Some of my happiest memories have come from being a part of a fandom. Screaming at concerts, staying up till the early hours of the morning for album releases, waiting out in the dark and the rain to catch a glimpse of my idols and, most importantly, meeting friends for life. Like so many others, whenever I was down, or when things felt out of control, I always knew that reading my favourite books or listening to my favourite music could be a distraction, a safe haven.
And then a global pandemic came along, and I had never felt more out of control.
My fangirl journey began in 2011 when I found myself jumping head first into the One Direction fandom. At the time, I don’t think I really understood what a fandom was, or what was going to be ahead of me. I just knew that I loved to watch YouTube videos of that band from The X Factor. But, like most girls who started that way, a casual interest soon evolved into borderline obsession; and I became a full-blown fangirl for the next five or so years. From fan accounts to concerts, I was my schools ‘One Direction girl’ and was very proud to hold that title.
Looking back, I am still not sure just how I managed to get through my GCSE’s being a fulltime fangirl and staying up reading fanfiction until the early hours of the morning; it is confession time apparently! One of the most amazing things about being a part of a fandom is the beautifully like-minded people that you meet through it. At school, being the crazy One Direction fan could often feel lonely and isolating. No one really understood; if they did have similar interests, they never quite loved it as much and funny quotes/references just went over their heads.
Online is where I began to feel most happy and most like myself and where I met one of my best friends to this day. As fate would have it, me and Megan ran Instagram fan accounts for One Direction; and after messaging back and forth found that we lived a 25-minute drive away from each other. If not for the fandom, our paths would have never crossed. We would have never dressed up as Larry for Halloween, sat outside stadiums for 5 Seconds of Summer soundchecks, or found our friendship soulmates in each other.
Unfortunately, 2016 came around, One Direction began their hiatus and life brought some big changes. Megan moved 186 miles away, jobs came along and new opportunities took over. An overwhelming feeling of having to grow up and take responsibility hits you after education and I definitely felt it. In fact, I think that the whole fandom felt it as we have grown up together. I wish I knew how many times I was told to “grow up” just because I liked a boyband, but that is a feminist rant for another day! This meant less free time, more time dedicated to working towards where I want to be in life. The posters came down from the walls, leaving marks from where they had been for so long.
New friends with different interests came into my life, even a boyfriend, and although I always kept up to date with each of the boys’ solo careers and cheered them on all the way, less time to dedicate and no one to bounce off anymore meant that my inner fangirl did not come out as much.
I got to a point in life where I really knew and was confident in who I was. I had an amazing group of friends around me, a loving boyfriend, career goals and was enjoying my job and studying for my degree. And then a global pandemic meant that we went into lockdown; and I felt, like many others, as though everything I enjoyed and worked for had been taken away from me.
I was back spending everyday in my teenage bedroom, staring at bare walls with so much time on my hands that I didn’t know what to do with myself. Psychotherapist, Lori Gottlieb, told Time Magazine in 2020 that a human coping mechanism for stress and lack of control is reverting back to a time we felt safe and at ease. With more time on my hands than I knew what to do with as well as living in unprecedented times; I reverted back to my most authentic self – a fangirl.
It started small; making new playlists with all of the music I love, watching my favourite comfort movies again and reading books that have brought me joy over the years. And then, TikTok got involved. Yes, I am guilty of calling it a rip off version of Vine and swearing I would never get it; but we all did that right?
I had long logged out of my fan accounts and my personal social media is relatively clean of any fandom commotion other than celebrity accounts, but with TikTok, I cannot choose what comes up on my For You Page. TikTok has revealed that its algorithm works similarly to that of Instagram, tracking what users like, comment on and share. They are also able to see how much of a video a user watches of their longer one-minute videos. The longer a user watches a particular video, the more similar content will appear on their For You Page.
Slowly but surely, hours of scrolling landed me on the One Direction side of TikTok. Not only bringing me an immense sense of nostalgia, but also bringing me back in closer contact with Megan. We both become so busy with our own schedules that we struggled to stay in contact for almost a year. Yet suddenly we were back to our 14-year-old selves, sending each other TikToks of all of our shared interests.
Over a year on from the initial lockdown, I can honestly say I have fallen back in love with my teenage obsession; and this time there are some amazing new additions. Not only is TikTok a source of entertainment, but also a source of income for a lot of people, as well as a way of promoting their businesses. There are so many small businesses being able to grow because of the platform they have been given over the lockdown periods. It is really lovely to see is talented small businesses that are fandom focused.
Fandoms have always been full of creative and talented people, and now with age, technology and the right platforms people are creating pieces of artwork, clothing, accessories and more, whilst incorporating their favourite interests. A lot of these fan led creatives make merchandise that is stylish; often more subtle than typical official merchandise and a reflection of what fans want. Finding beautiful items of clothing with tiny details that only other members of a fandom would recognise is amazing. It is truly heartwarming to see people thriving doing what they love and be inspired by who they love.
There are other things that have continued to evolve in the fandoms I was involved in; such as the After stories being released as films. If I didn’t have the time through lockdown to reread them, I probably wouldn’t have booked a seat at the cinema to go and see it. When the time came, I was just as excited as I would have been when I definitely was not old enough to read them! It should be recognised that often with age comes a certain disregard for what people think about you.
Despite being a proud fangirl at school, there was always an acute sense of embarrassment as it was not seen as the cool thing to be interested in. Now that I am more sure of myself, I have found that I am much less self-conscious about the music that I listen to and the things that I like. Louis Tomlinson will be playing through the speakers no matter who is in the passenger seat of my car!
The time I was granted in lockdown has also allowed me to explore more fandoms; such as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, connecting me with even more people. Looking towards the future as we make our way out of lockdown, I know that less time can be dedicated to the fangirl way of life.
As life begins to return to normal it is inevitable for most of us that our days will become consumed with jobs, education, friends and family once again and the coping mechanism will not be needed anymore as we gain back control. However, a year in a global pandemic has taught me that we always have a community and a safe space to go back to whenever we need it. Not to mention, there is a whole new generation of fans emerging.
Although they may not be able to experience staying up and watching a seven-hour livestream for 1D-Day, it is so comforting to know that our favourite artists, stories and films continue to impact young people in the same way. Lockdown really has taught me to embrace my teenage pastimes and you can bet that when we can, I’ll be front of the queue for a One Direction club night!
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