Fangirls have long been the bottom of the social food-chain, openly mocked for their unabashed enthusiasm and extensive knowledge of a certain topic; namely musicians, actors, YouTubers and other celebrities. I’ve spent most of my adult life denying my identity as a fan, but is it really something I should be ashamed of?
“Are you his girlfriend?” the old man asks me, pointing to a rather bewildered guitarist standing on my right.
“Um… no,” I reply, knowing full well that he won’t be the first person to assume that this evening. I’m at a gig, and as I’m the only female standing with the band, everyone thinks I must be fucking one of them.
Music is a big part of my life, as it is to many others. There’s nothing more exhilarating than seeing your favourite band play to a sold-out crowd and then meeting them afterwards when you’re all on a post-gig high and had too many G&Ts.
That’s how it started for me, but it wasn’t long before some of those bands became my best friends. Now I spend most of my life going to their shows, promoting them online, and drinking their rider backstage.
And no, I’m not a groupie.
Anyone who has watched ‘Almost Famous’ will tell you how groupies are frowned upon; silly fangirls who would do anything to catch a musician’s eye, often embarrassing themselves with their unfailing enthusiasm and adoration in the process. They sleep with members of the band just to be near someone famous and brag about it to their friends.
Is that really true, though? I’ve spent more than 3 years immersed in the music industry, going to shows that range from dank toilet tours to sold-out venues with a 2,000 person capacity. I’ve worked merch, assisted soundcheck and done photography for musicians and festivals alike. Never once have I met a groupie in the way they’re often described: as vapid, hysterical sluts.
Let’s think about this for a moment: why are fangirls and groupies so despised? If I were male and hanging out with the band, I bet I wouldn’t have strangers asking about my relationship status. No one would assume I was there solely to sleep with the lead singer. Guys aren’t often accused of being “not a real fan” like girls are; they don’t have to continually prove their right to be there.
Being a fan of something – or someone – becomes part of your identity and you create a community around that. I know girls whose entire social calendar is dictated by a band’s tour dates; whose birthday presents are a musician’s limited edition merchandise (signed, of course). Their best friends are other fans that they’ve met online or at gigs, and a tweet from their favourite band member can make their day.
Has the world become so cynical that this moment of unadulterated joy is frowned upon? It’s far too easy to accuse someone for being too obsessed with their favourite band, and all too often it comes back to their teenaged girl identity. Grown men who throw punches when their football team loses are not usually treated with the same level of disgust. Why is that?
Jealousy and anxiety runs high amongst fangirls, often stemming from the unbalanced relationship between them and their idol, and concern that they’ll never see them again (at least, until the next tour is announced.) These anxieties can manifest into the hysterical behaviour often witnessed at One Direction concerts, or even Beatlemania from the ‘60s. Mocking the teenage fangirl goes back generations – isn’t it time we picked on someone else?
I’m not innocent in all this, either. When I go to gigs I would normally distinguish myself away from the fans, often saying I’m friends with the band; that I’m only there to help sell the merch. That wouldn’t stop me from standing at the front of the gig, though, dancing with the rest of the crowd and relishing the moment when the lead singer dedicates a song to me.
“I’m not a groupie!” I shout, as if it’s something I should be ashamed of, “and I’m too sarcastic to be a real fan.” In a world where fans are looked down upon, I’ve established my identity as something better than them, something more worthy of the band’s time. “Don’t disregard me,” I’m really saying, “I’m not like them.”
But I am like them, and I shouldn’t be ashamed of that. Fangirls and groupies often get a bad reputation for their shameless and inhibited adoration for their idol, whether that’s a particular musician, actor, or even YouTuber.
Penny Lane got it wrong when she distinguished between groupies and the elusive ‘Band Aids’ in Almost Famous. There shouldn’t be a hierarchy of fans and we shouldn’t put each other down because of how we express our adoration.
The next time an old man asks if I’m a girlfriend, or groupie, to a particular band member I’m going to say: “No, I’m a fan, and I’m proud of what he does. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.”