Few people attract a more ludicrous amount of hatred than teen idols.
This has been particularly noticeable recently during the downfall of Justin Bieber. Judging by the glee some evidently felt one would have imagined that he had been a Third World dictator rather than a pop singer such were the gleeful comments of some all over social media. Indeed, some of the comments I remember hearing at the time were pretty outlandish and pretty hateful. If people feel confused by the amount of adulation Bieber attracts from his fans, surely the volume of spite he receives is equally puzzling.
In fact it is far more odd, since the Bieber-hatred often comes from those who ought to – in theory – know better. At least his fans have the excuse of being comparatively young and hormonal whereas his detractors have none.
Moreover, there is one very important factor in fandom that often gets overlooked. There is exemplified by the fact that Bieber’s fans often describe themselves as ‘Beliebers’ and use the word as a hashtag on Twitter and other social network sites to engage with other fans. Despite the quasi-religious nature of the word itself, one shouldn’t overlook the fact that by using it individuals are placing themselves within a community that spans throughout the world. This is the very nature of fandom; those outside of it often mistake the behaviour of fans for being about the object of their idolatry when really it’s about friendship and companionship. When we see crowds of fans wait outside hotel doors for a glimpse of Bieber they are really there to be with other like-minded people and be part of an occasion. This is one of the primary functions that religion used to play in society.
This becomes more obvious in the case of boy-bands and it was even the case back in the 1960s with The Beatles. Fans would identify themselves as favouring one of The Beatles over the others and it would become a topic of friendly discussion. This is really no different from what we now see with One Direction – the perceived value of the music is almost beyond the point, it is about being involved. Fans will identify themselves as being a fan of Harry, Liam or another member of the band and thus become a part of the larger group. It’s about being accepted.
Record labels understand the nature of fandom and that’s why they capitalise on it. They know that One Direction fans of proud identifying themselves as such and that’s why it’s easy to sell them merchandise. Nevertheless, it’s a mistake to believe that it is only young women become fans though, how else do we explain the rabid support rock fans have for the idols? Band T-shirt sales? Have you ever made the mistake of criticising Roger Waters in the presence of a Pink Floyd fan, for example? Such a thing will be taken as heresy. Forty-something men can be just as passionate as any teenage girl about their idols and quite as irrational about it. The same argument applies to football teams as so forth.
As a regular gig goer, I’ve seen as many adult males become as determined to meet the band, have their merchandise signed as any teenage girl at a One Direction concert but rarely is this commented on. I don’t recall any documentaries or big news features on it at all. Who bought all the £1,000 tickets for The Rolling Stones last year? I doubt that many teenagers can afford it. Surely that’s as worth as much critical study as One Direction fans buying pencil cases with their idols faces on them.