Let’s Talk Boy Bands!
Whether it is the Beatles, New Kids on the Block, the Backstreet Boys, or the current teenage heartthrobs One Direction, young women have been obsessing over boy bands for decades now. For me, it was Hanson. Three boys with long blonde hair MMMBopped into my life when I was 14, and they’ve never left. I’m actually attending one of their concerts later this month! [Side note: I am LOVING this new song of theirs!]
For at least a couple of years, I was obsessed. I collected pictures of them, listened to their music non-stop, read every article about them that I could get my hands on and I fantasized about situations where I would meet Isaac, the oldest of the three brothers, and we would fall in love and live happily ever after. I am not kidding when I say that these were elaborate fantasies. Had I known what fan fiction was at that point, I would have been writing it. Had I met him in person at that time, I probably would have fainted after screaming like a banshee in his face. Of course, I am aware (now) that there was almost zero chance of those daydreams ever coming true.
The vast majority of these bands, especially the bands of the last 30 years, have been manufactured to appeal to the broadest spectrum of teenagers. There’s the heartthrob, the “bad boy”, the smart one, the older one, the pretty one, the young one; all calculated to make as many teenage girl hearts go pitter-pat as possible. Every media interaction is scripted, nothing is said that is too extreme, or would show that the band member is anything more than his role in the band. There is crazy amounts of merchandise that is marketed towards these girls, and a lot of them will push to buy the more expensive version of something, because it has the band’s logo on it. Heck, Hanson still does that today!
Right around the same time that I was getting over this obsession, I watched, baffled, as other Hanson fans who liked Taylor (the middle brother) threw tantrums and posted threats against his wife. The wedding came as a surprise to the fans, and a lot of girls were angry that their favorite guy was no longer on the market.
The same thing has happened in previous decades – just think of the hate that still pervades with Yoko Ono – and it happens today still. The sheer volume of screeds targeting Taylor Swift when she was dating the One Direction band member Harry Styles, and against Selena Gomez (who is Justin Bieber’s on-again-off-again girlfriend), are alarming. It is as though these girls can’t stomach the thought of their favorite singer being in a relationship with anyone except themselves. Even today, in the Hanson fandom, there are girls who feel the need to create drama between the band members and their wives in their heads, and then post it on the internet.
Why? What is it about these musical celebrities that produces such obsession?
One could posit that it is the fault of the media. When I was a teenage girl, I could go to the supermarket and buy weekly issues of Teen Bop (is that even still around?) or other teen magazines, and read ridiculous articles about “What color is <insert band member’s name here>’s toothbrush and what does it say about HIM?”. I would carefully cut out pictures of my favorite band, and buy two copies if they had back-to-back pictures. (There is certainly a comparison that can be drawn between the pictures that girls post of their favorite band member in their locker, and the stereotypical nude pictures of women in a guy’s garage.) Today, there are the celebrity gossip websites that post every single paparazzi picture possible. I’m looking at you, TMZ and ONTD. It can feed into that obsession.
I think it goes deeper than that. I think that young women are encouraged – through the same media mentioned above – to objectify these young men. I know I certainly did! I had no idea what my crush was like, at all, as a person. Everything I knew about him was extrapolated from reading the aforementioned stupid articles, yet my young teenage mind was convinced that he was the perfect man, my soulmate, and that if we could only meet just once, he would know that too.
It was a way for me to have fantasies about a relationship without actually being in a relationship (and sexual fantasies too!). While I do think that an active imagination is healthy, I know that I and some of my friends took it to extremes. I know that there are girls who do that today. The cult of celebrity remains strong, and new members are added with each new boy band.
My teenage self would be mortified that when I did finally meet Isaac Hanson, he didn’t immediately fall in love with me, and that instead, we talked about social media strategies for their charity. My adult self is very satisfied with that exchange. I have the experience and the wisdom to know that there’s no way he could have lived up to the imaginary person I created in my head, and I am happy that he was a kind, intelligent, and thoughtful person. I’m also happy I didn’t scream like a banshee and faint.
Why do you think that teenage girls have such obsessions with boy band members, and teenage boys don’t? Who was your boy band crush?