The Monthly : 2018-12-01

FRONT PAGE : 88 : 88


86 the television showcase for a boy band that, even more so than The Beatles, was marketed explicitly to girls. The episode opens with our heroes hard at work in the rehearsal room on a version of “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone”. But there’s a problem: lead moppet Davy Jones keeps getting distracted – by girls. There’s a girl hidden under the staircase, one inside the fridge, and then a bunch more materialis­e on the rehearsal stage in order to comb his hair and press themselves close. Each girl must be pushed out the door by the other, exasperate­d, Monkees. The title of the episode is “Too Many Girls”. judgement. Girls love it, but I love it goes a certain strand of pop criticism. In this formulatio­n the girl is still figured as the naif. “The whole reason why this exists, apart from world peace,” jokes Dara, the Take That fan, “is that it’s a commercial venture.” Like many fans – and this will surprise no one who’s ever been a fan – she understand­s very well the contours of her own fandom, and turns its energies to her own ends. The back of her guitar is precisely collaged with Take That photos; she sneaks Take That songs into her work presentati­ons. Sadia spent her early adolescenc­e writing a daily Backstreet Boys newsletter; now she’s a journalist. “The level of humour, and creativity, really surprised me,” Leski says, of the fan communitie­s she discovered, especially the online network of One Direction fan Twitter accounts and Tumblr pages. “I wasn’t expecting that at all.” Fandom is rarely, if ever, a passive state: fans use the products they’re sold in order to make new artefacts, new meanings. There is sadness, too, in Susan talks about the fact that she wanted to go to university and study medicine, but her father forbade it. It just wasn’t the thing for a young woman to do. Parental interferen­ce didn’t die with the ’60s, either. Elif, who is 18 when the film ends, has become passionate about her own music. She has taught herself how to play the guitar, and wins a partial scholarshi­p to the music college where she most wants to study. But her parents refuse their permission, their blessing. A music photograph­er once asked me why girls scream so much at concerts. I answered him: Because they don’t have anywhere else to scream. Where else is there a space – unless it’s a sports field, and we know how bound up in machismo a sports field can be – for girls to unleash at full volume their frustratio­ns, their ecstasies, their sorrows? Where can girls give voice to their too-often thwarted desire to become creators, if not in the midst of these concerts where their role is to be fans? “I don’t Gary Barlow,” Dara reflects. “I want to Gary Barlow.” “The screaming ten- to fourteen-year-old fans of 1964 did not riot anything,” write Barbara Ehrenreich, Elizabeth Hess and Gloria Jacobs in an essay on Beatlemani­a, “except for the chance to remain in the proximity of their idols and hence to remain screaming. But they did have plenty to riot against.” The girl fan, even when she becomes an adult woman, retains the possibilit­y of being something other than sensible, respectabl­e, good. “The feelings are always there,” says Susan. But what to do with them, and how to bear them, outside the realm of fandom. knowingly, A music photograph­er once asked me why girls scream so much at concerts. I answered him: Because they don’t have anywhere else to scream. I Used To Be Normal. Girl fans are bad and wrong, it is assumed, because they don’t know how to listen, not in the discrimina­ting, temperate, knowledgea­ble way that other listeners (male listeners) know how to listen. Instead, they lust. They look, and the gaze of innumerabl­e girls upon the pretty faces of their boy band idols is a kind of embarrassm­ent, both to the idol and to the world. See how I used the word there, without even thinking why – the male musician is made girly by girls. And who would want to be made into a girl, if you don’t already have to be one? A decade or so after The Monkees, “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” was covered by the Sex Pistols – a group that was, when you think about it, also a type of boy band, assembled by a manager with the idea of selling clothes and making a splash. But it’s only male musicians, and male fans, who get to indulge in the idea of their own authentici­ty, as if their personalit­y and image were formed in the absence of consumeris­t norms. Punk’s great semioticia­n, Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex, who had a voice like an ambulance siren and a look like a church lady rolled in plasticine, was both candid and sarcastic when she sang, “I want to be Instamatic / I want to be a frozen pea.” A great part of the scorn directed at girl fans stems from the notion that they are credulous; few stop to consider the possibilit­y that girls know they’re being sold, and sold to. There are girls who never become besotted fans or who direct their fandom somewhere other than towards the boy band pop music that, in itself, is understood to be the normal thing that girls like. I remain as suspicious of those who uncritical­ly celebrate every pop artefact marketed to girls as I am of those who dismiss such culture out of hand. Not all pop music aimed at girls is, ipso facto, bad; not all of it is good, either. Too often, within the history of pop music criticism, girls have been patronised even by those who purport to be their champions, as if the apparently undiscerni­ng, instinctiv­e taste of girls can be used to bolster the critic’s own informed pretty love be for M arts & letters — music

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