Sep 21, 2020

The Screamers: How Fangirls Shape Music History

The Beatles had it all. Fame, fortune, a highly publicized break up, relatively successful solo careers, and dozens of timeless songs. They have Yesterday, another movie centered on their music that was just released in the Philippines this week. It’s been around 50 years since they broke up, and their presence is still being felt. But all their success and renown would definitely not have been possible without one key factor: their legion of fans.
It was known as Beatlemania. Teenagers everywhere were captivated by this group of good-looking musicians, each one of them unique and appealing in his own way. John Lennon was the clever one, Paul the charming one, George the mysterious one, and Ringo the goofy one. They sang songs that seemed to speak to the fans directly: I Want to Hold Your Hand, You’re Gonna Lose That Girl, With Love from Me To You and so many more. They had charisma, they were talented, and they had merchandise. They were perfect. And of course, they had fangirls.

Sometimes people seem to forget that some of the first who gave the Beatles a chance were teenage girls. The noise the girls generated about them, both literally and figuratively, put a public spotlight on them. (The girls were appropriately called “the screamers.”) “Who are these boys?” the public wondered. “And why are our daughters screaming, crying, and fainting over them?” 73 million televisions of both fans and curious bystanders were tuned in to the band’s iconic 1964 appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. Even before the Beatles went trans-Atlantic, girls crowded the Liverpool basements where the Beatles first performed, and continued to support them by giving them more No. 1 Single titles than they ever expected.

And yet, a man named Paul Johnson wrote an essay for New Statesman, in which he viciously claimed “Those who flock round the Beatles, who scream themselves into hysteria, whose vacant faces flicker over the TV screen, are the least fortunate of their generation, the dull, the idle, the failures.” Those dull, idle failures helmed the rise of the world’s biggest music group and helped change music history forever. It’s been more than 50 years and yet we can still see young women and fangirls being treated like the least credible audience anyone can generate. Sometimes even by the same artists they spend so much time and effort supporting.
In a Rolling Stone interview back in 2015, the spokesperson for the band 5 Seconds of Summer said that “75% of our lives is [spent] proving we’re a real band. We’re getting good at it now. We don’t want to just be, like, for girls.” The band members were also quoted as saying that they were excitedly “seeing a few male fans start to pop up,” as if one couldn’t truly be considered relevant or credible without the approval of male fans and critics. While the band may just have been searching for more diversity in their audience’s age demographic, a lot of their young female supporters felt betrayed. After all the albums and merchandise they bought, all the concerts they attended, and the time they spent supporting bands, they were being undermined as a less desirable audience than men.

“It’s only when men start liking something that the general public including other men start to give it attention,” said a young Niall Horan fan named Theresa in a 2017 Noisey UK article. “You got that recently, for example, with One Direction who everyone hated as being generic pop. Everyone now is discussing their solo careers and saying, ‘Oh, maybe they are quite good’ but we’ve been saying they’re all decent for several odd years.”

We can see the same thing happened to David Bowie. A BBC segment about him and his fan base griped: “It is a sign of our times that a man with a painted face and carefully adjusted lipstick should inspire adoration from an audience of girls aged between 14 and 20. Everywhere.” Those 14 to 20-year old girls had the foresight to support an artist that would one day become a music legend before any of the so-called “real” fans, majority of them men, began to sing praises of Bowie’s art. They even occasionally claim that fangirls have no real appreciation for his music.

In the same 2017 Noisy UK article, a young woman named Rach voiced out her frustration. “I had that at an Issues show. A guy was like, ‘Can you name anything?’ I go, ‘Right, here’s their entire discography, named back to front and back again, I’ll give you the first note they hit on this song and I can play the guitar riffs.’ He was dumbfounded, don’t try me again.” Another fan named Sian goes, “Especially with rock music, it’s the typical ‘can you name five songs that aren’t singles?’ thing. It’s like, duh, don’t talk to me.” Female fans know all the words. They do their research. They know the backstories. They know the history. They make history.

Harry Styles, formerly of One Direction, knows this and is grateful for his young female fans. In his own Billboard interview, he is a direct contrast to 5 Seconds of Summer. “Who’s to say that young girls who like pop music — short for popular, right? — have worse musical taste than a 30-year-old hipster guy? That’s not up to you to say,” he challenged. “Music is something that’s always changing. There’s no goal posts. Young girls like the Beatles. You gonna tell me they’re not serious?”

Teenage girls are serious. WE are serious. At the end of the day, we’re the ones who shape music history. So, if you love BTS or Why Don’t We? and people hate you for it, you can point out that people hated the Beatles too. And look how they turned out.

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