolic delusion?
Obsession is often associated with depression and suggests an avoidance of other things which means that people with low self-esteem and mental health problems may be particularly susceptible to becoming obsessed with a musician and, therefore, wrapped up in the fandom.
Speaking to Teen Vogue, psychologist and professor of psychology at Columbia University commented that “belonging to a fandom helps adolescents connect to other like-minded youths on social media throughout the year, as well as at concert events. Feeling like you are part of a group can help one define his/her identity and give a sense of purpose to what might be an otherwise routine lifestyle”.
The social connection within these fandoms creates a sense of community that can benefit people with mental health issues, as well as prevent physical health problems such as heart disease.
Leyla Demirel, 22, a student who is a musical theatre fanatic said: “When you meet people with the same music interests as you, you immediately have something in common with them and there is a sense of belonging. You can spend time with these people guilt-free and just enjoy it, without the concerns of life or mental health looming over you.”
The global reach of the internet can also help people seeking comfort in fandoms. “When all your other friends are asleep at 2am, you can guarantee someone somewhere in the world in your fandom will be awake and happy to talk”, Leyla added.
Social media is a bustling hub of fandoms these days and, though it facilitates trolls and fights between fandoms, it can also present the opportunity for bonding within fandoms. Directioners on Twitter peaked after they trended #WhatMakesHerBeautiful alongside selfies. The tweeters were flooded with compliments and supportive messages that boosted their self-esteem.
The communities on these platforms bring together like-minded people, particularly for artists with emotional lyrics like 5SOS who’ve written about divorce and mental health. It’s very likely that impressionable young people are finding comfort and solace in these groups and the fandom surrounding them.
With apps like V-live, the frequency of comebacks and artists profiles on Twitter, K-pop fans are constantly provided with content that allows them to escape reality and ignore real-life issues. “I feel like K-pop has helped with the everyday aspect of mental health because the music and culture help boost my mood and I feel listening to songs can really help if I’m feeling low,” Kristine Phillips, 24, who volunteers for Cruse, a bereavement charity, said.
Music triggers a release of dopamine which makes you happy and has been proven to improve peoples’ mental health. It is understandable that participating in the fandoms surrounding the artists can also help people, in more ways than one, and could potentially save someone’s life.
I can confidently say that they saved mine.
Words: Helen Rodgers