“Separatism, suspicion and a sense of alienation were global themes — and yet fandom had become mainstream. Across all cultural media — film, comics, music and more — it was on trend and more than acceptable to be open about what you love.”
For any fangirl who has ever felt shame or embarrassment, author Hannah Ewens creates a safe space to deconstruct stereotypes about girls seeming overly hysterical and needlessly emotional. With moving anecdotes, lighthearted interviews and touching confessions, “Fangirls: Scenes from Modern Music Culture” explores the world of fan culture, which is dominated by teenage girls who hold a secret power to supporting artists’ success.
Ewens writes for Rolling Stone UK and interviews celebrated artists, such as Patti Smith and Billie Eilish. Her work features life in the U.K., from reports on lip fillers being offered to 12 year olds to the role of mental health advocacy in feminism. Her background as a fangirl certainly influenced her career interviewing musicians and exploring sociological phenomena in pop culture.
In her first book, “Fangirls,” Ewens encourages readers to take fans, particularly those who are girls and gender nonconforming, more seriously. She unpacks the label of “hysterical” and what drives girls to camp outside of concert venues days before the event, wait in line for hours to meet artists and spend hours online trying to glean every bit of information they can about their idols. Being a teenager is complicated, emotional and intense, and fandom gives girls a community to share these struggles through the love of an artist.
“Fangirls” is an intimate read, and Ewens shares her love for contentious artist Courtney Love and relives her teenage experiences with the band My Chemical Romance. Ewens connects her personal stories to fangirls all over the world, with interviews from fans in Japan, the U.K., Australia, the U.S. and other European countries.
While Ewens dedicated the book to “every girl who has ever had an obsession,” the work is meant to resonate with all fans, regardless of gender. Ewens highlights the importance of fandom to the LGBTQ+ community and the LGBTQ+ community’s critical support of artists. She gives the example of singer Halsey, who advocates for the legitimization of bisexuality and whose music is an anthem for young queer individuals.
Each chapter features a different artist to showcase the wide-ranging aspects of fandom culture. A chapter about Beyoncé stresses her importance on empowering Black women and representing the different struggles the Black community faces. In another chapter discussing the My Chemical Romance fandom and the controversy surrounding “emo” music’s potential detrimental effects on mental health, Ewens argues that this music actually gives those struggling with depression an outlet to feel understood.
This book felt like a therapy session to heal my inner preteen. Although I never obsessed over any bands, I was a self-proclaimed fangirl of several book series, including “Harry Potter” and “The Maze Runner.” I kept my adoration for these fictional characters a secret, scared to admit to acts such as reading fanfiction late at night or rewatching fan-made YouTube edits. Ewens reassured my preteen-self that latching onto such a community was a natural response to a complex time of growing up. As such, I do wish Ewens’ book included at least one chapter about fandoms outside of music. Music highlights much of what it is to be a fan, but as a fangirl of books, I felt a certain element was missing.
“Fangirls” also lacked any true criticism of the extremes of fandom, missing the opportunity to give a more objective portrayal of its role in society. While the recent tragedy at the Travis Scott concert, where 10 people died in a stampede of excited fans, post-dates the book, there have been other instances of fatal stampedes occuring, such as the 2010 Love Parade where 21 people were killed and 500 injured. Ewens does address the Manchester Arena terrorist attack, in which 22 people were killed by a bomb at an Ariana Grande concert, but this is a separate issue from the dangerous mobbing that can occur at events.
Packing hundreds or even thousands of people into one space will always have risks, but the unique existence of fan culture raises emotions to an extreme. Most people want to get as close to an artist as possible or have a personal experience with an idol that is otherwise physically inaccessible. Ewens could have included more about the “mob mentality” fans might find themselves victim to, even if these incidents are rare.
Ewens’ first book is still an enlightening ode to the teenage experience and fan culture. As Ewens’ dedication suggests, I recommend it to anyone who has ever found solace in an obsession.
Rating: 4.5/5 stars