I Used To Be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story

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Have you ever discovered something that you had no idea you needed until you set your eyes on it?  That is how I felt when I came across the Kickstarter for I Used To Be Normal.

I am not the biggest fan of the term ‘fangirl’ or ‘fangirling’ – I use both but cringe a little at the sexism ingrained into the language. Grown women (and men!) reduced to child-like emotional attacks is encapsulated in the Millennial descriptor so perfectly it’s hard to avoid employing it. Especially when you write for a blog…about a boyband…that’s run by….fan…girls.

Normally we keep our posts Backstreet-specific, but in this case it seemed well worth stepping ever so slightly out of bounds.

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Rita Walsh and Jessica Leski are the Australian producer and director behind the project. I was immediately struck by Jessica’s motivation for making this documentary:

“Three years ago, I accidentally fell in love with One Direction. My friends and family didn’t get it, so I went online and found others who, like me, were obsessed. It wasn’t long until I found myself falling for the fangirls too. These girls were funny, creative, and they looked out for each other. This was something unexpected. I wanted to explore more about what was really going on here. I wanted to meet these amazing women and girls in real life, and find out their stories.”

Does this sound familiar to anyone else? Amazing online communities of people with shared fandoms coming together to express thoughts and feelings about the subject of their affection? Finding out more about your favorite artist/tv show/actor while also learning more about yourself and the fans you’re sharing that space with?

“Funny, creative, and they look out for each other.”

Yeah. That’s it, isn’t it?

I have amazing friends who have shared so many Backstreet related experiences with me that it’s one of my tricks for remembering what year any non-Backstreet milestone has occured in our lives. But as the Backstreet Boys’ success began to wane, I felt kind of alone in my obsession. My friends are still down to see them in concert and buy their albums immediately, which isn’t the mark of a casual fan anymore. And okay maybe there have been years of group chats that are BSB specific. And sure we have occasional Backstreet Boys themed parties… but that isn’t enough for me. My obsession reaches beyond the typical.

I want the most up to date pictures of the Boys so I can talk about thinning hairlines and style choices. I want to see every live performance, even if they’re singing I Want It That Way for the millionth time in awful iPhone quality video taken from the last row of any given arena. I NEED to find old school rare footage and songs to dissect and reflect on the long journey the Boys have traveled, all the while looking back on my own winding road. And at each major intersection of my life I find the Boys.

I was 11 years old and going to see one of my very first concerts – Rockelle and Aaron Carter opened for the 1998 tour. I didn’t sleep when I got home. How could anyone after knowing they had just been breathing the same air as the Backstreet Boys? I was a senior in high school and felt the verses of …I Still in my soul. They had been on a break but I knew they waited to release Never Gone until the very moment that I needed it. There was no other explanation. In A World Like This spanned two summers of tour dates, meet and greets, and fan events to mark my calendars by. No matter the year, there is a song or memory linked to them. It’s like they’re the nails that tethered me to the ground. A touchstone to remind myself of who I am at my core. I just want to dance around and have fun and be with my friends and why can’t that be life all the time?!

Walsh and Leski found that feeling and decided to put a spotlight on what seems crazy to other people but is too real for us. (And while it will be easy to attribute the bulk of this to a female phenomenon, please spend five minutes counting how many thinkpieces were produced based on a two minute trailer of the new Star Wars movie.)

But it is never just about the thing that you’re a fan of – it’s about the people you spend time being fans with that’s equally important. All of those featured in this documentary will no doubt express the same sentiment: I’m a fan of other fans. I’m a fan of the people I’ve never met that know my birthdate, favorite band member, and favorite album. I’m a fan of having a safe space to congregate and express my feelings without the need to explain the embarrassing qualifier that I love the Backstreet Boys. No one else understands Blurry Brian jokes. No one else can know the pain one feels when a Boy shaves his head. No one quite connects with the wasteland of space between album release cycles. Only other obsessives get it. Only other obsessives know not only the Boys’ history but the history of fan forums dating back to the early aughts (“I’m telling you it all started because someone mentioned Jello!” “No fucking way, that can’t be how it started!”).

Somehow, while we were busy reconnecting with our favorite group, we connected with each other and developed our own history. Our stories are permanently tied to a group of five men we don’t know personally and never will. We’ve found people to confide in, to commiserate with, to share personal joys and pains with – all because we like some music. And that’s really special, no matter how often people might make an attempt to undercut its value. 

In that spirit, be sure to check out the trailer for I Used To Be Normal. If you have the means and feel the connection, donate to their Kickstarter. When the movie is finally released, make sure to buy a copy and watch it with your friends in person or virtually. Thank them all for fangirling with you. Thank the women in your life that made ‘fangirling’ not sound so icky. Thank the people that have made it possible for us to live in a world where fangirls can direct movies about fangirls to ultimately be watched by fangirls. This is just going to be another mark on our journeys together. I can feel it.

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