The image of the modern fangirl hasn’t shifted much from how she was originally written about in the 1960s: the pathologized, “knicker-wetting” Beatlemaniac, the inconsolable, cis, straight, white teenage girl screaming for her beloved boy band. Hannah Ewens, Features Editor at Vice U.K. and author of FANGIRLS: Scenes from Modern Music Culture, proposes an alternative history. What if fangirls were viewed as subject-matter experts? And what if they were given the opportunity to tell their own story?
FANGIRLS establishes a loose chronology of fangirling, spotlighting the diversity inherent in the experience and giving space to One Direction, Halsey, Beyoncé, My Chemical Romance, and Amy Winehouse fans in equal measure. She speaks to Harry Styles fans in Tokyo, survivors of the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing where 22 fangirls were killed at an Ariana Grande concert, and she concludes with the image of the adult fangirl: Courtney Love stans who prove that loving an artist and their music isn’t a frivolous or self-infantilizing experience. And it most certainly is not a phase.
“It sounds really cliché and really, really obvious, but I think that being a fangirl means that your identity is really tied to a certain artist,” Ewens told Jezebel over Zoom from London, making the argument that despite the title, “fangirls” and “fangirling,” is a genderless expression of admiration—but one that continues to be derided in mainstream media as the “hysterical,” over-sexualized image of teenage girl autonomy. “A lot of that has to do with who has been writing about music, who has been in control of the media. So the way that the fans have always been written about, they’ve been written about by men, mostly. It’s weird to think now, even when One Direction [was] coming up, that all the big profiles and stuff were done by men. And I know that some of the fans really hate the way that they were characterized.”
And so she spoke to fangirls themselves, course-correcting a fraught and sexist narrative. Watch the video above for more of what Ewens had to say about fangirls—and the transformative experience of writing a celebratory history that has long gone unappreciated.