In celebration of a book that dissects stan culture in young women hitting shelves this week, pop columnist Douglas Greenwood explains why, without teenage girls to rally behind the biggest musicians of today, the entire industry could crumble
Egotistical label bosses, A&Rs and even journalists will take credit for any pop star’s success if you give them the chance. We all want to claim ownership of talented people; to say we were the first ones to believe in that guitar-pop girl who’s managed to sell out several nights at Wembley.
But in almost all of those cases, the success of a pop artist can be traced back to something far simpler and purer: the teenage girls that rally behind them from the beginning, transforming them into megastars. No amount of money can buy that kind of triumph. You just need to stand in The O2 arena as Harry Styles or BTS take to the stage and measure the decibel levels of the screams as proof.
As we know, label bosses like to debate the infallible though, and create a chicken and egg analogy: would that die-hard fanbase exist if an old dude with years of experience in the business hadn’t propelled them into these young women’s sightlines? Maybe so. After all, the pop star is the closest thing to a sentient product that the music world has created, and the weakest links in that space are moulded and commodified beyond their will. But formula alone isn’t guaranteed to translate into success. You need to create the spark that ignites the most valued demographic. That’s when teenage girls come in.
Journalist Hannah Ewens released her debut non-fiction book ‘Fangirls’ earlier this week, and it’s a dissection of the ride-or-die music stans most dismiss as mere fodder; the ones laughed at and ridiculed by the “true” music lovers. The book’s critical success – heck, merely the fact that it exists! – is a sign of many things, not least that we’re starting to understand that young women are the centrifugal force of pop music that everyone else simply spins around. Their agency, long overdue, is finally being recognised.
Read those words from A&R Steph Guerra and tell me they aren’t true. Think about how that logic applies to just about every underground artist that’s broken in the past two years: Billie Eilish, Lil Nas X, fuck – even last week’s focal point JoJo Siwa. If it wasn’t for the power of young women scooping them up from their realms of relative anonymity (for Eilish, the moody corners of Soundcloud; for Lil Nas, as a Tik Tok meme; for Siwa, reality television), these artists would have had modest success at best. That often-dismissed ‘hysteria’ is a mere synonym for success; you can’t rule the world with out the millions at your feet.
Teenage girls are the ones who shout about it all in the first place, in online forums and at school. They’re the ones that buy the merch, stream the music and camp outside venues to be front row. Do you think chin-stroke critics and self confessed ‘men of taste’ are the ones making that impact in 2019? The same ones that look down at the real gatekeepers? Of course not. Long may the dedication of teenage women fanbases live; music needs them more than anyone.