Teenage Fans

Teenage Fans

Yesterday I sat thinking about my thesis as I listened to Sandy Hsu’s “Teenage Girls” on repeat. It’s a tender song, but rough around the edges, recorded in a bathroom with some lo-fi piece of recording equipment that manages to capture Hsu’s crystal voice but muffle her guitar. 

I came across the track on One Direction expert Brodie Lancaster’s twitter, in the wake of a Guardian article that laments the attitude of male musicians towards female fans. I’m writing my thesis on One Direction, I care deeply about music, and I’m a woman, so I was all riled up, muttering curses under my breath at these arrogant, ignorant men who don’t want women and girls listening to their music. The Guardian article names and shames bands like Mothxr and 5 Seconds of Summer for suggesting that they’ll know they’ve made it as musicians when they see more men in the crowd than women, because women obviously don’t like their super important music for the right reasons. Both bands did later retract their statements, but underappreciating and even deriding women’s appreciation is all too common in every corner of the art world, be it popular or not.  

If there is one thing that unites people it is a deep seated distaste for teenage girls and anything they like. I would even go so far as to say that people hate teenage girls, but that gets people’s backs up because they think you have to actively wish someone ill to hate them, but as far as I’m concerned constantly (and aggressively) dismissing someone’s interests and passions is as good as hating them and it does as much damage. We’ve all heard the way society talks about teenage girls, they’re hysterical, they’re deluded, they don’t know what is good art and what is bad art because all they’re interested in is cute boys and celebrity gossip, they’re shallow, they’re vapid, it goes on and on. And then, whatever it is that teenage girls are passionate about is treated with as much venomous disdain as the girls themselves. Think tweets sent by grown men to Justin Bieber and Harry Styles, think “serious” musicians and critics aggressively wishing ill upon public figures who just happen to be adored by teenage girls. The worst crime One Direction ever committed was being enjoyed by millions of teenage girls, and they’re one of the world’s most financially and internationally successful bands. I’d put it down to simple envy but the misogyny runs a lot deeper than that, the undercurrent whispering that if something women like is hugely successful then there must be something wrong.  

The basic truth of the matter is that girls and women make incredible fans. When we see footage of fans outside a pop concert and they’re young girls and they’re screaming and beside themselves with glee, we’re told they’re hysterical and they’re out of control, not that they’re passionate and engaged, and so, so happy to be involved in a community of likeminded individuals that is all about sharing interests and feeling good. If you shift the narrative for just a second and pay attention you might notice that what women and girls do for music they love is pretty damn incredible. Recently I was moved to tears by a One Direction concert film when, mid show, the audience in the 120,000 seat stadium brought out coloured paper to form a banner spanning the entire stadium that read “We heart the 1D family”. And if you’re not moved by the effort that goes into organising a small city’s worth of people to spontaneously produce a heartfelt banner, then you might consider that without teenage girls you might not have had your precious Beatles and Rolling Stones. 

Hsu encapsulates in the first line of her song everything that is special and important about women and girls caring about your music. She sings, “all the teenage girls are tired but they’ll stay up late and scream when the TV shows your face, and all the teenage girls are crying but they say that they’re okay”. For me this is so nostalgic, sending me right back to the moments where I experienced pure ecstasy as a young music consumer, staying up until midnight to watch the premier of a new White Stripes music video, staying up all night with friends watching My Chemical Romance documentaries and weeping during the live performances. Teenage girls are driven by an unbridled love for music that speaks to them, and when they get behind a band or musician they are absolutely dedicated and more often than not that band does pretty well for themselves. And more than that, those girls, if they aren’t shamed out of their passions by the time they turn seventeen, go on to approach what matters to them with unashamed and undeterrable focus and zeal. We should always talk about female fans with the respect they deserve.

This article first appeared in Issue 9, 2016.
Posted 12:34pm Sunday 1st May 2016 by Millicent Lovelock.