Maddy Morwood on the power of finding joy on the internet, and the fangirls who’ve been five steps ahead for years.

I’ve only ever been in love with six boys in my life. One was an ex, and the other five are all members of One Direction. And I hate to be dramatic, but I think the latter five are going to save us all. (Just stick with me on this one).

Let’s start with the obvious. COVID-19 sucks. The virus has taken lives, jobs, and all sense of normalcy from us. It will completely destroy the world as we know it seems to be the general consensus, which has got to be one of the least comforting statements I have ever heard. At this point, we may as well call it the pure fucking shitshow that it is and end it all. But alas, we push on—and as we enter day 64 (?) of isolation, my mental health has hit an all-time low. The world is falling apart, and so am I.

On Monday, I woke up at 3pm after going to bed at 9pm. On Tuesday, I put on a fake tan purely because I miss the smell of looking hot (ladies, there’s simply no shame in loving the smell of burnt cupcakes and coconut). On Wednesday, I joined TikTok after an entire year of hurling abuse towards anyone who much as muttered the words (to make matters worse, I’ve accidentally gone viral). Thursday consisted of pacing around the house without pants, stressed beyond repair over the immense pressure I am facing by my TikTok fans demanding more content. I don’t even want to talk about Friday.

Basically, the days drag. I’ve become a person who counts down the hours until the latest MasterChef episode airs. (I’m still grieving over Lynton—I can’t believe the chef with the best arse went home first.) You may also be wallowing around contemplating your existence, but I bet you don’t dejectedly ask family members at 1pm how long until the elimination episode of MasterChef. (“Only six-and-a-half hours!” was my brother’s response today.) 

Alas, despite said ramblings, this is not a piece about COVID-19 (I am not in the mood to sink further into my fragile mental state right now, thank you very much). It is a piece about finding joy in a time when we can’t act normally, the five people who may or may not be responsible, and the ‘fangirls’ who have been five steps ahead of us for years.

It was during a bleak eight-hour internet session that I stumbled upon something that may very well drag us all out of the abyss (well, besides treatment and/or a vaccine, here’s hoping the gifted minds of the world pull through for us). As I scrolled through my Facebook feed, I felt my chest tighten as my eyes scanned an article; Nobody Panic BUT A One Direction Reunion Could Be in The Works. PopSugar, please don’t tell me not to panic. Not only was I panicking, I actually think I blacked out for at least 30 seconds. And for good reason—this is the first time legitimate rumours of a reunion have sparked since their ‘indefinite hiatus’ in 2016 (although we all know the band was over as soon as Zayn left in 2015, #AlwaysInOurHeartsZayn).

To some, this may all be very laughable. We have bigger things to worry about now. I can’t argue with that—yes, we do have bigger things to worry about. But those things are all out of our control. But two things we can control? Our internet connection (well, obviously, sometimes it drops out or slows down towards the end of the month, but whatever, that’s not the point) and joining the One Direction fandom alongside millions of fangirls.

Fangirls have been around for decades (even pre-internet, hello, Beatlemania?) and are brought together by a singular goal: to love and support the band. And it is serious business—like taking the oath in court, or when Jack Black made his entire class hold their hands on their heart and pledge their allegiance to the band in School of Rock.

Am I a fangirl? What a silly question. I would like to go on record stating that I have never, nor will ever, be ashamed about how much of my heart was, and still is, in total devotion to One Direction. Selina Juengling from HotPress said that people commonly deem fangirls, “crazy, obsessive, desperate, shallow, hysterical teenage females, who only care about the attractiveness of the artist or band members in question.” And she’s right—ask almost anyone to describe fangirls and you’ll get some sort of variation of this. But how can something so joyous and unifying be described with such ugly words?

Although we are technically unified by a pandemic, we aren’t united through joy or happiness. America tried: they put on the ‘One World: Together at Home’ concert, however I think J-Lo singing Barbara Streisand’s ‘People’ just made everyone even more depressed. (Honourable mention must go to home-grown Keith Urban digitally duplicating himself three times to perform an upbeat version of ‘Higher Love’).

But, as news of a possible One Direction reunion circulates, in true Carrie Bradshaw fashion, I couldn’t help but wonder… could a reunion from a band responsible for uniting a sizeable chunk of the world from 2011-2016, do it again? In a time of crisis, could something as simple as a group of five people singing together give us the greatest gift of all right now—a distraction?    

Before you write me off, entertain this with me. Everyone is a fan of something—even if that thing isn’t One Direction. The entire world was totally taken with Game of Thrones for like, five years, even though it was just really long shots of dragons flying. We certainly can’t ignore the Twilight franchise. (I still get schtick for not hopping on that bandwagon because I am obsessive by nature, and a massive dork. Sorry, I was a little busy with Zac Efron and The Saddle Club in 2009). And of course, I can’t not mention every sport in the world. Hand to heart, I have seen more grown men get shed tears over their favourite team losing than teenage girls over boy bands. (But hey, boys, it’s 2020 and cool to be vulnerable. And in your defence, the Australian cricket team have had a rollercoaster year and the third Ashes Test at Headingley was soul destroying.)

That being said, the One Direction fandom was truly on another level. I still to this day think that unless you were a part of it you will never truly understand the power behind the combination of fangirls, hysteria and the internet. But happiness has a flow-on effect, and I think the entire world is going to want to jump on this bandwagon.

One Direction were not supposed to be famous—they were five teenage boys (British-born Harry Styles, Louis Tomlinson, Liam Payne, Zayn Malik, and Irish-born Niall Horan) who previously did not know each other, thrown together in reality show The X-Factor by business mogul Simon Cowell because they were all attractive, charming, and could sing fairly well. They only placed third in the 2010 season, and that was supposed to be that.

But then, a bunch of girls with an internet connection got a hold of the band. In an interview with American journalist Dan Rather, Simon Cowell explained that the band had about 200 or 300 ‘super fans’ who’d supported them all the way through the competition and made it their job to promote the band around the world. “And then I saw something I’ve never seen before… they’d only been to three countries and yet they went to number one in 43 countries simultaneously. And that’s now the age of promoting bands with what we have on the internet. That’s when the internet is so powerful, it can do your job for you,” said Cowell.

One Direction’s worldwide domination was a prime example of Kevin Kelly’s well-known concept ‘1000 true fans’, which states that to be a successful creator you don’t need millions of fans, just one thousand true ones. So, you’re telling me, one thousand “crazy, obsessive, desperate, shallow, hysterical teenage females who only care about the attractiveness of the artist or band members in question”, and an internet connection, changed the music industry as we know it? Interesting. Styles himself agreed in an interview with Rob Sheffeild for Rolling Stone. “We’re so past that dumb outdated narrative of ‘Oh, these people are girls, so they don’t know what they’re talking about.’ They’re the ones who know what they’re talking about. They’re the people who listen obsessively. They own this. They’re running it.”

Scholar Nicole Santero, who chose to do her thesis on One Direction (goals), further explains,  “while the essence of this type of craze has not changed much in the last 50 years, the main difference between the two phenomenas [Beatles vs One Direction] is the existence of social media, which has made the fandom’s obsession far more visible than fandoms of the past.” One Direction themselves heavily credit their fame to the power of the internet and teenage girls. Harry Styles even said, “We owe our careers to electricity.” 

Heaven forbid, can you imagine life right now without the internet? Not only would Harry Styles’ net worth be a hell of a lot lower than $80 million (I got that from wealthy person.com, so don’t quote me on it), but I would probably be crawled up in a gutter somewhere right now, no PopSugar article or access to a reunion in sight.

That’s just it, isn’t it? Being a fangirl isn’t just about the music, or the cute band members. I mean, it is that, but it’s also so much more. It’s about loving something so much that it hurts and knowing there were millions of people out there basking in the same glow. If there was ever a time to feel that unique sense of unity again, it would be now, a global pandemic. And let’s cut the fangirls some slack, shall we?


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