Reconstructing Boy bands & Fangirls By, Martina Sarver Fall 2017 Directed Study Robert Schwoch
Fangirls and boy bands you think of elements that go together like the quintessential combos of peanut butter and jelly to mashed potatoes and gravy, a fangirl and a boy band go naturally together in the eyes of society. Fangirls are easily identified by the posters that cover their bedroom walls to the apparel decorated with their idolsâ€™ faces. From the high pitched screaming at concerts and mob-like crowds with bedazzled signs, the tears, the laughs, the endless hours of obsession, their drooling over Justin Bieber, Harry Styles, Justin Timberlake or Paul McCartney. The fangirl is recognizable as the uncontrollable, scary obsessed, young girls. Girls who have become infatuated with these marketed boys with whom they strive for a connection although the two most likely will never meet. Without their unconditional faith and devotion, the boy bands they worship would have no platform from which to preach (Mejia 2016). This recognizable group of fangirls have been connected to boy bands since the beginning of their existence. From The Beatles to the Backstreet Boys to One Direction, these two groups are intrinsically bonded through societal expectations. However, these manufactured stereotypes of fangirls and boy bands are being challenged. Through redefining the image of the female in society and breaking the bonds of the boy band mold, these images are fluctuating into broader definitions. Fangirls and boy bands are finding a new footing in society to one that is more supportive and inclusive. This effort to be taken seriously in society is changing the way industries are working their marketing strategies to appeal to the new independence of fangirls and boy bands.
The term fangirl is one that sounds frivolous at first. A culturally modern term but one that has described an ongoing phenomenon for the past couple of decades. The term ‘fangirl’ was only added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2004 (Maguire 2016). The definition describes the term as obsessive fandom from a female crowd. However, Urban Dictionary shares more contemporary understandings of the term through user generated definitions both positive and negative. The top definition describes the term as a “rabid breed of human female who is obsessed with either a fictional character or an actor.” Other definitions describe the term as a “a female fan obsessed with something to a frightening or sickening degree. Often considered ditzy, annoying, and shallow.” Finally, “less extreme, a female fan who can laugh at their own passion for their particular interest (or even obsession).” These definitions carry derogatory associations to those who identify as a fangirl. Throughout this essay I will refer to the term fangirl as a female experience, but this does not discount the male fangirls who identify with the qualities of the fangirl community. Societal expectations to label females as the majority of fangirls influences my decision to use the term to describe this passionate group of people that can be both female and male. Typical definitions of fangirl describe characterized females who are described as out-of-control, emotional, hysterical, who obsess over trivial low-quality things (Maguire 2016). These definitions paints a negative image of female fans of being unhealthy, carrying the association that their interests are not quality or important to what is considered ‘real’ culture. The popular theories that female fans’ interests are solely low-quality elements of a culture is commonly displayed through media. This image
portrays fangirls as a group that isn’t worth taking seriously. I assert the associations with the term fangirl could be seen as a positive force that drives culture. To be a fangirl is a wonderful thing; just as someone to be excited about art, music, books, etc. Excited to the point where your passion is a central part of your identity and a portal to engaging with the world and finding meaning (Maguire 2016). Besides, where would The Beatles be without their screaming fans? No, it’s simply not possible to have one without the other. Fangirls are a major power horse of consumers driving media and cultural industries. A Rolling Stones article published in April 2017 called “Harry Styles’ New Direction” covers Styles’ new solo career after his run with popular UK boy band One Direction. Author Cameron Crowe states that Styles is aware that his largest audience has been “young, often teenage, women.” Crowe asks Styles if he feels pressure to prove his credibility to an older crowd. Styles responded with a quote that emphasizes the credibility of fangirls on culture and their power in the industry to show people what they should pay attention to. "Who's to say that young girls who like pop music – short for popular, right? – have worse musical taste than a 30-year-old hipster guy? That's not up to you to say. Music is something that's always changing. There's no goal posts. Young girls like the Beatles. You gonna tell me they're not serious? How can you say young girls don't get it? They're our future. Our future doctors, lawyers, mothers, presidents, they kind of keep the world going. 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 (Rolling Stones, April 2017) Artists and fangirls themselves have been working to change the negative connotations that others paste to the term fangirl. Management in the music industry
recognize the profitability of the fangirl. As a result, there has been an increase in the amount of boy bands produced since the successes of the boy bands of the past. Marketing profits off the obsession of these bands if they prove successful in the fangirl world. A new One Direction album means great natural word-of-mouth talk in social spaces that a product usually isn’t mentioned in. For example, Colgate’s creation of One Direction singing on toothbrushes pushes colgate into the fan base social sphere that they wouldn’t have usually targeted (Hall 2012). Thus, fangirls are a market worth paying attention to. They not only drive and decide popular culture, but they are a sphere of the market that has great influence to create organic buzz. However, the boy bands fangirls have obsessed over certainly have changed over time. The earliest beginnings of a boy band dates back to the one of the most famous bands in the world: The Beatles. This type of boy band was only titled a boy band simply for the fact that they are all boys in a single band. The thought of considering The Beatles a boy band can be dismissed based on society’s preconceptions of what a boy band consists of. Typically the boy band is defined by the pop dance music, the choreographed routines, the iconic hairstyles and of course the millions of adoring female fans. This beginning of recognizing The Beatles as a boy band explains the case that they are not as typical as originally thought. The dictionary definition of boy band states it as a trendy pop group of young male singers, each member typically cultivating an image so as to appeal to a preteen audience. From this definition it is clear to see that boy bands are only considered boy bands if they’re young, of the pop music genre and appeal only to a preteen audience. This conventional image of the boy band has
mutated and evolved over time but little has changed to its popular societal portrayal of groups like New Kids on The Block, the Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC (Duffett 2012). Music critic Paul Morley suggests that the boy band is mostly determined through the discourses of youth, exploitation, gender and fandom (Duffett 2012). Over time the “boy band” phenomenon has shifted to accommodate a variety of modes of sexuality, forms of identity and types of music but in contrast, the media’s coverage of the phenomenon seems to have continuously prints the same consistent image of themes (Duffett 2012). The media’s repeated image of boy bands as a youthful male pop group dedicated to a pre-teen female audience limits the recognition of boy bands that do not fit within those parameters. Boy bands are no longer the typical stereotypes that the media prints them to be, although there certainly are boy bands that fit in the media’s parameters, it is a false identity to label all boy band groups with the same stereotypes. Society has labelled fangirls negatively by defining the thought that the opinions of young women and their interests in music are somehow lesser quality and shouldn’t be considered serious music. Even when boy bands write their own songs, they are still seen as inauthentic (Duffett 2012). Fangirls’ interests in boy bands influence the message that boy band music should be considered of lesser quality due to their association with female fangirls. This reputation of boy bands being tailored to fangirls is based on their considerations of being overrated, pointless and talentless manufactured group of young, insincere, probably gay men who will never last in the pop music field because they rely on their looks to peddle cheesy songs to seduce fans (Duffett 2012). Thus, this
leads to their label as a musical and romantic sham (Duffett 2012). This coupling of fangirls and boy bands assume that fangirls relationship to boy bands is manipulated by higher corporate industry powers and these females are vulnerable to the marketing of a boyfriend band. The boyfriend band, in this instance, refers to bands that are solely made for their audiences to see them as ideal potential boyfriends and who they want the boys in their lives to become. Therefore, these boy bands are only conceived and reproduced as these boyfriend bands that puts them as more of a formula that preys on the vulnerability of female need for romance. However, more often there has been an introduction of new boy bands that push back against the notions of what it means to be considered a boy band, their sexuality and audience changing to not be a manufactured machine but with real heart to the terms that their music is authentic and should be taken seriously. The typical traits of the boy band include the attractive young men with choreographed dances and pop vocals that sing love songs. Many boy bands have been successful with this formulaic routine. Bands such as *NSYNC, The Backstreet Boys and New Kids on the Block, have all had successful careers following this model. These bands had top charted singles and worldwide success through the late 80s, 90s and early 2000s. However, there have been many boy bands that have gained success outside of the constraints of the rules. For example, the Jonas Brothers band became popular in the early 2000s. The Jonas Brothers differentiated themselves from that of the previous boy bands before them through their rock music genre style and their complete band aspect through the use of physically playing instruments in all their
performances. The Jonas Brothers also did away with the choreographed dance moves. The Jonas Brothers were young males with a large female audience but this time their marketing did not center around boyfriend-themed pop songs and dance moves. Although this new type of boy band wasn’t considered the same as the previous ones, they held the same reputation as being of lesser quality as a group for young women and fangirls. The Jonas Brothers’ style wasn’t pop music genre and their composition was made up to create an actual instrumental band with a drummer, two guitarists and a lead vocalist. However, this didn’t relieve the band of their stereotypical label with their following of their female fanbase. These boy bands are still seen as manufactured to commidify their youthful manliness to sell their music (Duffett 2012). The performance style of the Jonas Brothers was not similar to that of the idealized boy bands that came before them. Their performances didn’t include any choreography and instead chose a performance that interacted with the fans and put on a show through technology effects. At their concerts the Jonas Brothers would squirt shaving cream into the crowd, throw drumsticks and part of their stage turned into a huge water gun which they sprayed the crowd with (Shambora 2008). This type of performance made their concert different than opposed to just solely singing and dancing performances. This personal interaction with fans followed them outside of the arena as well. The boys from the band would make efforts to connect with fans through possibly meeting them outside the concert arena in random areas in each city they visited. For example, they would make appearances at Targets or Burger Kings before or after shows (Shambora 2008). These actions would spread through social media and create excitement for the fans to try and
find the band. Although the Jonas Brothers were not the first boy band to change the dynamics of the manufactured image of boy bands, they certainly gained enough popularity to provide example to the dynamic ways boy bands can be successful through new structures and a new sound. Following the Jonas Brothers’ success came the world’s biggest boy band of this century, One Direction in 2010. One Direction’s worldwide success peaked the top of critic’s interest as previous groups were barely able to translate their success beyond American shores (Hampp 2012). One Direction owes much of their success to the agency of their fans to make their band huge. This began with internet communities bonding over the members of One Direction as they went through the United Kingdom’s X Factor. This conversation grew through the internet across geographical boundaries and created a worldwide interest in a formulated band on the X Factor in Great Britain. One Direction’s presence on social media fueled their fire as they were able to connect with fans in their early stages through the online use of livestreams and twitter interactions. The fans, in One Direction’s case carried their name across shores and into homes world wide as the band grew more popular. This was seen through sold out shows when the band came stateside after releasing one single before any radio play (Hampp 2012). Record label executive of Modest Management, Richard Griffiths, described this phenomenon as being one that was taken by the fans as they ran with it. “This was all fans communicating amongst themselves about this band.” (Hampp 2012). Griffith’s marketing success came through the idea that the plan should always be fan-first and One Direction as a band more than it is about record sales (Hampp 2012).
This type of marketing utilized the knowledge of fan groups, the use of the internet and social media sites to generate excitement for this British band. This type of outlook to be a focused emphasis on the band and the fans-first motivations, determined how their music style came about. Savan Kotecha, a songwriter for One Direction, states that the sense that everyone tries to do boy bands through going to the hip producers as they aimed for tweens and teens with boy band guilty pleasure music (Hampp 2012). Kotecha emphasized that they werenâ€™t trying to be urban or rhythmic and One Direction happened to share the same vision to be more vanilla in their pop music. While their style remains in the pop genre, their performance style stayed far away from that of classic boy bands. While performing on the X Factor, the members of One Direction were put through challenges that forced them to have on sync dance moves and choreography for their performance. It was clearly shown that this was not their style and for the rest of their time as a band they performed without choreographed routines and instead just messed around on stage for the enjoyment of their fans. This followed closely to the same style of the Jonas Brothers who also didnâ€™t use stylized choreography. Instead, One Direction would perform on a simple stage that they would run around on as they interacted with each other and the audience as they performed. They threw drumsticks into the crowd or water on their fans. One Direction performed for their idea of fans-first, similarly to the same efforts of the Jonas Brothers. One Direction went to fast food joints and would make appearances at places like the Mall of America. This type of random, unscheduled appearances would cause a social media frenzy for fans as they would then try to find where the band was before and after their
shows. One Direction’s use of social media allowed for the band to create a name for themselves very quickly. Their frequent interactions with fans through social media influenced this success. One Direction would post Vines, Tweets and Snapchats to influence their popularity online. It also allowed the boys to have individual connections with their fans. The direct line of contact gave the impression that they were not being controlled or monitored by their management. “Twitter allows them to be the five individuals that are [in the group], and that’s what the fans love about these boys,” says Will Bloomfield, the band’s manager at Modest! Entertainment. This was also encouraged within their performances too as the boys would encourage fans to tweet to their accounts during the concert and then during a break between singing they would answer questions from the ones they received during the concert. This personal interaction encourages a bond between artist and fans that bypass the corporate sector. This type of personalized interaction of boy bands with their fans show the potential for bands to define their own terms without the formulated marketing techniques by corporations to sell the cookie-cutter boy band. This type of relationship between artist and fan allows for the development of a personal relationship. Even if the artist doesn’t specifically respond to every fan, their efforts to make those connections online with Twitter, Livestream, Vine and Snapchat and real life appearances for all fans to get a chance to see them feel real and personalized. This also allows for the chance for fans to see the artists as real people and therefore respond to their art, such as the music they produce,with the feeling of having that same realness. The corporate control over these bands may have a say in what the artists post and share with fans but when
it comes from the artist themselves, they’re not speaking through corporate legislation to the fans but with their own voice. I believe this type of developed relationship between artists and fans to be more personalized and realistic, encourages fans to be more aware of the content they consume. This relationship allows fans to have a look into the artist further than just their music, if that vibe isn’t there with the artist, the support for the music will suffer. The power of fan-to-fan relationships carry the support of the artists as well. Word-of-mouth from fangirl to fangirl allows for marketing to carry further beyond the control of the corporate marketing and more organically. Referencing back to Harry Styles’ quote, teenage fans don’t lie, if they like you they’re there. These fan relations carry the weight of an artist’s success beyond the controls of corporate. This support from fan-to-fan allows for all types of boy bands to come into the spotlight. A new wave of boy band is upon the world right now that ranges from the cookie-cutter example to the completely opposite and rejected normalcy of what it means to be a boy band. The new wave of boy bands that have emerged in the past 3-5 years demonstrate the different ways boy bands can be defined. Two new shows that premiered this past year demonstrate the vast ways boy bands can be defined. ABC’s “Boyband” and Viceland’s “American BoyBand” provide new perspectives on boy bands and approaches to their marketing qualities. Both shows use the term boy band but their boy bands couldn’t be more different from one another. Viceland’s “American BoyBand” uses the term with a knowing wink, to pay it no serious mind (Battan 2017). Viceland’s “American BoyBand” boy band’s name is BROCKHAMPTON, a group of misfit kids of
different races and sexulalities who met online (Battan 2017). The show centers around a documentary narrative that follows BROCKHAMPTON through their performances and lives as a boy band. BROCKHAMPTON’s genre focus is hip-hop and rap which they produce and write their own pieces. One of the main members, Kevin Abstract, insists that BROCKHAMPTON is on a different kind of mission than one that puts their band on a pop-star world tour in front of screaming fans (Battan 2017). Abstract is more interested in making friends and being relatable than attracting followers and becoming an idol (Battan 2017). “The whole purpose of Kevin Abstract is to give kids who look like me, a new superhero ot look up to… Someone who looks like them, who talks like them, who dreams like them… Who makes mistakes like them.” - Kevin Abstract, (The New Yorker, July 2017) BROCKHAMPTON’s variety of races and sexualities allows fans of many identities to stretch further than the typical “fangirl” to redefine the meaning of boy band to be more inclusive. This challenge to boy bands influences a new perspective of what boy bands can be. However, this is not a new concept. David Bowie is another example that has pushed these norms of what it means to be a male artist in the music industry that encourages male sexuality as a commodity to female fans. BROCKHAMPTON, influences the same ideas that their male identities are not sold as commodity for specific female fans but their sexual and racial identities create a more inclusive environment for a wider variety of fans to feel as if they can relate and identify with the members. This is not to say that the stereotypical boy band is dead. ABC’s new reality show is a competition to create the world’s next boy band following the steps of what One 12
Direction had been with their emergence on the reality show of X Factor. This show emerges right from the playbook of peak-era boy bands, with one of the judges being Nick Carter, a previous Backstreet Boy (Battan 2017). The show centers around auditions from aspiring young male singers to be chosen to be in a new boy band that will be hand selected through the competition. The competition involves rounds of singing practice, ability to work in a group, choreography and performance as well as style. The show is set up to mirror the famous boy bands of the past such as *NSYNC, the Backstreet Boy, and more and formulate this new boy band to fit the exact same mold (Brattan 2017). The boys must have the look of a boy band member with styled hair and clothing as “squeaky-clean”, with perfect voices and hair (Brattan 2017). Through the show the boys perform already popular pop songs instead of their own music and are trained to fit the model of male sexuality to sell to the female fans. The entire audience of the performances consist only of females, a trait that is repeatedly pointed out in the show when the judges teach the boys who exactly they’re marketing to: the vulnerable female fangirl. The boy band aspect in this show is manufactured instead of organically cultivated. They are meant to be sold as a tightly wrapped package of boy band stereotypes to the vulnerable of young female fangirls. Compared to BROCKHAMPTON, the new boy band from ABC: In Real Life, cannot control their manufactured image and therefore are only able to relate to the previous boy bands whose purpose is only to be sold to the idea of the group of vulnerable fangirls. In conclusion, the societal construction of fangirls and boy bands have evolved over time as their image is reconstructed from vulnerable, machine marketed to more
instrumental in the construction of their own image. Fangirls are becoming valued and recognized as a vital market with the potential to make or break artists. Fangirls are proving to be resistance to corporate industry marketing and are instilling an agency in what and who they pay attention to in this new digital age. Fangirls are passionate, creative and work with devotion in all they do. The fangirl ethic should be the new definition of fangirl and encourage fangirls that if they love something they should talk, scream, share about it (Mejia 2016). Fangirls are rejecting the negative connotations that are associated with their identity and instead rebranding themselves to be seen as supportive, empowered and passionate in all things they do. For boy bands, their marketing experience has changed over time beginning with The Beatles through *NSYNC, the Backstreet Boys, One Direction to BROCKHAMPTON and In Real Life today. The boy band experience embodies a more inclusive environment to the world. Their success depends heavily on the support of their devoted fangirls. Although, the manufactured boy band has been seen as the norm of boy bands throughout history, it is shown that this stereotypical package is mislabeled. Successful boy bands of the past have not completely fit this image and have gained their success through the devoted and passionate efforts of their fans. Boy bands are rebranding what it means to be a boy band and how that image can be more inclusive and more authentic than the manufactured image theyâ€™re labelled with. The time has come to rethink what we know about boy bands and fangirls and the quality of their presence in society and power in determining popular culture.
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