By: Hope Ankney
Many thoughts run through one’s head when they hear the word Fanatic. Crazed fans. Fangirls. Twitter pages dedicated to entertainers. Blogs created out of the same interest for a type of music. Update accounts that not only bring news of the artist’s tours, music, or appearances but also bring updates on more mundane things- public sightings, fan interactions, wardrobe brands etc. etc. But,the term fanatic has a connotation to it. This type of fan community is an easy punchline to society even though they are essential to a musician’s success. Whether the entertainer is internationally or locally known, there is one aspect that proves to be incredibly important: Fan Loyalty.
For most of my life, I was ashamed to be a fanatic of certain artists. Starting at a young age, I found myself involved in fan culture when I first discovered The Jonas Brothers. I was thrust into the hours of searching up photos online, printing them out (maybe even selling a few of them at school…), covering my walls with their faces until you couldn’t see the paint underneath, writing fanfiction, going to every tour that came to my city, losing my mind when they performed, and even displaying fatheads of the members in my bedroom for a few years. My world revolved around this group, and it wasn’t until I became a pre-teen when I started becoming aware of the derogatory view that this behavior brought. I was shamed, mocked, and sometimes scolded for my love for the group- and that’s what it was- an all-consuming passion. I got quieter about my interests in bands and as the years went on and I found the same love and fascination with other groups like All Time Low, or The Maine, or even involving myself in the boyband hysteria of One Direction, I kept most of my excitement and passion to the internet- a Tumblr community of fans as passionate about these groups as I was. It became a comfort zone that I found solace in, and as I graduated high school, I began to question why I shied away from showing others a very positive and big part of my life.
It was the societal view of fanatics that ultimately started my shame. The ridiculing of fanatics come from a very sexist, pretentious, and patriarchal point of view. Those who identify as women are looked down upon for their enthusiasm for music- dismissed for their opinions or involvement in enjoying a musician’s work. Even those who identify as men who show the same enthusiasm are viewed lesser than hegemonic males. The factor of the group or musician’s stereotype also plays a massive part in the shame. Society likes to label musicians based on the fanbase they accumulate and the music they create. It comes from a very bigoted and masculine perspective. The age of the fan, the gender identity of the fan, and the overall appearance and behavior of the fan doesn’t just generalize a musician’s fanbase but discredits the artist. Music has become a shallow judgement pool that casts dismissal at anything that doesn’t fit into the cheaply painted box that appeases the pompous critic. Hypocritically, men can craze themselves over sports but the moment any person that doesn’t identify as a man exhibits the same behavior over music, the shame arises.
However, when I learned to embrace my passions for certain musicians, it awakened a freedom and an awareness that ultimately helped in crafting me into who I am and who I wanted to become. I had created a community around this passion for music. I had been able to travel to places I would’ve never otherwise if it wasn’t for my enthusiasm for certain artists. I connected with those I can firmly call my closest friends due to this passion. I was able to learn more about politics and social issues through this medium. It led me to what I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing which is partially sitting here typing this article out. Without my overwhelming love for music and the gateway it created in my life, I don’t know where I’d be heading career wise or who would be standing beside me as I did.
So, why is fan loyalty so criticized when it is the main leg keeping the music industry from breaking?
The criticism of fan loyalty comes from the industry itself which then trickles down to the public. This derogatory view of fanatics is rooted in fear and paranoia because many industry-workers are afraid of their power and importance. To be frank, ever since social media grew legs, fanbases have had more control over musicians than their teams do. Enthusiastic fans are becoming the PR firm (Do boardroom meetings control the likability of an artist or do the fans’ voices?). They are becoming the social media marketers. (Where would an artist be this day and age without a strong social media presence?). They are becoming the creative heads (Fanart? Streaming goals? Single and Album driven projects?). They are becoming the artist’s team. Their presence in the behind the scenes work of a musician’s success is just as significant if not more significant than the teams themselves. It’s this uncomfortableness that has caused the critique of fan loyalty in a thinly-veiled attempt to hide fear of a fanbase implementing their job better than the teams do themselves.
Even thinking on a smaller scale, there is a major pull that happens in the local scene when fanatics emerge. It’s a clear example of their personal impact on an artist’s potential success. Building up fan loyalty is vital in the growth and survival of a local group. Enthusiastic fans are the ones that continuously attend a band’s show. They are the ones who give the band the most publicity. They use their social medias and word-of-mouth to garner new fans and interest in the band’s music. They help financially support the musicians through ticket and merch sells to continue performing. They are partially responsible for the group’s opportunities and outcomes. They are the prime buzz. Without that tight-knit group of fanatics, it is nearly impossible for a band to prosper. Every single artist started out as a local artist, and every single one of their successes were the product of enthusiastic fans. Treat fans’ loyalty with respect. At the end of the day, they are the only ones that will always have an entertainer’s back.
The impact of music’s fanbases and fanatics is unprecedented and vast. To fail to appreciate the vitality of their presence to musicians is to overlook the enormous creative outlet that becoming a fanatic can bring. The effect of enthusiasm extends beyond just the music, though. The passion running through a fanatic’s veins can be directed to social justice in the industry. They help bring sexual abuse and assault to light. They champion causes that reject misogyny, homophobia, and racism. They even run projects that raise money for charitable causes.
It may seem easier to suppress passions or dismiss enthusiasm for music, but enthusiasm is a barrier breaker. It’s a way for anyone to feel vulnerable because admitting love for something is one of the rawest statements that define us. Fascinatingly enough, the authors of the book Media Audiences: Effects, Users, Institutions, and Power state, “The etymological roots of the word ‘fanatic’ particularly the connections to religious fundamentalism, fueled early, negative stereotypes about fandom portraying individuals as misguided at best and delusional at worst.” Translation: Our society doesn’t have a clear idea for fandoms and fanatics thus we struggle with it as a culture. And with anything that isn’t blatantly defined for us, we tend to misinterpret it, even become ignorant to it and it’s potential importance. Being a music enthusiast or a fanatic isn’t something to be ashamed of. There isn’t a set amount of joy or excitement one should feel about anything. Enthusiasm can set direction in life.
Fanatics are the renegade minds- both for themselves and for the artists. Being enthusiastic helps ourselves as well as entertainers embrace other aspects of our lives that we shy away from. Music allows us to mold our identities and figure out passion in our lives. Studies have shown that “people think the music they listen to is the best way to communicate who they really are. When they meet fans of the same music, they have a sense that they will be compatible as people and can build a community.” As society evolves, it is being proven that fan culture in music and the dedication and loyalty they share for musicians is being valued more and more. It isn’t seen as one-sided anymore. It’s fairly mainstream for artists to appreciate and depend on fanatics just as much.
Enthusiastic fans aren’t a community to snub or degrade like they so easily were in the past. They are slowly being recognized and respected for their impact and influence by the general public as much as by the entertainers themselves. Paul Booth, a professor at DePaul University, believes that the influence fanatics have on critical thinking and creativity for all media, especially music, is a reason why the growing field of fan studies is essential to the growth of society. So, the next time someone is mocked for their energy and spirit for a certain type of music, remember, fanatics are not the face of belittlement, and they should be taken seriously. They are keeping artists afloat. They are the saviors of the music industry.
All photos by Lindsy Carrasquillo