By Sophia Simon-Bashall
(DISCLAIMER: I use the term ‘boyband’ loosely. I do not think of 5 Seconds of Summer as a boyband in the same way that I see One Direction as one. However, I believe that many of the objections to this labelling of them stem from a problematic place. I do not use it derogatorily – to me, there is nothing derogatory about the term ‘boyband’.)
I used to think of myself as too cool for school – or rather, too punk rock for ‘meaningless, mind-numbing’ chart music. I had special disdain for fangirls, for people who loved particular pop artists with any degree of intensity. I believed that my devotion to my favourite bands was different – superior even – because the bands that I loved wrote their own songs, and their songs MEANT something. I laugh at the irony of that now, considering my favourite band has written songs with the titles Poppin’ Champagne and Stella – the latter of which is indeed a song about beer. OH THE DEPTH. Alas, when I saw groups of girls wearing their JLS hoodies, I scoffed and rolled my eyes. I told anyone who would listen that those girls were zombies with no opinions of their own, that they were completely brainwashed. I said that these artists were not in fact artists, that their music was not ‘real’ music. Oh yes, I was one of those people.
Fast forward a few years, and you’d have a hard time believing that was ever me.
I am someone who sobbed for hours on the day that Zayn left One Direction, someone who was highly sensitive to the terrible ‘Two Directions’ joke that seemingly everyone came out with in the weeks following. I am someone who has read a considerable amount of Larry Stylinson fan fiction. I have even written a little. I am someone who goes to see 5 Seconds of Summer concerts and takes 100 blurry pictures, and later captions every single one with HEARTACHE ON THE BIG SCREEN. I am someone who’s lock screen is of Michael Clifford, someone who stares lovingly at said image periodically throughout the day. I am someone who thinks about Michael Clifford constantly, someone who frets over his sleeping patterns and stress levels, as if I am his mother. Oh yes, I am one of THOSE people.
Once upon a time, I despised boyband fangirls. Now, not only am I one myself, but I love the others immensely. I actually think one of my favourite things about being a fan of these artists is the other fans. I recently went to see 5SOS on the UK leg of their Sounds Live, Feels Live tour, and it was amazing. The boys themselves were, of course, fantastic, but it was the way that they connected me to the thousands of people – predominantly teenage girls – in the room that made the night so special. The New Broken Scene is no empty sentiment; it’s real – in our screams and joy and boundless passion, we were united. I had never met the girls next to me before, but we danced to Hey Everybody together, and delightedly screamed “OH MY GOD” in each other’s faces whenever our faves did something OMG worthy. (FYI, OMG worthy actions include breathing. Have you even lived if you haven’t witnessed Michael Clifford breathing IRL though???)
It’s funny to me that having a fanbase of predominantly young girls is deemed a kind of condemnation – surely, by now, the history of pop music has taught us that teenage girls are the most powerful people on the planet. It is teenage girls who launch musicians into success, even into icon status. If you’re a middle-aged man dismissing 5SOS because they attract excitable and emotional teenage girls, you might want to remember who made the Beatles’ career.
With the rest of the world’s disdain for teenage girls, the boys of boybands are a relief – they understand how incredible we are, they appreciate us, and they remind us constantly of how awesome we are. Their affirmation of our existence and worth is significant to us – it’s nice to have someone who doesn’t treat you with scorn. It’s also nice to have somebody with power advocating for you – another rarity. The action/1D campaign was arguably the best thing of all time, because the values and opinions of teenage girls were respected and listened to on a big scale, rather than undermined or dismissed.
More recently, Ashton Irwin of 5 Seconds of Summer proved that he was, quite frankly, better than everybody else. The band were asked in an interview about fan fiction. People in the spotlight are always either uncomfortable with this topic, or ridiculing of it. 5SOS, refreshingly, made jokes entirely at their own expense, complaining only that the romantic standards typically present in these fan creations made them look bad. They didn’t mock the creators, they mocked themselves. This in itself was astonishing to me, but when Ashton continued to discuss it, I was seriously amazed. He said that he thinks it’s cool that young people are creating things, and he loves that fan fiction is a window into our minds – it is a way of understanding what we think about, and the way we think. This was the first time that I’ve ever heard a famous person acknowledge the value of this form, the first time it has been understood. As someone deeply invested in fan fiction, this mattered a lot to me – so much that I may have even shed a tear or two. It was through fan fiction that I finally discovered last year that there is a name for the way I experience sexuality; that I am not defective; that there are other people like me; that I am whole. It was in fan fiction that I found my voice again after losing it, that I was able to let loose creatively, and it is fan fiction that I turn to again and again when I am struggling to write fiction but feel a desperate need to. Fan fiction is a huge part of fandom for me, a huge part of life in general. I am deeply touched that Ashton appreciates this thing that matters to me so immensely.
In summary: boybands are the best thing in the whole world. Other than teenage girls. But boybands definitely come in a very close second. There is no shame in loving them – in fact, I believe that it is something to be proud of. Your passion is beautiful, and it is a part of something big, something extremely powerful. Embrace it.