Like many girls my age, I often describe my years in middle school as part of my “One Direction phase” — with an emphasis on the word "phase." Unfortunately, most of us feel that we would be ridiculed if someone found out that a 20-year-old is still listening to “Take Me Home” on the regular.
One Direction was responsible for some of my happiest memories and closest friendships growing up. People overlooked the simple joy that a catchy pop song could bring to a young girl, and 1D stans were met with criticism: boy bands are just corporate cash grabs, they lack artistic integrity and being interested in attractive men specifically marketed for a young female audience made you shallow.
Imposing these pressures on young girls quickly spawned the “not-like-most-girls” attitude that came with the Tumblr indie culture of the early 2010s. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, I shamefully took down the posters covering my walls from floor to ceiling, put the Harry Styles cardboard cutout in the recycling bin, bought a vinyl record player from Urban Outfitters and convinced myself that my interests were somehow more valid because I now listened to Arctic Monkeys and Lana Del Rey.
I put aside my taste for pop music for years, cycling through various subgenres of indie and rock music during high school. I had believed that entering these niche, male-dominated communities would somehow make me seem more intelligent, or that I had an ear for music that was more advanced than most of my peers.
I soon realized that male music fans often behave similarly to — or worse than — female ones, but rarely have their interests or intentions questioned.
Many men in the indie music community feel a superiority complex for being avid listeners of lesser-known groups, or for being familiar with a band’s discography beyond whatever album is their most popular.
It was viewed as silly that I, as a One Direction fan, knew details about the group’s backstories and how they got into music, but when a dude in a beanie at a basement show thinks he is more intelligent than you for being able to explain the thematic origins of “In The Aeroplane Over The Sea” by Neutral Milk Hotel, no one bats an eye.
There is a more insidious aspect to pushing girls toward the alternative music scene. Entering these communities also put myself and many others at risk of violence or abuse.
In recent years, many girls have come forward about sexual harassment and misogynistic environments at popular events like Warped Tour, or at indie labels such as Burger Records. I myself have experienced similar harassment at multiple concerts as a teenager — shows I often went to alone, putting me in a vulnerable position.
As it stands, I and many other women feel there are few choices when cultivating their music taste: pick something deemed mainstream or shallow and be shamed for it, or enter a male-dominated space with few protections against predatory behavior.
When we pressure young girls to abandon the cultural spaces geared toward them and encourage them to take on more “mature” interests or hobbies, we are not only invalidating them for their interests, but also pushing them into dangerous environments.
Of course, the alternative music community must do more to hold male artists and fans accountable to ensure female fans have the chance to enjoy music safely. But mainstream society also needs to stop perpetuating negative stereotypes about “fangirl” culture and — as obvious as it sounds — normalize girls enjoying things!
As I continue to reckon with the ways internalized misogyny has impacted my relationship with music, I have begun realizing how much I missed out on. One of my greatest joys over the past year came from listening to BTS, a group I had previously dismissed based on my performative aversion to fangirls and anything related to stan Twitter.
Discovering the intricacies of their music completely obliterated any stereotypes I once had about boy bands: Their discography discusses serious topics, such as mental health and social critiques, spans multiple genres and involves heavy input from all seven members.
Their fanbase, ARMY, is extremely diverse and puts the group’s positive messages to work by organizing large-scale charity fundraisers, virtual study programs for students and other events for fans to meet and develop a sense of community.
The assumption that BTS fans are all crazy teenage girls continuously overshadows their musical achievements, along with the positive movement surrounding them. More importantly, the stigma around fangirls prevents women from simply enjoying things they are passionate about.
But you do not have to hesitate before putting the Jimin photocard in the back of your phone case, or switch your Spotify to private mode before streaming “Girl Almighty” when you are feeling nostalgic. It is difficult to move past the misogynistic messages that have been spoon-fed to us since childhood, but from one fangirl to another: You deserve to find and express joy in the music you love.
Hayley Slusser is the editor-in-chief of The Daily Targum.
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